The Magus of the Oakland Hills

On Sunday, we held a brief memorial for Charles Brown at Borderlands Books in San Francisco, the same bookstore that had hosted his 65th birthday party some seven years ago. I was amazed that Liza was able to organize this in the week following Charles’s death, with the magazine deadline looming as well and the entire staff still reeling from the shock. But Alan Beatts of Borderlands was enormously helpful in providing an elegant space, as well as staff support for the event itself.

People started arriving a little before noon. Alan had cleared out one of the display shelves toward the front of the room, where we placed the container with his ashes, his straw hat, and a few favorite books. The store’s checkout counter became the bar, and several catered food stations helped create the exact ambience we’d been hoping for. (With Charles, there had to be good food.) I never actually counted the size of the crowd, but by the time it grew to what seemed like 40 or 50, we figured it was time to start talking.

Liza thanked everyone for attending, and my job was to introduce the speakers and keep things moving. We’d asked three of Charles’s oldest friends, Bob Silverberg, Dick Lupoff, and Connie Willis to begin, since Bob and Dick had known Charles deep in the pre-Locus past, and Connie had been his favored traveling companion and sparring partner for the last few decades. I don’t know that I could reproduce what they said, or if I ought to even try, but we all could immediately recognize the younger Charles that emerged from Bob and Dick’s comments, and most were in tears by the end of Connie’s, which finished by quoting the conclusion of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey:

We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will be enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Things began to get emotional, as we knew they would—though with a fair amount of laughter along the way—and it fell to Liza again, speaking more as a friend than as the new Editor in Chief, to follow Connie’s deeply moving tribute. Some more tears, then—but when I asked other Locus staffers if they wanted to add anything, Amelia popped up to read what was perhaps the most Charles-worthy ironic twist of the whole week: an e-mail from Virgin Airways—addressed to Charles–apologizing for the inconvenience caused by the delay in deplaning following the recent flight from Boston, explaining that a passenger had become seriously ill, and hoping his plans worked out well anyway.

That broke the ice a bit, and a few other speakers–Ellen Klages, Rina Weisman, Carol Buchanan– followed with memories that were often at once outrageous and moving. If there was a recurring theme, it involved a deep generosity and acuity that many of those not as close to Charles never got to see.

After a while we were all ready to get back to mingling with friends and Locus staffers past and present, some of whom hadn’t been around in years. Everyone from the current staff in Oakland was there, and Mark Kelly and I were in from out of town. I’m sure I didn’t get to chat with everyone, but spent some excellent time with Cecelia Holland, Ellen Klages, Eileen Gunn and John Berry, Mark Budz and Marina Fitch, Jacob and Rina Weisman, and of course the Willises and Lupoffs, and Bob and Karen. A few of us adjourned to the Ethiopian restaurant next door afterward, not quite wanting to let the afternoon slip away.

There’ll be another, more public memorial in Montreal in a couple of weeks. It’s scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2pm, August 9, and is in the Worldcon schedule posted on the web.

2 thoughts on “The Magus of the Oakland Hills

  • August 1, 2009 at 4:22 am
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    Gary, thanks so much for posting that. I really wish Jonathan and I could have been there, but you did a very good job of communicating the flavor of the event, what it was like, what kinds of things were said, and I can imagine it very well. I'm sure Charles would have been pleased and moved, and would have very much appreciated that friends like you and Connie and Mark came from out of town to be there. I'm also sorry I can't attend the memorial at Worldcon. It would be nice if someone there could videotape it and put it online…

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  • August 2, 2009 at 7:15 pm
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    Thank you to Kirsten and the Locus staff for inviting me to Charles' memorial service. Borderlands did a great job (and must have foregone quite a bit of revenue to have the store closed for four of its regular business hours). As Gary has related, the event was well executed – alternately humorous and touching in honor and appreciation of the man who was, and will always be, Locus; who celebrated, recorded, and influenced the SF field that was his life and love (which he grudgingly expanded to include a good deal of fantasy and a certain amount of horror).

    When Gary invited former Locus employees to speak, nothing came to mind that hadn't already been expressed. However, I later remembered something that might be worth a belated mention here.

    At a certain point, Charles became very concerned about losing his memory and developing Alzheimer's (his mother had had it), and in the early 2000s he enrolled in a medical study he hoped would determine whether or not he had it, and might help should Alzheimer's symptoms appear. We employees thought he had nothing to worry about (he fact checked our articles mostly from memory, and when he did second guess himself and looked something up, his recollection was usually confirmed). Regardless, he remained unconvinced and joined the study. He chose me to be the person against whom his memory was compared, which I thought was like fishing in a bucket, and might even skew the study's results. But so it was, and at each appointment I was asked to pick an event in the past week that we had both attended, describe it, provide details about location, date, people present, food eaten, notable incidents, and the like. Then Charles would be interviewed and "tested" on his memory of the same event.

    Invariably, we compared notes afterward; he gleefully complaining about my choice of topic, and relishing asking why I hadn't mentioned this or that detail. (Well, I forgot….) But the kicker in this routine was that the prettier the interviewer, the more specifics Charles could remember and expound upon to her – which not only gave us both a good chuckle, but reassured him that if he could rise to the occasion and be "on" in order to impress a beautiful woman, Alzheimer's was not yet at the door, which in turn helped to diffuse the fear and keep up his spirits concerning his mental acuity.

    So, in addition to learning of his "good death" – peacefully in sleep, in the company of a loved associate, after attending one of his favorite cons where he saw many of his favorite friends and colleagues – I am also glad and grateful that his fear of developing Alzheimer's never materialized.

    He and I had our differences, and in the years since leaving Locus when our paths crossed at cons, he sometimes snarled at me, and others gave me a hug and said he missed me. Whatever any of that meant to him, all-in-all I was fortunate to have had him as a mentor and a friend for four years, and to be a part of the Locus family.

    May Locus live long and prosper. (Lest anyone think that too sci-fi and not SF enough a reference for Charles' taste, he felt that Star Trek was a major impetus in getting women interested in science fiction, and worked on the campaign to save the original Star Trek series from cancellation in the '60s.)

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