I am Betsy Blackmar, and I am one of the many people in this room who arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 1970s very uncertain as to what exactly we were doing. Roy helped us figure that out. What do you do when you don’t know what you are doing? You organize a reading group; you form a collective to produce a journal, you make sure that all of your friends know each other—whether in person or as legends. You give other people drafts of your work to read and read theirs and talk to them. Roy helped us all collectively to gain the confidence to do our creative work, and he helped many of us find jobs, housing, roommates, and life-long friends. Given Roy’s faith in mutuality and reciprocity, it matters to me to think that I may have given him back one thing: he met Deborah at a party at my Cambridge apartment. (of course, given the principles of six degrees of separation on which he operated, they were destined to meet one way or another). And Deborah gave Roy back to us all a hundred fold by sharing his hospitality and wit, and, over the years,—I think it took a long time-- helping him see that he could do even more if he didn’t stay up all night or live on chocolate donuts and Tab or drive himself to exhaustion; she even taught Roy to take vacations, which just seems like a miracle.

Roy recruited me to help write a short screen play for a short documentary by Richard Broadman on Boston’s parks. Then, he suggested that we write a short book on Central Park. The thing is, the story was more complicated, there were more layers, we really needed to bring it up to the present, so more than six years and 600 pages later, we finished the Park and the People. But we would not have been able to do this had Roy not figured out the magic key to grant writing: all of our proposals started with a Johnny Carson joke from the mid-1960s—“It was so quiet last night in Central Park, that you could have heard a knife drop.” It was followed somewhere in the proposal by another one, “Did you hear the Soviet ambassador was mugged in Central Park last night? The park commissioner said it was an exceptional case: ‘it’s the first time they got a Russian’.” I never knew where Roy found these Johnny Carson jokes, but who else but Roy would recognize that someone sitting reading fifty pleas for money would be desperate for some comic relief? Of course, being Roy, he also compiled and analyzed all the crime statistics of the 1960s to prove that it was safer to be in the park than on the streets of New York.

It was not always easy to collaborate with Roy. It was not just the damn to-do lists and the feeling that you could never keep up with him. It was Roy’s honesty: you just couldn’t tell Roy white lies about why you hadn’t done something you said you would do. I don’t think Roy hated a lot of things, but I do think he really really disliked cowardly self-serving white lies and excuses. He also didn’t have much use for pomposity, grandiosity, arrogance, or abuses of power.

There is only one time when I think Roy was actually relieved that I didn’t follow through on something: for his 40th birthday, just after we finished the park book, I gave him a trowel and the promise of 100 daffodil bulbs. I had arranged to have the bulbs shipped to my house in Carmel, but, as it turned out, I didn’t travel to Washington that Fall, so I ended up planting them in my yard: he never asked me what happed to his opportunity to become a gardener.

When I think of Roy now, I think of that little crinkle and light in his eyes when he was telling or hearing a good story. I think of the pleasure of sharing Roy’s and Deborah’s stories of the Human Comedy. It is probably because he recognized and so readily forgave the foibles of his friends, his colleagues, his students, that Roy was able to help so many of us muddle through and collectively hold each other up through so many bad things, political and personal, of which surely one of the hardest is losing Roy himself.

Okay: no tears, no hugging, but here’s a lesson Roy would have allowed: start your grant proposals with a joke.



Betsy Blackmar, “[Untitled],” Thanks, Roy, accessed April 21, 2024, https://thanksroy.org/items/show/597.

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