Some of you know, others do not, that my good friend and teacher Rollin Bishop died on August 21st from a strain of viral pneumonia similar to the strain that killed Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. His death was sudden and unexpected.
Rollin and I met in 1979 when I began working in the field at the State Hospital in Waterbury, Vermont. He was 14 and I was 24. Many of you have heard me tell his story in my presentations. He has been the source of much inspiration and learning for me. I will miss him beyond words.
He was a kind and funny man who had an uncanny ability to connect with all kinds of people. At his funeral service in Newport, these connections were evident, as people from all walks of life spoke with emotion about his life and impact. I told some of my stories. Men from the hunting camp told others. A friend, Paul Mason, broke into tears, while describing the joy of riding his Harley Davidson with Rollin as a passenger. And Rick Densmore, Rollin's "home provider" and best friend for over 17 years, was held in the middle of the room by his mother and daughter as he tried to explain what we all knew -- Rollin was an amazing man and we are all better because of him.
Rick's mother Carlene offered to have Rollin buried in the family cemetery in Lyndon and that's where we followed his ashes. The black hearse made it's way onto the Interstate, followed by Rick and Paul on Harley Davidson motorcycles, loud like Rollin would have wanted them to be, and behind them a long line of cars, twenty or more, each of them, I'll bet, playing Beatles music, loud like Rollin would have wanted (he loved the Beatles).
We held hands, more than 50 of us, in a wide circle around the grave. More stories were told. A prayer followed. And then Rollin's ashes were lowered into the ground. On top of them, rings of keys that he used to love to twirl in his fingers were tossed. One by one the cars pulled away. Rick was among the last to go. And before he had ridden even two miles from the site, his Harley inexplicably stopped.
An hour or so later, my brother Michael rescued Rick and the fallen Harley in his pick-up. When they rolled the bike onto the ground back at Rick's home, it started immediately. Rick said he figured Rollin did not want him to leave him in Lyndon all alone. I have no doubt he was right.
Rollin did not die a lonely man. I am happy to tell you that. I spoke with him the Friday before his death and he was happy. I was to travel to Vermont this labor day weekend and we talked about what we might do and who we might see. We were both looking forward. I can't believe that we won't be seeing each other again. But I can tell you that Rollin had a real and meaningful life, with a wide circle of friends. He died peacefully in his sleep, I am told. And that is a good thing. To die peacefully, to love, and to be loved.
Some of you have asked for Rick's address to send condolences. I know he would very much appreciate it. He has been an incredible influence on Rollin's life for over 17 years and he, understandably, is devastated by Rollin's departure. You can send the cards to:
4838 Vermont Route 111
Morgan, Vermont 05853
PS--I plan to write some of Rollin's stories and include them here at some time in the future. Check back from time to time to see how I am doing.