Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann (1942-2019) and Uncle William “Doc” Cook (1941-2015)

Uncle Doc (William Cook) and Aunt Lettie Ann at their home in 2009.

My Aunt Lettie Ann Cook passed away on May 17, 2019. I flew to my hometown to fulfill her request that I speak at her funeral and serve as a pallbearer. Her husband of 54 years, William Cook, who I knew as Uncle Doc, had preceded her in death in 2015.

They were both good people, who I and many others miss. I am reminded of fun-filled childhood pool parties at their house–one being particularly memorable during which I used a snorkel face mask for the first time and I played with my cousin Mark’s bad-ass Boba Fett action figure. That was probably around 1981. Or, learning from Aunt Lettie Ann how she made ceramic sculptures. Or, learning from Uncle Doc how to melt lead for my pinewood derby racer, use a scroll saw and drill press, and work with wood to make storage chests and other things. Or, enjoying cookouts featuring Aunt Lettie Ann’s great home cooking at their house after they moved from Brunswick to Hortense. And above all, reveling in their open door hospitality.

Uncle Doc died suddenly in 2015, and I was regrettably unable to return for his funeral. Before Aunt Lettie Ann died, she asked my dad to help me fly down and speak at her funeral as I had done for my Granny Ellis in 2012. The week before last, I said these words for her:

Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann

My dad tells me that my Aunt Lettie Ann had asked him while she was still lucid that I speak at her funeral. I’m saddened that it’s on this occasion that I am speaking with you today, but I consider it an honor to do this small thing for her.

I wanted to begin by sharing with you a seemingly mundane yet meaningful dream that I had three weeks ago, the night after I learned Aunt Lettie Ann was back in the hospital. To be honest with you, I don’t put much truck in dream visitations or other forms of clairvoyance, but this dream’s timing and content unnerved me.

The dream begins with me standing in the foyer of Aunt Lettie Ann’s fine house on Baker Hill Road. I see her descending the steep stairs slowly and carefully with her hands clutching the railing, but her face is beaming, and she says that she’s so glad to see me. After sharing a big hug, she tells me that I need to eat. Leaving me to sit at the extended dining room table with low sunlight entering the windows, she fusses in the kitchen to quickly prepare something for me. Then, while plying me with her delicious home cooking, she asks, how are you doing, how’s my sweet pea—that’s Yufang, my wife, what are you both up to? Answering her questions, I never got to ask how she was before I was suddenly awake.

That dream lingered in my mind throughout her ordeal. I hoped that it was more like a good memory than a kind of goodbye. I can say that it brought back many happy memories of Aunt Lettie Ann showing her unconditional love and care, such as birthdays and Christmases, visits to see her when I was at home from school or work, and times that she hosted me when Uncle Doc, who you might have known as Bill or Wilbur or grandpa or dad—helped me on Scouting projects. And, it reminded me how she demonstrated her love and care in other ways, such as wanting to know how you are and what you’re up to—listening equally about your triumphs and failures, your good health and bad, and even your daily trifles—before sharing her own, in which she emphasized the positive over the negative and made light of her own troubles; needing to take care of you and make sure that you’re comfortable and well fed; giving deeply personal gifts—in fact, thinking to get Christmas presents for our cats Miao Miao and Mose who she didn’t even have a chance to meet; and above all else striving to make you feel loved and special. However, Yufang told me that it is more than that—the feeling of being loved by Aunt Lettie Ann remains with you even after you say goodbye and you carry her love with you wherever you might go next. I think she’s absolutely right.

I share with you all a tremendous sadness that Aunt Lettie Ann is no longer here to love and care for us. I know we will all miss her great big hugs, her delicious cooking and get-togethers, and her looking out for us. However, I am deeply heartened to know that her love is still all around us, because we each carry it in our hearts and memories. I encourage you to cherish Aunt Lettie Ann’s love as a celebration of her life, an enduring remembrance of who she was, and a reminder of the kind of person who we should all strive to be.

Paul Williams, Former Literary Executor of Philip K. Dick’s estate, Has Passed Away

Philip K. Dick, Christopher Dick, and Paul Williams. Photo from Boo-Hooray Gallery http://www.boo-hooray.com/paul-williams/
Philip K. Dick, Christopher Dick, and Paul Williams. Photo from Boo-Hooray Gallery http://www.boo-hooray.com/paul-williams/

I just learned via Mark Bould on Facebook that Paul Williams, author of the famous Rolling Stones article on Dick–available online here, the first literary executor of Philip K. Dick’s estate and recognized music critic, has passed away.  An official announcement is on his wife Cindy Lee Berryhill’s blog here, the Philip K. Dick Fan Site has remarks and collected news links here, and the Total Dick-Head blog has a remembrance here.

Unfortunately, I never met Williams in person. However, I came to know him, like his friend Phil Dick, through his writing and interviews.

Last year, I was very fortunate to win a R. D. Mullen Fellowship to research in the University of California at Riverside’s Library and its Eaton Collection of Science Fiction. During my two weeks trip, I read through every PKD Society Newsletter–Paul William’s famous fanzine for the Philip K. Dick Society–and listened to his recorded interview with Dick on cassette tape (that the undergraduate archives helper attempted to put into a front loading VHS player before I stopped her and showed her how to put it in the Hi-Fi at the bottom of the media cart).

In William’s writing and interviews, I found him to have an easy-going confidence and the kind of enthusiasm that does not have to be ecstatic. He shared his views, but he recognized the multiplicity of Dickian readings and perspectives. Also, Williams was unafraid to include material that put Dick in the best or worst light. The PKD Society Newsletter was a space where all things Dick could be discussed and shared.

Like watching a TV series on DVD, sitting down to experience the PKD Newsletter in a sitting over several days was like experiencing his promotion of Phil Dick’s work and life in fast forward. My experience is one of the times that I wish that I were older and in the right place to have know about the Newsletter and subscribed at the beginning. What a difference it would have made to read the Newsletter and possibly write letters to Williams as the Dickian scene began to grow and connect many people together.

Nevertheless, I am happy for what I have–to have read and enjoyed the work Williams put into the PKDS Newsletter and his executorship of the Dick literary estate before Dick’s family asserted their control over the estate–something that Williams writes only briefly about in the Newsletter but in such a muted tone compared to his other writing.

I send my condolences to Williams’ family and friends. He did very good work in his life and that is, at least in my opinion, one of the best things that we can all strive to do. It is my sincerest hope to carry on Williams’ work and love of Dick’s fiction in my teaching and publications.

Godspeed, Gary Stephen Thompson (1945-2012)

Scanning from left to right in the adjacent picture from Christmastime 2008, you will see Bob Rainey, Mark Warbington, Paul Talamas, Gary Thompson, and me. This was the last time that I saw my friend Gary jovial and excited with life.

On my way home to visit my family that year, I stopped through Atlanta to see the good friends that I made during my Mindspring and Georgia Tech undergraduate days. The five of us in the picture often met up at Mark’s house to tinker with computers (and technology in general), watch Red Green episodes (among many other things), and play Battlefield 1942 (with the Desert Combat patch).

Since I had left Atlanta for graduate school at the University of Liverpool and Kent State University, I had not stayed in touch as much as I would have liked to. However, news has a strange way of finding its way to you through unexpected paths or random encounters. In Gary’s case, I knew that he continued with his annual participation in the Stone Mountain Highland Games, worked with another group of friends building an experimental kit airplane, and recently retired from General Electric where he was an highly experienced machinist.

When I received a postdoc offer from Georgia Tech, I was excited about the prospect of catching up with my friends and hanging out again like we used to do at Mark’s. I realized that time and life had continued during the six years I was absent from Atlanta, but I did not expect the terrible event that coincided with my moving back to the area.

Continue reading “Godspeed, Gary Stephen Thompson (1945-2012)”

John Neville, Shakespearean Actor Turned Science Fiction and Fantasy Star, Is Dead

I was saddened to learn that John Neville, the actor well known in science fiction and fantasy circles as Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen and Chris Carter’s Well Manicured Man from the X-Files, passed away over the weekend. I found his acting to be an inspiration and model to me as I was growing up.

I first enjoyed John Neville’s acting in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen shortly after it first appeared on cable tv. My grandparents had cable, so I was able to catch up on movies when I visited them on the weekends. I must have watched it a dozen times.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen demonstrates how ambiguous truth and fiction can be in a world full of horror and death. Furthermore, it establishes the necessity of imagination to overcome the harsh reality. I admired Munchausen’s ability to lift people’s spirits, inspire his compatriots, and fend off ever-present Death. My idealistic self wants to be just like Baron Munchausen.

 

Later, Neville stood out on The X-Files in the role of the Well Manicured Man, a powerful associate of the Cigarette Smoking Man (played by William B. Davis). His character combined a proper demeanor with brooding confidence. My cynical self wants to mimic Neville’s portrayal of this calculating character.

Read his obituary in The New York Times here.

Cognitive Scientist David Rumelhart Dies At 68 – Slashdot

While I was waiting in line at the post office this morning, I saw this post on slashdot.org: Cognitive Scientist David Rumelhart Dies At 68 – Slashdot. Rumelhart was on the forefront of modeling brain behavior with computers and developing the core concepts of neural net algorithms. There are obituaries of Rumelhart and remembrances of his work here and here. Also, check out his wikipedia article here.

David Eddings, 1931-2009

On Tuesday, the fantasy author David Eddings passed away.  His works are definitely important and well-regarded in the field.  Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to find my way into his imagined worlds, which my friend A.P. Canavan is writing about in his dissertation at the University of Liverpool.  

Some of Eddings’ obituaries can be found here, here, and here.

David Carradine, 1936-2009

My buddy Chris reported on Facebook that David Carradine has passed away.  I grew up watching Kung-Fu, and I enjoyed his portrayal of Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.  However, I recently remember Carradine’s work as a voice actor reading John Twelve Hawk’s science fictional story about the resistance against the “vast machine” titled The Traveler.  Unlike the delineation of characters in the novel, I imagine Carradine being a Traveler and Harlequin.  Godspeed, David Carradine.