Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger (1919 - 2014)

by Dick Mac

Pete Seeger
I stood-up to relieve my discomfort after listening to a brilliant man, elderly now but with a legacy that rivals any other intellectual’s legacy, eulogize his wife.  They were both well-known American activists associated with some of the most famous and infamous names of the 20th Century:  from Ella Baker and W.E.B. Du Bois to Che Guevara and Kathy Boudin.

The elderly man was stately and regal-looking, he had the powerful voice of a litigator and orator, and his advanced years, though showing physically, had not affected his brilliance.  He had started weeping and it turned to sobbing, and he was unable to continue.  He did not look broken, just sad, very sad.  He was escorted from the stage by one of his sons.

Somebody else began speaking from the stage at the SEIU 1199 Hall at 43rd and Eighth while many of us fidgeted back and forth one foot to the other, empathizing with the pain of this widower.

I found myself standing next to an older man who was not wearing a suit as most of the men were.  He was pleasant and when we made eye-contact, he extended his hand:  “I’m Pete.”  He smiled.

I knew his name was Pete.  I suspect everyone in the room knew his name was Pete.  He was present to pay homage to his friend, the late Joanne Grant.  It was her husband, Victor Rabinowitz, who had just eulogized her and left us all feeling deeper compassion than I knew I had.

I thought it must be awkward for Pete to be in these situations, these gatherings, but he was relaxed and pleasant.  I introduced myself, and he said he would miss Joanne, that her death was a big loss for the world.

I did not know Joanne personally, I was friends with her son, Mark, and it was because of him I found myself in the midst of Leftist New York this particular evening.  I was there because he was my friend and his mother had died.  I felt awkward, not knowing anyone personally, but everyone was very gracious and open and welcoming.  Pete and I exchanged a few pleasantries, and I did not want to behave like a groupie or be a burden on him; so, I eventually trailed off the conversation and let him move to the next mourner cum well-wisher.

He did not take the stage and sing a song of protest, he did not make himself the center of attention.  At that event, Pete Seeger was the most humble famous person I'd ever met.  I now regret ending the discussion so quickly, because when would I have a chance to meet him again?

Well, it appears, never.

Godspeed, Pete Seeger.

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