Today my friend George Brett died. He was 67.
I want to write about him now.
George inspired and taught me with every conversation. He had a gift for looking hard at people, weighing them to see what they needed, then quietly presenting a dollop of idea, a germ for a mental revolution, a glimpse of a vista to behold.
In 2010 I took a photo of him reading aloud at home, and with his last name lurking on a bookshelf beyond.
This is him feeding my hungry brain:
His face shows him thrust deeply into the book, wringing from it a tale and words to bring back and share, dripping in the daylight.
But a few seconds later I saw this through my camera, too, a subtly different view:
Here you can see through his shoulders and chest a deep strength, not often obvious from a man of such rich gentleness and delicacy. This is a man who persisted, who always pushed through into the future beyond where most people could think. Sitting down to talk with George or exchanging digits in cyberspace was like grabbing the attention of a well-seasoned time traveler or astronaut.
I like to think of him in that strong mode now, before a vicious pack of biological evils fell upon him and gradually hauled him from life.
George’s mind was a glorious whirl, always in advance. Videoconferencing, the 1960s, visualization technologies and techniques, wikis, concept mapping, the deep spirit of hypertext, the nuances of virtual communities, politics, ebooks, Internet2, learning, teaching – talking with him was like being a student again, hanging out with the best professor you could hope for.
And he was always playful, with a grand sense of fun and devious, even dry wit.
When I first met him he spelled his name “geORge”, which is awesome.
And he was always there with caring and generosity. You could see this in his family, whom he loved so deeply, and who adored him in return. They were with him right through the end.
George made all kinds of time for me, no matter where we were, in person or online. He talked me out of many dark moments, from frustration to depression. He kindly tugged me along, showing me ways forward that weren’t so bitter. Again, always with gentleness and wisdom. I can see him now over a meal, walking the streets of DC, in a video chat box, in a conference hotel ballroom, listening and thinking.
I didn’t return the favor like I should have. George was a creative master of fabric art, a field I never appreciated. His digital work took him far into networking technology and I never followed him there, which was foolish of me. He was present at times when I didn’t connect with him, which was my own damn fault. Nineteen years separates our ages, and I wasn’t good about trying to cross that generational gap.
All of these failings are so clear to me now, now that it’s too late to repair them.
George knew so much. And gave it all right back to the world, smiling, even when the world didn’t get it.
I’ve never met such a soul.
I don’t think I’ll know his like again. I miss him far more than I can write in this miserable blog post.
I can’t revise this any more.
Rest in peace, my dear, dear friend.
Dear Bryan, you so exactly describe our George. He loved you and admired you. All will be well. His spirit of adventure and research and possibiity lives on in his daughters and his grandson, I assure you. Love, Sally
Dear Sally, it means so much that you took time to read and reply here. Thank you for doing so, and for the kindness of your words.
All best to your family –
George Howard Brett II, meet Lynn Burton Daniel. He beat you there by only a few weeks, himself another victim of evil biological demons. I know you will have much to talk about because you have much in common. It’s likely that you’ve read the same books. I hope you remember your wives from time to time, because we think you’re the smartest, sweetest, most handsome men we ever knew. We’ll spend the rest of our lives longing for your presence and regretting that we weren’t paying mmore attention to everything you had to teach us. We are comforted only by being assured that so many besides ourselves recognized your quiet genius. Send us a sign sometime, if you will, just to give us a foretaste of what it will be like when we are reunited.
I am so sorry for your loss, Martha Jane. Lynn Burton Daniel sounds like a great person. Thank you for connecting, and for your gentle words.
This news makes me so sad, Bryan. Such a young man, in so many ways.
I met George at one of the UMW Faculty Academies. Accompanied by his traveling companion, GeoDuckie, George would snap pictures of people like me with the little yellow rubber duckie as part of a geocaching adventure. He made folks smile. Here is one of George (aka cORbie da Elder) that I found in his GeoDuckie album on flickr.
Here is a link to the whole album: https://flic.kr/s/aHsiDD78qy I challenge you not to smile, at least twice, while going through these images.
This news makes a cold, grey, sad day in Northeast Ohio even colder and sadder. George and his rubber duckie brought a little spark of light and whimsy into the world, something that will be sadly missed.
Rest in peace George. You will be missed.
Whimsy and making people smile: yes indeed, Barbara. Oh, what a fine photo.
Ah, you made my cry all over again.
A lovely remembrance of an extraordinary individual gone way too soon. His great creative energy and curiosity was so evident, always. He’ll be much missed. One thing for sure: he had a broad and deep impact.
Curiosity indeed, Valerie. Well said – and thank you for sharing here.
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some move our souls to dance.
They awaken us to new understanding
with the passing whisper of their wisdom.
Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.
They stay in our lives for awhile,
leave footprints on our hearts
and we are never, ever the same.”
Very nice, Alex. Very true.
Such lovely tributes to a wonderful and deserving man. I recalled a day,years ago, when my late husband Frank and I were visiting and for some reason when we got to the house for a brief time, only the litt;e girls were there. Frank commented on a windsock, very colorful, flying in the breeze, and one of the girls said, “Daddy made it!” That was typical of little surprises we had grown accustomed to. He will be missed. Like Frank, he had this magical sense about him, especially with children. God bless you George, there are children in Heaven waiting to meet you..
Surprises and magic – what an anecdote, Susan. So true.
Pingback: We Are Lesser World Without George, Without GeoDuckie
George glowed with humanity, it starts with a smile. I worked with Sally mostly, but some with George. What kind hearts. It is a double loss, losing George, and losing the blending of Sally and George. A model to us all. No relationship is perfect, but they perfected each other. Half of that has moved on. My heart aches for Sally and the family, as I am sure Sally has been aching for quite awhile. I believe she was a rock to his anchor. George ached quietly for Sally knowing she would be losing his physical presence (since I didn’t see him as his condition progressed, I can only surmise).
Beautifully said, Paula.
As a step-sister through marriage, I spent the most, albeit short, time with George at the marriage of our parents in 2005. George was best man to his father, Rock, and I, maid of honor, to my mother, Lou. In the ceremony, George and I had to walk out from behind the vestibule together. I remember being impressed by how tall he was and his kind smile and demeanor, apparent even then, just shortly after we had met. I didn’t spend any appreciable time with George after that whirlwind weekend when our families became entertwined. But I did talk to him a few times via phone. He was a gentle giant and I am saddened he was taken so soon.
“a gentle giant”: well said, Kathy.
I feel a lot like you feel — the regrets, I mean. George was so generous and I didn’t give back. He was well-loved though, and I think he knew/knows that.
Thank you for that thought, Dona.
And for the fine post, too.