Over the weekend, my family bade farewell to my great-Uncle Guy and saw him to his rest.
Uncle Guy was a couple of months shy of 92; he served in reconnaisance during the Second World War, and it sparked a lifetime of interest in photography and nature. He took up oil painting later in life as well (and he was very good). Hearing my cousin (his son) speak at the service was fascinating because I got to fill in many of the gaps that a young boy toddling around the feet of his elders couldn’t begin to guess.
When I was born he was already 15 years older than I am now, and was blessed to add many more, surrounded by family. He and Aunt Corinne were married for over 65 years. They were a delightful and happy couple, full of life, fond of travel, and generous. The Church was a great part of their life.
We’re going to miss him terribly. And it got me thinking about who else in the world a person would miss. Family and friends, of course, but unless I describe them all you won’t really know them. The people nowadays that everyone would miss would be the sorts of people whom everybody would know. Sadly, they show up in celebrity deadpools and such, and folks save the encomuims for later. But I’d rather not take odds on who of these will be the first of the group to get a handshake from Uncle Guy; rather, this is just something of an appreciation for several folks who have made some small bit of a difference to me. …
Dave Brubeck. The master jazz composer and pianist fronted many ensembles, most famously the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and put out a series of influential albums: Time Out is best known, but also collections like Red Hot and Cool, Jazz Impressions of Japan, Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, and Jazz Goes to College. And to this day, the amazing performer still tours and composes, often with his own children. Joe Morello, who held the drum chair for many years in the Quartet, passed on a couple of months ago.
Angela Lansbury. To a boy brought up on Disney, Angela Lansbury was always the aspiring young witch from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, who helped defend England from the Germans in the war through curious methods. Later, she was Maine’s best-known fictional mystery writer – and, truth be told, someone people must have started to avoid like the plague after two seasons or so of corpses piling up all around her, at home, on vacation, etc. But she remains a multitalented actress, singer, producer, and all-around grand dame in the best tradition.
Stan Musial. The stories are legion: that he was never thrown out of any of his over 3000 career games, that he never cursed, that he smoked only when he was sure no kids could see him, that he never turned down an autograph request. He got his nickname, “Stan the Man,” not from the hometown St Louis fans, but from the rival Dodgers’ fans. Chicago Cubs fans, notorious for disdainfully throwing back home runs hit by opposing players, once voted him their favorite player ever, ahead of their own pantheon of greats. He was a pitcher in his youth until he hurt himself playing the outfield between starts – the minor league manager who converted him full-time to hitting, Dickie Kerr, was a pitcher for the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox*, who stayed honest while eight of his teammates threw the World Series to Cincinnati. One of my favorite of him was written by one of the very best writers I know of, Joe Posnanski, and appeared in Sports Illustrated. The statue of him outside of the Cardinals’ current home stadium bears the legend, “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior; here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” His name might not be an anagram of “genuine class,” but he certainly has it.
* And fittingly, here’s a “pozterisk” – the Black Sox weren’t so called because they threw the Series, but because their owner, Charles Comiskey, was so notoriously cheap and petty that the team couldn’t launder their uniforms regularly – hence, the derisive “Black Sox” nickname, and the willingness of Ed Cicotte, Buck Weaver, and the rest to take a payoff from gamblers to fix the 1919 Series.
Carole Ann Ford and William Russell. I wrote briefly when Nicholas Courtney passed away; I was on vacation when the surprising news came of the sudden death of Elisabeth Sladen, who played arguably the most recognizable and popular Doctor’s companion, Sarah Jane Smith. And that actually threw me for a few days. I don’t know why, exactly. I wasn’t so gutted (to use the British idiom) when either John Pertwee or Patrick Troughton passed, and they actually played the Doctor themselves. (I suspect it will be different when Tom Baker goes; his was the first Doctor I knew.) But Ms. Ford and Mr. Russell are in a special class – they were in the very first episode, An Unearthly Child – Ms. Ford was the titular character and Mr. Russell played one of her schoolteachers, whisked off to who-knows-where by the very first Doctor. It will be strange indeed when those final links to the original have gone.
Jiggs McDonald. The long-time broadcasting voice of the New York Islanders was the winter soundtrack to my childhood, the way the late Bob Murphy, the radio voice of the New York Mets, narrated my summers. Jiggs still comes back to do Isles broadcasts when Howie Rose is on other assignments, maybe a dozen games a year. He and partner Ed Westfall were it back then, calling the Isles’ many memorable games and victories during their Dyansty years and beyond.
Mrs. Conroy. I have mentioned her on the old blog, but only in passing. She was the first of my teachers who looked at me and saw a smart kid instead of a problem case. Without her I wouldn’t have learned much at all. And consider the leap of faith she took: I was nine, in fourth grade, and the BOCES III program was designed specifically for children with learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral issues, and other special education children. She started me on reading abridged literature classics like Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities. She convinced other teachers in the building to devote their time to giving me instruction in other topics. Who knows what I would have been without her.
There are so many others as well, including those I’m sure I won’t realize until after they’ve gone to their reward – but these few at least I wanted to recognize, and not put it off. It shouldn’t have to wait until after for certain folks to know about how they’ve made a difference to people, even those they may never have met.