January 4, 2010

Gilbert Henry Stafford, 1952-2010

Well, the last time I wrote it was about buying a bow, and that is in the works...

In February 1999 while a fellow at the New World Symphony I received a call from my friend and colleague Philip Payton who was unable to play an outside performance.  Being available, I said yes, and was given the number of a man named Gilbert.

As I AM a South Carolinian, I was raised to address both familiars and strangers in a certain way, and addressed Gilbert as "Mr. Stafford" upon making the first call.

In the second message left for me: "...and Sam, it's Gilbert. So formal..."

The performance featured the Black Door Dance Company, and Gilbert was the emcee:  in a beautiful chair, dressed so elegantly, Gilbert gave audience "the scoop" on what was about to take place.
At that moment, I decided that I wanted to be his friend - and knowing a bit of what South Beach was about, I was determined to not be one of his "friends" for the sole purpose of being let into the clubs. (At that time I wasn't even thinking of going out, but that's another story).

...upon hearing of Gilbert's recent passing, I have like many been flooded with memories. Not only was Gilbert the most amazing host at the many parties and events taking place on the Beach, he was also a truly wonderful person: an intellectual who loved opera, Miklos Rozsa, Sergei Prokofieff and the violinist Nathan Milstein as well as SO many other things (I cannot begin to recall everything). In addition to the nights out there were many hours at his apartment listening to great music and having very lively conversations, with rooms being filled with such interesting and fantastic people from all across the globe.

Still shy then (as I am now sometimes), I was amazed that this man let me into his world - no judgment, no preconceived ideas or expectations of "who I should be", just the inclusiveness that is hallmark of the many humble souls who have graced humanity with their presence.

In 2006, after not having seen Gilbert for seven years (life does what it does, and I moved first back to Houston and later to New Orleans), I decided that I wanted to spend some time with him - he was living in Manhattan at the time. While I did arrive at his apartment early (he was at a meeting), there was no way to describe the joy that I felt upon his walking into the room, towering over me.

Perhaps Gilbert was in many ways the embodiment of the "soul protector" that we have all needed at some point:  just there, no grandstanding, but always ready to do the right thing....those two weeks in Manhattan were so wonderful and I am truly grateful to have had those two weeks to reconnect with my dear friend.

Again, lives and locations change - I to Charleston, then to Baltimore and later the Hudson Valley, Gilbert back to Miami and later to Los Angeles - but we kept in touch, through telephone calls and (recently) Facebook. I did not get to speak to him in depth before his passing, but the last words that I heard were from a kind, gentle, and loving soul.

While I may not have interacted with you as often as many did, dearest Gilbert, thank you for championing me and being a loyal, steadfast, sometimes hard-nosed, elegant, curious, beautiful and stable presence in my life - and thanks for making this kid from South Carolina feel like he truly mattered in the world.

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