Goodbye to my most public friend

I’ll be forever grateful to Todd for writing to me on Monday morning with the warning that Rory was in bad shape; it gave me hours to prepare for the next news, which arived hours later: my good friend Rory Root is dead. The store’s site has been remade as an elegant and eloquent memorial and so cyberspace, again, becomes my closest tie with those with whom I need to be to absorb this.

I’ve posted my bit to that memorial but, of course, that doesn’t expunge my grief and, it being Rory and Rory being ultimately about stories, there’s so much more, so many more, to tell. We knew each other for 20 years which, even at this stage of life, is a long time. We talked books, of course, specifically comics but beyond comics as well. We talked about them on the sidewalk, in the shop, in front of audiences (Potlatch, CLA, staff trainings for library systems, cosy programs for kids), at India Palace and its forerunners, over whisky (he preferred Campbelltown). And beyond stories that had become books, we spent hours telling–and listening to each other’s–stories. My communal memories of Rory the sidewalk raconteur get equal billing with my personal memories of driving with Rory, hearing stories of his childhood, of how the cityscapes and countryside through which we drove were in his youth. For most of the driving stories years, the vehicle was that rattletrap white delivery van; I never quite got used to the sleeker passenger van he got a couple years ago.

It was Libby Flynn who organized Rory’s first full out public performance for librarians, back in 1994. Libby started with Rory and me and Rory pulled in Bill Liebowitz and Larry Marder to talk to a room of more than 100 librarians gathered in Pasadena. That was when Rory got his schooling on the vagaries of 741.5, which he took way more to heart than any non-librarian should.

A year or so later, I was putting together a program for BAYA and turned to Rory for help with identifying a couple cartoon storytellers who could possibly show up at 9 on a Tuesday morning to talk to a motley crew of library folk. He brought in Ariel Schrag and Adrian Tomine, neither of whom had dealt with a formal speaking engagement before, both of whom were delightful in the moment, and each of whom has done rather better than just well in the years since! Rory knew quality from the get go, promoted networks, built them.

My own book launch had to be from Comic Relief, of course, and he set it up just right for a middle aged woman and her teenage illustrator. It was shortly after the shop moved to University Avenue, more than enough room for a launch of a book with the limited and parochial appeal of library professional literature. But Rory had the timing right and it was a kind of tea party, rather than an embarrassment.

I got a bunch of emails last evening from Berkeley friends who wondered if I had heard. One went a good and welcome step further: Kay picked up the phone and called. So this morning, when I found that a host of photos has been added to the store’s memorial page, there is a story-worthy quality to the discovery that one of those shots–of Rory’s broad back in his store staff shirt–shows a peek of Kay as well. Another image there, with Rory’s dented chai travel mug and hallmark hat tumbled nearby, shows him writing in my goodbye address book. That was back when I believed I was the one who was leaving.

Rory would be the first to appreciate the pathetic fallacy of today’s rain in Nova Scotia. I’m going off to work dressed in my Deitch-designed Comic Relief t-shirt, with rain in my heart.

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4 Responses to “Goodbye to my most public friend”

  1. sarai. Says:

    I am sorry for your loss.

  2. yvette Says:

    I dropped into his store a few times, hoping to catch him, but he never seemed to be in. I’ll always be sorry that I didn’t get to know him better.

  3. halifaxing Says:

    Yvette, although he’d been in such poor health that he hadn’t been around the store much in the past few months, he apparently was there quite a bit last week–and even made a delivery to BPL, where Gwen chatted with him. Now, if you go by again, give your and my best to Todd and the rest of the crew. Needless to say they are both stunned and working extra hard.

  4. Glenn I Says:

    I just learned the news this morning (5/23); a facebook friend had a note in her profile about it. (The facebook friend is actually a small press … which is actually Jennifer Joseph.)

    So I’ve been to the Comic Relief site and have been doing blog searches to find news & reminiscences.

    No more long sidewalk conversations! Yes, we talked about you more than once, F.

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