A lot of my friends are mourning right now. This brutal cold winter outside is reflected in our moods as we come to grips with the loss of a wonderful human being.
I became good friends with Chris Wright when he was the librarian and I worked for the local newspaper. Back in the early days of the Internet, he introduced me to ICQ and other stuff I had no clue about. I was like a leech trying to absorb information from him because he truly was brilliant.
I got my first story on the AP Wire after he tipped me off about the historic nature of his home in Mentone, AL. As I recall, Thomas Edison or Henry Ford lived there.
He had a great mind, quick with a fun sort of snark, and appreciated the same in others. He could sniff out corruption in institutions, which was invaluable to me as a newspaper reporter. He loved some good small town gossip too.
We were roughly about the same age, so that was something to bond over. We had grown up with the same culture and life experience.
His encouragement and friendship meant a great deal to me (I know a lot of people who feel the same way). What a great tribute on the quality of one’s life when they can leave so many other people thinking they matter.
He believed in the beauty of my dreams and always encouraged me to think bigger than one town in rural Alabama. People in larger cities tell me I don’t seem very country, which I take as a compliment in their playground, and Chris was partly to blame (blame?) for me thinking big. He seemed to instinctively know that whether they love you or hate you, as long as you are polarizing and audacious, you are at least getting a reaction.
He packed a lot of living into the years he had. I wasn’t really around him in those days, but Chris always made it sound like he had lived it up as if tomorrow wasn’t promised. I’m glad he had memories of joyous times living by his own rules. We can’t judge him too harshly when most of us are just slowing poisoning ourselves with fast food.
He was a brave, audacious trailblazer who transcended giving a shit what you might have thought about him. At the same time, at his core, he was a decent, generous soul who could make you feel like you mattered. When he visited Mentone from his home in Arkansas, a night of visitation was a must, filled with laughs and stories. I enjoyed being around the people who gravitated toward Chris. They were, and surely are, interesting and fun people. His family of friends, many of them going back to high school.
If he were alive to read this, I know he could pull me closer, give me a bear hug and tell me he was touched. That was just his way in the rare moments he became serious instead of just cutting up. My admiration for him is one of the major reasons I support progressive causes. He may have been politically incorrect, dismissed by the good ole boy network as an oddball, but Chris was definitely one of the “good guys”.
Chris reached out to me for us to do this photo shoot when he knew his health was failing. He’s the second person this year that I cared about deeply who asked me to do a photo shoot for people they loved to remember them when they pass away.
I love doing photo shoots that are frivolous and fun, but that’s a heavy thing when someone is looking death squarely in the eye and saying, “My number’s almost up. Do me proud and give me something outstanding for my friends and family to remember me by…” Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t help but be touched by that and feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s pretty much what Chris told me the day we did this shoot.
In the case of my friend, Dawn, who passed away from cancer this fall, I connected on an intense level with her survivors when I reached out to let them know they could download whatever they wanted of her from among our shots from that day. I could have been a jerk and said, “That’s $20 per download,” but she had been one of my frequent models. Even after she lost all of her hair, she continued to pose with a wig. We became good friends as she fought her illness, and I learned that she was gone rather abruptly, knowing that she had either misled me about how close the end was or took a sudden turn for the worse.
Sorry, I am rambling. That was indulgent to bring Dawn into this. If I had more time to edit this, I would probably take that out. I’m writing this because the world needs to know what it has lost.
Anyway, there I was again on Friday, finding out through Facebook, that Chris was in perhaps his final moments, then gone.
He fought the good fight for years after this photo shoot. I was relieved to see him continuing to share on social media after he’d told me he was terminal. There was hope, perhaps, even though he’d tried to lower my expectation that miracles could happen.
Chris smiled through so much of his misery. He handled the biggest challenge of his life with an admirable grace and nobility. I’m glad he’s no longer hurting. The world just seems a little more empty knowing his soul has left his body.
RIP my friend. I’ll miss you. Thoughts and prayers to his family, especially Jeff Kelley, who was Chris’ best friend through thick and thin, there until the solemn end. Loved you guys!