Monday, March 29, 2010

An extraordinary man

When I wrote abou my friend's death, it wasn't about him. It was about me. And while I think he would have appreciated the sentiment, albeit with some surprise, it tells nothing about him, and he was extraordinary.

John Garling was curious up to the end of his long life. He was gentle, and unfailingly polite. He was fully aware he was a good artist, and cartoonist, and he was happy about it. He wasn't egotistical.

He was born in England in 1909, and remembered sitting on the seat of the pony cart as his mother drove to the village. He was two or a bit more. That was his earliest memory. He hated school pretty much until he was accepted in the Royal Academy of Art, and then he thrived. He was an officer in the British Signal Corps during World War II, and while in service, had a nice chat one afternoon with Princess Mary.

Hired by a cartoonist company, he moved to South Africa where he met his wife, Anne, the widow of a Seventh Day Adventist missionary with three children. They married, and he was an excellent father, I think. Certainly well-loved. They emigrated to the US, and they became a naturalized citizens. He worked for years for Hanna Barbera, on Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Tarzan, and Fat Albert. The Garlings much admired Eleanor Roosevelt, and one afternoon in New York, a friend arranged for them to be invited to tea. They enjoyed it very much.

He enjoyed life hugely. He wasn't sentimental. He enjoyed planning cartooning more because the physics than the plots. But he loved absurdity and was a huge Monty Python fan. We agreed John Clees was brilliant. I never could convince him of the genius of Dr. Seuss. He much preferred his fellow countrywoman, Beatrix Potter.

He drove a car into his 90s, and when his knees gave out--He had had knee replacements 20 years before--he decided rather than compromising with a wheelchair, he would simply stay at home. His living room had a faux fireplace with a fake fire in the grate that he built "for coziness," he told me, twinkling.

His son came to visit every day except when he was out of town, and when that happened, he phoned every day. John thought the Iphone was awesome. He just marveled at all his son could do on it. John's daughter-in-law kept him in oxtail soup, chicken teryaki, And these huge cookies that were magnificent.

He had outlived most everyone but family and was content to stay at home. He never read fiction, only non-fiction. He loved biographies. He did anagrams for mental agility.

He was active, and quite strong in his prime. He enjoyed a good glass of wine or ale and conversation at a party. He and his wife loved the grandchildren and played games with them that they remember as adults. His wife died many years ago.

He went along when he had to, but he remained solidly himself. He might decide to go along, but he didn't compromise. At 99, if he was a bit frail, he was still substantial, and very much a man. He never complained. I never heard him lie. I never saw him be impolite, even when he was amiably disagreeing--which wasn't often. He was pragmatic.

But I think he was wrong about the end. He was adamant with his family and the chaplain that there be no service, no burial, no obituary. Just cremation, and leave the ashes at the funeral home. No celebration of his life. He was trying to be kind, to make no fuss. Well, he always was a definite individual.

He was one of the most interesting persons I ever met. I'm glad we could be friends for a few years. So much more I could say, but he was also very private. I respect that. He was molded by his times.

Privacy was easier to come by in 1909.

1 comment:

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