Oh Fred

A couple of years ago Pierre, my Better Half, was invited by a close friend of his to host a small conference around topics involving architecture and urbanism. He personally chose and invited his interlocutor – Graham McKay, an architect who has taught at universities around the world and is a wonderfully original thinker. (You really have to have a look at his blog, misfits’ architecture – extremely well written, concise, funny, erudite, with plenty of really interesting information on architecture and not only – the scope of his knowledge and what he makes of it never ceases to impress me, and I’m especially tickled when he makes links to music!)

But this post is meant to be about someone else – a guy who serendipitously came to listen and who was the most active patricipant in the discussion after the seminar. A big American guy with a big interest in what was happening around him. He turned out to be a specialist in Hannah Arendt and to have a passion for community building – and the way he wanted to build community was around art. He was passionate about poetry, literature, music. He also was new in the city and wanted to make friends – and so we, especially Pierre, became friends with him. They would have long walks around Brussels, and sometimes they would wind up at our place afterwards. I remember one dinner we had together, the three of us, with him tearing up because of a Nina Simone song playing in the background – it had touched him so much. Another time, when we did a small home concert with our quartet, and he was one of the three people in our audience – bursting into tears in the midst of a Beethoven quartet – 132, with the Heilige Dankgesang, composed after facing death and recovering from a horrible illness, bearing a huge emotional load indeed.

He always wanted to know how we were doing, asking about our plans and encouraging us to not be afraid of difficult choices.

He lived part time in the USA, part time in Europe and the last time we had seen him was more than a year and a half ago. We kept in touch by email and participated in what was called a “working group” – weekly Skype meetings with a handful of people reading a book aloud and commenting on it in turn (with Pierre being a regular and me occasionally dropping in too). His idea for the working group was to read Arendt’s work, but someone had the idea to read his own book – “The school of public life”, written in an effort to “revive and rethink public space”. We ordered the book, we loved it. Then, suddenly, the working group was postponed, he landed in hospital, and some time later, just recently, the news of his death reached us.

It hurt us really much, this news. He had, at 63, so much thirst for life, emotions, expression, art, connection. His enthusiasm was contagious – people like him really make the world a better place and there’s not many people like him. He genuinely cared, he would fall in love, he would be in floods of tears because of a work of art.

This incredibly touching guy was called Fred Dewey and it’s only after his death that we learned that the poetry workshops in the arts centre he used to run in Los Angeles had formed artists from Tom Waits to Amanda Gorman.

Words will never be enough and I don’t feel like I’m doing Fred justice in this short blog post. But I will leave you with something Fred himself had said, something that is very Fred and which can never be repeated enough:
““People are more willing to talk … when they’re sharing something deeply meaningful with each other.”

Read the LA Times obituary, and order the book, if you like!

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