My house is full of his photography but my heart is full of memories.
Pirkle & I made it a point to hang out the last 3+ years knowing that we met late and time is finite. I spent an afternoon with him in Nov 2008 watching Jane Reed’s documentary about him, talking about life post-Obama, and of course catching him up on my sons. (My youngest son Bryan wrote Pirkle’s Wikipedia entry.)
Michael, Coleman, Bryan, and I enjoyed a meal together in his honor. I attended the memorial for him at his home in Mill Valley CA.
I cried upon hearing the news but as I prepared for a bike ride I began to reflect on the time we spent together, the stories we shared, and the wisdom he imparted. All made me laugh, again and again. Brilliant, impish, sharp as a tack, and one who kept me on my toes. He playfully challenged me at every turn, ever the teacher. I was expected to keep up but tutoring came without judgement. If I ever had a mentor, Pirkle was it.
When I bought my current home I told Coleman and Bryan they could pick one photo out of my collection to hang in their rooms. They both picked photos of the Black Panthers by Pirkle. In fact, I always told him the only reason I even bought a house was being a guest at his place. I was content to travel and buy art, renting as I went until I saw how Pirkle shared his home and his life, his life and his home.
I sent him one of my digital-cameras-in-an-Altoids-tin for his 95th birthday after hHe marveled over ones I’d shown him. Age notwithstanding, he was the most contemporary guy I knew!
Pirkle and Jennifer looked at my photos of the 40th reunion of the Black Panther Party and asked me about Big Man. I didn’t know him then but met him through Ilka Hartmann, another photographer who chronicled the Panthers back in the day. I arranged for Big Man to come to a gallery talk Pirkle gave in Napa Valley. They hadn’t seen each other in 30 some years, each assuming the other was dead!
The memorial service was a great. In fact, it was fun! Great weather. Lovely people sharing their memories of a wonderful man, a master photographer, and a teacher to all who knew him. I shared with old friends, those I call my California family, and met new ones too.
And like all good memorial services, it was closure for so many of us.
Copyright 2012 Jerry Whiting. All rights reserved.