Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Friends We will Always Be

Tonight we were at the NY showcase that Jordan’s BFA put together without any assistance from Emerson College. The faculty helped them to create quite a credible and wonderful show, but the school neither supported them nor did they provide any financial aid—and after $140,000 in cash and loans, I mean that in the nicest possible way. But that’s what I wanted to bitch about, not what I wanted to blog about.

As anyone who has opened a paper, turned on TV or listened to the radio knows, Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer. It is such a tragedy, not only for the Kennedy family but for the entire country. It isn’t necessary to explain why because anyone who has ever turned on the TV, read a newspaper, or listened to the radio, or has had a child, needed healthcare, wanted more opportunity to achieve, has been concerned about human, civil, or women’s rights, has known someone with a disability, ... and on and on, understands the impact he has had on ordinary lives. People don’t like to think of themselves as ordinary, so what do I mean? I guess, for purposes here, I mean someone who has to take care of themselves. They don’t have exceptional family or personal financial resources. They have to face every day and survive. With the projects and programs he supported, Teddy has made it easier for all of us to face the day.

When he was diagnosed there was panel after panel of talking heads and editorialists who talked about him as if he were already gone. They were delivering an Obit prematurely. Even the Boston Herald, which for years despised Kennedy’s politics, said wonderful things about him. I am reminded of Mark Twain, who, after reading his own obituary, said “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Teddy did not die. There have been people with malignant brain tumors that lived for years and years. And so I say to all you what my mother would say to you. “Only God knows when someone is going to die. Unless you know more than God, don’t bury him yet.”

It’s been a bad week for good news and a good week for good and bad news. After too many years of disconnect, I was finally able to reach my dear friend Stewart Mott. Stewart has been fighting cancer for many years – he says he’s not in the best health. He doesn’t run to the phone to answer the many calls I am certain he gets, but he sounds as sprightly and devilish as he always did. Stewart was not an ordinary person – he was an extraordinary human being. He was born into a wealthy family and could have lived a self centered, self indulgent existence. But he didn’t. He became a philanthropist for what some might call liberal causes—I call them human causes. He has been honored time and time again for all his good deeds. I know about them and admire him for his important contributions but my story is a bit more personal.

Stewart and I met in 1972 through our good friend Ken Bode. I don’t remember if it was working on the McGovern campaign or at some McGovern related event. He was one of those people we called ‘financial directors”. I think he was probably the largest donor to the campaign. In those days, before FEC regulations and campaign finance rules, you contributed pretty much what you wanted to. And what a time we had. As advance people we never got paid and there was no money available for us to get from one place to the next. So at the end of the event we would pass the hat. The more people at an event the more likely you were to be able to go on to the next event—and the events were always in different places. We never called National headquarters for advice or counsel. The told us where to go, we went and built an event, passed the hat and moved on. It was the song that never ends. My memories of any one event are dim so I can’t remember where I first spent any time with Stewart but it was years later and I was recently separated, living in my car on 6th street NE in D.C. (yes, I was the original middle class homeless woman), and driving back and forth from Washington to Boston every week to see my son. The car, a Fiat 128 station wagon finally gave up. It was as exhausted as I was. but had more mileage. I then had no place to live and, in addition, nothing to drive. At some point my friends Wes and Jane, insisted I come and live with them until I got a job and got myself together. It was a relief not to have to wash-up in the Hyatt and get ready for the interminable job search. (I lived with them well after I got a job—we were just having such a good time).

I had reconnected with Stewart by that time. We went out with great frequency and enjoyed one another’s company. I’m not sure why it never went anywhere but it didn’t matter because we became such good pals. He was always gracious and did wonderful, bighearted things, like: he introduced me to Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) and then hired Spiderman to come to Seth’s sixth birthday. He rented the Big Apple Circus for an evening of entertainment with his friends; we took great trips to places like the Cayman Islands and his home in Bermuda. He allowed me to use his apartment in NY and he bought me a much needed car. (It was an orange 1969 Volkswagon Beetle convertible – and the best car ever). He called my brother and had him deliver it to me. Of course, I said it was too much and I couldn’t accept it. And he said, “This is something you need, and it gives me enormous joy to be able to be there for you. Let’s not talk about it again.” With all those material things he did, what most impressed me was how generous he was with his time. He certainly didn’t have to, but he did important things like introducing me to people I needed to know as an newcomer to the world of “inside the beltway, and much simpler things like always helping with chores and cooking with all the entertaining we did. Nothing was too much. He was my rock in days when I didn’t even have a pebble.

It was a terrible and wonderful time in my life. There were many people who helped me through the difficult times. But Stewart played such an important role in helping move on, that there is no way I will ever be able to thank him enough or explain how important his loving kindness meant to me. I guess Teddy’s announcement and Hamilton Jordan’s passing have taken me to a place where I have been thinking about the battles we have to fight to survive. Stewart helped me to fight some difficult battles oh so many years ago and he is fighting his own battle now. As my mother says, “Only God knows anything.”

There is no telling whether and when we will win or lose our battles. We just have to keep fighting. But it sure is nice to know we have friends who will always be ....regardless of the outcome. We’re just sayin...

2 comments:

Bebe Bahnsen said...

Iris, I had not read your blog for a few days, but it was great to read your memories of Stewart. I never got to know him but I remember so well how important he was in your life, and I remember the VW. I remember going to a summer concert in it with the top down with Seth, Don and Alan. They were so embarrassed when we kept talking to people while getting out of the parking morass at the Jefferson Memorial. Of course, they were embarrassed if we breathed in those days. I also remember Ken and Margo Bode getting married in Stewart's garden. He did wonderful things for many people, and I am so sorry he is sick. By the way, I recently reconnected with Bode. Thanks, dear heart, for the good memories.

Iris and David said...

Bode is still a trip and Stewart is still feisty -- despite any illness! Friends -- they are so important