Thank you to the lovely Dr. Anita Auerbach for allowing me to share her eulogy for Richard Thompson. Her words met me where I was at. And for that I am grateful.
EULOGY for RICHARD THOMPSON
For some reason the brightest stars always seem to burn too briefly. Life in the end, as portrayed in a popular Jimi Hendrix song “is the blink of an eye.”
Richard Thompson came into my life very late in his. There began between us a series of meetings in which no topic was off-limits, no emotion, no thought was unspeakable. We smiled, we cried and we told stories to each other. But so often we laughed, particularly Richard laughed, guffawed really, when we reviewed some of his own comic strips and caricatures!! It was as if he was there at their inception again when he knew finally he had gotten it right. For sure, we spoke of the frustrations giving birth to these portraits: the many drawings crumbled, and comic strip concepts torn up, the garbage cans kicked to the other side of the room, the all-nighters, the half-nighters and the no-nighters!
But all of this faded away in his laughter. And this is what I want to impart to you: the extraordinary capacity of this man to retain a sense of humor, a sense of the wry and absurd, even for his own situation: the juxtaposition of his enormous talent trapped in a body that had become so frail and incapacitated, and yet the still huge capacity for laughter and delight. It was a nobility of spirit I have rarely seen, and it was ennobling just to be in the presence of it.
How did he do it? Well he didn’t do it alone and he knew it: “My girls” he would say, “my girls”. His darling wife Amy with whom he found both physical and emotional support, his daughter Emma whose antics on the elevated manhole cover in their neighborhood served as his inspiration for Cul de Sac, and his daughter Charlotte with whose quiet, gentleness of spirit he most closely identified. And Rudy, his trusted aide, whose warmth and strength combined to keep things moving and safe. Visits from his father and brother. And his remarkable colleagues, some of whom you have heard from today, were so sustaining: Nick Galifianakis, Bono Mitchell, Pete Doctor to name just a few whose frequent visits created such anticipation and delight. And when Pete dropped off the director’s cut of his brilliant movie animation Inside Out (in which Richard is mentioned in the credits) and a baseball cap of the same name, Richard proudly bestowed on me the video to view, but he never took off the cap!
I asked Richard once when I was meeting with him now at home, as it was clear we were very near the end, “Are you ready?” “Noooo!” was his response. “What more do you want to do?” I asked. He pointed to his favorite caricature of Beethoven behind him and said simply “Art”. Later that same day, as I stood with Nick outside the Thompson home, he said to me ”You know who that is in there [referring to Richard]? That’s Beethoven.”
We lost Richard shortly after that. But in the end, his was a death with dignity. Why? Because he died in character. Amy made sure of that. He died the way he lived: at home, surrounded by loved ones, all of the enormously prolific art of his career, and even by the characters of Cul de Sac – scenery designed and built by Amy for the play she wrote, directed and produced in bringing the comic strip to the stage.
Astronomy teaches us that there are stars we now see whose light reaches the earth even after they themselves have disintegrated. And so too for us can Richard’s bright, funny, shining memory, the extraordinary reservoir of art and talent that flowed from his hands and his heart, light our world even after he has long passed from it.
Amy, Emma and Charlotte, know for yourselves that the difficulties of his last days, from which this was his only exit, will someday begin to fade so that time heals much of the pain and all that remains is the beauty of the memories, and the love, always the love.
Eleanor Roosevelt in eulogy of her husband Franklin (FDR) said:
“They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind. In those whom they have blessed,they live a life again.”
‘So let us not cry because it is over; let’s smile because it happened.’
Surely a spirit so strong as Richard’s can endure in the hearts of those he leaves behind, so that in the words of a favorite poem:
The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand
The sun goes down but gentle warmth
still lingers on the land
The music stops and yet it lingers on
in sweet refrain:
For every joy that passes
something beautiful remains.
Godspeed, Richard Thompson. Peace be with you. You did all that you could do. Your family who were like friends and friends who were like family, your colleagues and many supporters did all that they could do. Thank you for all you did for all of us. We will miss you but we will celebrate your life for the gift it was in ours.
Dr. Anita Auerbach
26 August 2016
National Press Club