A Season of Farewells

The heat wave has broken and the leaves have started to change. Autumn is coming, that annual reminder of the eventual quiescence of our own souls.

But this summer has felt sadder than most, a reality made clear again last week with the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. Among the others we said goodbye to this summer were Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Frank McCourt, Walter Cronkite and Michael Jackson. I knew none but have fond memories of all. I’ll always be grateful to McMahon for his hearty laugh on the “Tonight Show;” his guffaw made me feel secure when I was a boy and my parents and older brother were out for the evening and I was home alone in the house. Likewise, I am indebted to Fawcett because I did my homework in front of the show that helped make her famous, “Charlie’s Angels.” Years later, I savored the poignancy and precision of McCourt’s memoirs.

Once, in the autumn before McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” was published, I was visiting an editor at Cosmopolitan. Another editor popped her head into the office where we were meeting and asked my editor, “Do you have ‘Angela’s Ashes?'” My editor shook her head no.

“You and Angela must have been very close,” I murmured solemnly.

“It’s a book,” she explained curtly.

And Jackson played a part in my understanding of how democracy works. When I was in elementary school, my teacher had the class vote on which song we preferred: Don McLean’s “American Pie” or the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Don never had a chance.

But since Memorial Day, my little village, Lincoln, has lost some notable citizens, too, and although there were no reality TV shows about their deaths or glossy magazine stories examining their legacies, their impact on our community was profound. This summer we said goodbye to Susan Heck Oliveau and Morton “Lucky” Diamond.

Susan, a mother and grandmother, had worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., charting the Earth’s rotation for NASA, before retiring to Lincoln. Here she served as a board member and volunteer at the Lincoln Library, where children and adults savored the way she channeled her old career into her new life, sharing her knowledge of the heavens with her “Starry Skies” presentations.

“She could always be relied upon to offer her strength whenever it was needed,” recalls Linda Norton, the Lincoln librarian for over 30 years. “Her relationship to the community was like that of a rock in the foundation of a house — perhaps not readily seen, but a solid presence that will surely be missed.”

Susan died of cancer May 25.

Lucky Diamond had been the town constable, was a dedicated American Red Cross volunteer, and along with his wife, Louise, was co-director of the Addison County Community Emergency Response Team. People in Addison County knew they could count on Lucky, whether it was to help with the search for a missing college student in Middlebury or to help a village like Lincoln cope with the loss of many of its paved roads and two of its critical bridges after the New Haven River flood in 1998. Among his most satisfying accomplishments? He helped design and convert a bread delivery truck into a Red Cross Mobile Kitchen. But when a good friend such as Dave Harrison remembers Lucky, he recalls the care with which the woodworker would craft a dulcimer or turn wooden bowls as gifts for a grieving family.

“He knew the true spirit of the word commitment,” recalls Tim Stetson, Senior Director of Administration and Emergency Services for the Red Cross of Northern Vermont. “He was among our most active volunteers.”

Lucky died of an aortic aneurysm June 26, just days after celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary.

Now, neither Susan nor Lucky ever made it onto the cover of a news weekly when they were alive. Neither of them was asked to spend an hour with Larry King. But the world was a better place for their having walked upon it.

Thank you, Susan. Thank you, Lucky. You are indeed missed.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 30, 2009.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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