Thursday, August 04, 2005

My brother Richard

My brother Richard died July 21.

He was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder on January 12, his 65th birthday.

They operated within two weeks, finding a bigger tumor than expected. They thought they got it all. They were wrong.

The best that can be said is that it was his time; he was at peace with himself and the world and ready to go.

Richard was a big influence in my life. He introduced me to so many things: science fiction; chess; jazz; Mexican food; coffee; beer; motorcycles and girls.

He also was my first mentor in martial arts, though he wasn’t a practicing martial artist. As a teenager he attended a military high school where he was exposed to jujitsu and savate. He was the first person I ever saw throw a kick; this was back in 1959, when I was 5 and he was already 20. He also had a way with knives. He accepted challenges from fencers at his school, successfully closing the gap to win those exchanges. He enjoyed throwing knives and introduced me to a skill I’ve never taken to his level. The self-defense techniques he taught me as a kid are as valid today as they were then, simple and brutally effective.

His greatest passion was music. Richard could play anything. He studied cello as a youth under a protégé of Pablo Casals and at age 12 won an Illinois state competition. He played bass in jazz quartets and a symphony orchestra, guitar and piano as a soloist in clubs. On occasion he would play saxophone or trumpet. He had a BFA degree in music and wrote compositions, from short pieces up to a complete symphony based on Winnie the Pooh. At the end of his life he was passing his love of music to his two youngest daughters, the older of whom is following him on the cello.

Richard eventually became an attorney in Los Angeles, but his love of the arts led him to a side career as a theater reviewer for one of the local newspapers down there. He also took a weekend during law school to write a movie script, which was soon produced into a B movie (we won’t discuss the director’s “additions” to the script at this point …)

He was a very intense person, driven by a formidable intellect, and psychologically self-aware, a student under Abraham Maslow in the 60’s. It was not a comfortable combination, for him or those who were close to him, but it cannot be said that he was boring or mundane. He suffered ill health much of his life; arthritis cut short his performing career in music, and he had heart problems as he got older. Pain-ridden, he became dependent on medications and they robbed him of a lot of vitality these last few years. Nevertheless, he and I always got along; there was a lot of love between us.

He was buried in a small, peaceful cemetery up in Portland, Oregon, close to Vancouver, Washington, where he moved a few years ago with his family.

He was a great brother, and I’m going to really miss him.