Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Remembering Richard Flint 1959-2007

As this new year begins, i continue to reflect on the old year. One thing that has been in my heart most of the year is the death of an old friend, Richard Flint, with whom i worked on the McGill Daily newspaper in Montreal in the early 80s. Not that i'm feeling old and mortal. I suppose i may feel old someday, but now i feel as young as i have ever felt. And though Richard was the exact same age as i, i can't help but feel how young he was to die. Maybe because we were so young together. Richard passed away this past April after living for many years with a debilitating degenerative genetic disease. By all accounts he lived well, despite his illness and i am pleased to see that he was well-liked and respected by co-workers and friends alike. We lost touch by the 90s but i did hear word of Richard every now and again. There are remembrances posted here and here and eulogies here.
Now, while i admit the possibility of nostalgic romanticizing here, i don't think that's what i'm doing. I'll admit we were brash and cock-sure (sexist implication intended) and we thought we knew more than most. But we were also impassioned and we cared deeply about what we were learning, how we were acting in the world to change it and how we would act in the years to come. And i have always held close in my heart the lessons i learned in those years. Not least the importance of passion and commitment. I collaged together a few pictures from this otherwise forgotten McGill Daily meeting (circa 1982). On the left is Richard Flint in what seems an uncharacteristically calm and thoughtful pose (he was usually more animated than this), to his left our business manager Angie, then writer Martin Siberok followed by, i believe, Jeff (i'll correct this if someone helps), then Greer Nicholson (thanks to Suzy Goldenberg for the reminder) and, finally Brian Topp. I'm struck by how this photo symbolizes something i learned very powerfully in those years and which i have never credited Brian and Richard with (except subconsciously). I would say that the thing i learned most profoundly during the years i worked with the McGill Daily and Canadian University Press is, in a word, democracy. I'll not wax on at this time about the complexities of what i mean by this loaded word. But i do want to acknowledge two debts: from Richard, more than anyone else, i learned the need to fight, to push for change, to demand it - the image that comes to mind is that of a sculptor taking great whacks at the stone with hammer and chisel. And if Richard showed me some of the necessary force to shape this stone, then Brian showed me how to craft the desired image. Brian was, and i am sure still is, an articulate and brilliant (both for his age and just in general) thinker about democratic process.

Oh, but we had fun as well. And here's one anecdote of a road trip that remains vivid in both my mind and heart - i call it Almost, But Not Quite - this is for Richard:

It was Friday, September 18, 1981 and a few of us (some, like myself, from the McGill Daily newspaper, and a few from the Student Council) were wrapping up an anti-apartheid fundraising event when we heard news that Simon and Garfunkle were doing a reunion concert in Central Park in New York City the next day. Saturday morning there was some kind of meeting at the Student Union that got a few of us up early. I don’t recall who suggested it (though my conceit is that it was me – this being my story after all), but, in short order, we had blown off our meeting in favour of renting a car and hitting the road for Manhattan and Central Park. If we were lucky we would just make it. Calls were made, I rented the car, hasty packing was done and Richard Flint, Keith Hennessy, Liz Norman, one other woman (whom I’m forgetting for the moment and owe apologies to – was it you, Paula?) and myself were heading down the New York interstate before mid-day.

Well, we didn’t make it. We got to Central Park just as things were wrapping up. Alas, no sign of S & G. But Keith and i weren’t so easily cheated of our fun. We slipped backstage and did our best to impersonate roadies busy with the load-out. We climbed the stage and basked for a moment in our cleverness at standing where, mere hours before, Simon and Garfunkle had stood before tens of thousands. I suppose you could say we were easily pleased. We managed to blend in with the load-out crew well enough to line up for grilled hotdogs which we ferried over to the others on the other side of the fence. We rejoined our friends and, making our way back to our car, saw and large well-equipped bus pulling out of the concert00 area. We fancied it was the guests of honour and waved as if this were so. The buss stopped … could it be? But, no, they were merely allowing two groupie-type women to get off after which the bus drove off into the night. Beside, it was probably just the back-up band anyway. A tad crestfallen we made our way out to Queens where we bunked in with a slightly startled friend (Liz Lilker, an ex of Richard’s) and her family. It was a festive, if slightly awkward evening.

The next morning we decided, having missed the concert, that we owed it to ourselves to take in some Broadway plays before heading home. Let’s hear it for half price tickets: Liz Norman and i went to see Children of a Lesser God while the others went to a Marx Brother’s show, if i recall. It was a great and full day. After finding dinner somewhere we hit the road for home Sunday evening.

We were driving up 11th Avenue and everyone was settling down to sleep, save for myself, the trusty driver. It was then that i noticed the llama. On Sunday evening, on 11th Avenue in downtown New York City there was a man, wearing a pauncho and hat characteristic of the Peruvian Andes, leading a llama along the sidewalk. I laughed, not quite sure that i was, in fact, seeing a llama on a Manhattan street. I told my weary companions about the strange sight and was quickly ridiculed, mocked and otherwise told to “cut it out; we’re not falling for the old, ‘look, everyone, a llama’ trick”. I faced a dilemma. The llama was a block behind us now and i had to decide whether or not i was willing to live with a lifetime of hearing, “Yeah, go ahead and ask Chris about the time he said he saw a llama! Bwaa hah hah!” I pulled a U-turn, drove back a couple of blocks, pulled another U-turn and pulled up alongside the llama and the fellow leading it. I said, “There! See!” Everyone had to admit that it was, indeed, a llama. And, as we watched bleary-eyed and content with our impulsive New York adventure, the fellow and the llama walked into the Irish Cultural Center. It seemed a fitting note on which to start the journey home.

No comments: