When Hubs and I moved to Jackson, MS, in 2006, all I could think about was getting back to Knoxville. I missed the mountains and the good beer. I missed my family and friends. I wasn’t prepared for the deep-south, Southern Baptist conservatism of Jackson, and I was terribly lonely.
I’m not much of a church goer, but I needed some way to meet people, so we decided to visit Jackson’s small Unitarian Universalist church, where we met Rick and Elise. Both taught within the English department at Tougaloo College in Jackson. Rick was a folklorist, master bread-maker, and key member of Jackson’s Irish/folk music scene.
Here’s some footage of him playing in Jackson, sitting on the left.
His obituary provides a more detailed rundown of his accomplishments:
An ardent fan of Irish music, Rick became an accomplished penny whistle, tenor banjo, and cittern player while still in college. He played in the band DunCreagan with Tom McKean, Carrick Eggleston, and Kelley Bishop from 1981 to 1994. He started the Irish music session in Bloomington, Indiana, where he played for several years with Reel to Reel. In Jackson he played with Legacy and Spirits of the House, and he played and led workshops at CelticFest Mississippi from 2005 to 2013. He participated in Irish music sessions from New England to Mississippi for over 30 years and composed approximately 100 tunes, many of them now widely played.
I fondly remember him playing banjo at Celtic Fest and at Fenian’s Pub. Such experiences made me realize I could live happily in Jackson, and that I could find people whose company I enjoyed.
Rick and Elise are the kind of parents I strive to become. They prompted their children to be inquisitive, to go outside and look around. I remember visiting one evening for dinner. In an age when flatscreen TVs were on the rise, they owned one small, boxy TV only capable of playing videos and DVDs. They didn’t have cable. Not Luddites, they instead seemed driven create a home-life conducive to exploration, creativity, and interaction. I remember their children (now in high school and college) as bright, both intellectually and personally.
Rick encouraged me from afar at every step of my doctoral studies, responding to Facebook posts I made regarding my studies and dissertation. One of our last interactions–as I worked feverishly to complete a draft of my dissertation–was “FINISH! NOW!” I needed this sort of prompting to gut through pages and pages of editing.
Just nine weeks after being diagnosed with advanced-stage bladder cancer, Rick died on May 28th.
Be at peace, Rick, in this grand universe of ours.