The Courage of Her Convictions

One of the main benefactors and favorite patrons of our library passed away Monday.

For as long as I’ve worked there, she’s generously donated her money, resources, and time to our department in particular, plus an enormous Birnam Wood-sized poinsettia every winter.  She even continued her  support in death:  her family asked that any memorials be made to the library.

She was that kind of person.

Her death came as a thunderclap shock to most of us—she’d visited us a week ago and she was as hale and happy as an eighty-one year old woman can be, and maybe more so.  We thought it must have been a heart attack or stroke.

We were shocked again when a co-worker told us she’d been diagnosed with cancer a year ago and that was why she’d donated a moving van full of her personal genealogy and local history collections to us this past spring.  She didn’t want anyone to make a fuss, so she didn’t mention it much.

She was that kind of person.

I attended the visitation and the funeral this morning at a gorgeous Episcopalian cathedral with stained glass and polished wood and enclosed pews like box seats at the opera.  I was raised Episcopalian, but in an Americanized, low church way.  This was Anglican, with smells and bells and  ruffs on the acolytes.

She was that kind of person, too.

During the homily, which was an amazing, heartfelt, and wryly humorous tribute, the priest said that our benefactor had pulled him aside one day at a social event and informed him casually that she had incurable cancer and was refusing treatment.  She and her husband–who is in early stage Alzheimer’s—were selling their house and moving into assisted living.  She intended to arrange everything to her satisfaction and “show her children the proper way to die.”

“She told me that once she had taken care of everyone’s needs, she would suddenly pass away.”  The priest  looked at everyone in the congregation, sharing in everyone’s affection for this singularly determined lady.  “And she did.”

I don’t know if I will ever be that unafraid and indomitable.  I don’t know that I’d want to be . . .

But I do know she spent her last year with accomplishment and no regrets, taking care of her family.

There’s something to be said for that.

Goodbye, Mr. Chaykin


Maury Chaykin died early yesterday, on his 61st birthday. 

 I’m going to miss him.

A actor of skill and poise—even when he was throwing a spitting tantrum on screen—he could carry a series, support a movie, or vice versa.

I’d seen him in various roles in various things, but I got to know him best as Nero Wolfe in the TNT series.   I wasn’t sure about his interpretation at first; I’m a Rex Stout fan from way back and had my own ideas.  But he won me over in an episode and a half.

The thing about Mr. Chaykin is that he’s never “Mr. Chaykin as This Character”, he is the character—he never appears to have phoned in his performance.  So much so that even when he appears in a show  where the guest star is always the murderer, I’m never quite sure he isn’t the red herring.  Or simply just the best-played custodian I’ve ever seen.

My movement in acting circles is confined to theater seats, the couch, and a couple friends who are members of the local theater troupe, so I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Chaykin—and wouldn’t have known what to say to him if I had, except maybe “Gulp, uh, wow—you’re Maury Chaykin.  You . . . uh . . . I loved you in . . well, everything. . . ”  But by all accounts, he was a kind, gentle man and a consummate professional who was not known for throwing spitting tantrums off screen.

We need more actors like that, and we’ve just lost another one.

In his honor, I will be re-reading my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries and watching my favorite episodes of the tv series.  I’ll see him either way.

Goodbye, Mr. Chaykin.  You will be missed.


Image borrowed  from The Wolfe Pack, the official (and ultimate) Rex Stout discussion site.   If you don’t understand why they say, “Write us—don’t contact us,” then get reading.  You will.