Friday, May 18, 2007

A Small Tribute to a Great Man

A Small Tribute to a Great Man

The uncle I've been visiting in Hospice (see "Parting Gift") passed away yesterday. My aunt spent much of the afternoon telling him stories about his life in Pittsburgh, a city he loved and to whom he gave so much. For the first time in a long time he was able to relax, and he died looking into her eyes as she told the story of him getting into art school.

Jay Bernard was a wonderful artist who had a dream of turning handmade soap into art, and he made it happen. You can see the fruition of that dream at Jay Design. What he has done is truly amazing. I want to share with you two portraits he did of my daughter, Ella. It breaks my heart that he didn't live long enough to draw Addison.

Soon after he was moved to Hospice, I decided to put together a tribute book of my uncle's life. I emailed his family and friends and asked them to send their favorite memories and/or pictures of Jay. I don't know very many of his friends, so I asked the ones I do know to pass the request along. I expected about a dozen or so stories and pictures. I received over ninety. With every picture that was submitted to me, I realized I only knew a small part of who he was. To me, he was a favorite uncle, an artist, my first art teacher, a lover of animals (I knew various cats and dogs, as well as two pet skunks. Others shared stories about chickens, guinea pigs, raccoons...), and someone who always made me laugh. To the other people who knew him, he was a driving force behind the revitalization of his community, a selfless volunteer, an ambassador to the neighborhood, an endlessly generous person and, most of all, a good friend. What was most evident was that he was greatly love and will be greatly missed. He was a beautiful spirit and I am grateful for having had him in my life.

post script:
There was a write up about Jay in today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette under "News Obituaries."
My favorite part is "He also founded The Boys of Lawrenceville, a benevolent organization of gay men in the neighborhood." What if it was a malevolent organization of gay men who did stuff like walk the streets tripping hetero couples? :)


  1. sniffle, sniffle....Oh Ame, you once again, captured the true essence of the final chapter in Uj's odyssey- I was there, as well, when he peacefully died. And, truth be known, I am not quite sure if Auntie's stories relaxed UJ enough so he could pass on, or had he heard them one too many times and simply died of boredom....She really was amazing, I could not have done what she did. I just sat there, listening silently, on the verge of tears, admiring her courage.

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss. I learned a few days ago that my favorite uncle has alzheimer's. I feel stupid for not figuring it out. Last time I saw him, he said he didn't remember me having my last baby and she's 4 1/2 now. But, it still made me really sad and reminded me that we are all, indeed, mortal, regardless of how much we're loved by someone. I'm glad he was able to go peacefully.