Goodbye to ‘George’ . . .
It should NOT have been a surprise.
But it was.
My friend “George,” 88, a survivor of the pandemic but not dementia, died Thursday.
Quite frankly, Georgene Campion had been an unexpected friend.
Although my childhood swimming pool was public and George’s was country club private, it came to pass, George and I crossed paths.
And a decade ago, George became a beloved Sunday dinner companion with our friend Kate van Dyke; a trio taking turns in the chat and chew category, despite George’s delicious option of a country club reservation when it was her turn to cook.
Our three-generational gabfest — each of us separated by a 10-year age difference, became a lesson taught by an elder.
In George’s case, it was a course in radical acceptance; the life lessons of an only child of affluent working parents who knew what it was like to be alone.
“George didn’t let difficult things happening in her life make her a victim,” said van Dyke.
“She didn’t carry a grudge; she moved forward.
“Her generation was a couples world; her husband, Frank, died of cancer years ago; and George could have become a hermit and a miserable person because she had loved her married life,” added van Dyke.
“But George was going to be happy.
“She was going to have a good day.
“And along the way she made you feel great.”
I met George in her dotage; a widow; mother of two grown adults, Kate and Jeff; and a life far different from her halcyon days at the Indian Hill Club circuit of the North Shore.
Still adored by her trove of longtime friends, George opted to sell her family home to become the trailblazing occupant of what she described as her beloved “woman cave,” a modest condo in a new Glenview development.
I did NOT know George as the young model/photo stylist in 1950s-60s world of New York’s “Mad Men” advertising scene, where she met a “weird” shoe designer named Andy Warhol and the ultimately famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon.
I did NOT know George when she married Frank Campion, who worked for the Young and Rubicam marketing company in New York, and became part of the weekend Amagansett social scene hanging out with socialite Dina Merrill, daughter of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post (original owner of Mar-a-Lago), and wife of actor Cliff Robertson.
By the time I met George, she was living on her own as an artist who had become an entrepreneur, a painter of flowers and dogs and things that do not go bump in the night.
A purveyor of magic, a giver of hugs, a shoulder to rely on, George was also a volunteer reader of books to needy children, fierce foe of gun violence, and early advocate of gun control — and the one who personally placed the newspaper in front of everyone’s door in her building.
A sum of so many moving parts, George loved accessories, crossword puzzles, newspapers, shopping at HomeGoods, making artichokes with hollandaise sauce, lunching at Costco where she knew every single person working the front door. She also liked their pizza and hotdogs.
And she timed her morning medicine intake exactly 30 minutes before she ate a breakfast slice of brown bag apple pie.
A collector of an army of Staffordshire dogs, George overpopulated her galley kitchen with blue and white china, tended to sick friends like her army of magnificent window sill violets, nicknamed every one of her cars, and was the smile in each of her beloved “woof” (dog) portraits.
Although the star of George’s living room was a stunning oil portrait of her commissioned years ago decked out in her favorite “hot pink” color, it shared star quality space across the room with “Buck,” the deer head she bought at a flea market and loved.
“There’s Buck,” she would say. “There he is for all to see in all his glory.”
Sadly, came a time when George’s stories were becoming more than repetitive, sentences becoming stumbles, words becoming lost, and a firestorm seemed to be moving quickly through her brain.
Her daughter, who had become a fourth member of our Sunday dinner threesome — adding another 10 years to our now four decades of generations — soon helped her mom transition into a world minus our Sunday dinners.
“Mom just decided early on she would always be happy — no matter what came her way,” said Kate.
“A lot of good things happened in her life, but a lot of good things didn’t when she was young. So she chose to be happy — and it was infectious.”
So it came as no surprise when I was told George had worn a hot pink feather boa when the residents at her facility celebrated Mardi Gras this year.
I’d like to think someone sweetly looked surrounded by a pink feather flourish and said:
“There’s George. There is George in all her shining glory.”
Sneedless to say . . .
It’s been a year of living dangerously.
Living in the cloister of the pandemic.
Enduring the chaos of the invisible schoolroom.
Listening to vaccine deniers, and the cancellation of good sense.
And the inconvenience of truth when political careers are on the line.
Then again, America, it’s spring.
The roses are coming, the tree peony is blooming, the roar of the mighty cicada is a whisper away, and the rare and elusive scarlet tanager flew into my backyard last week.
In sight, a future of living safely.
Sneedlings . . .
Saturday birthdays: Naomi Campbell, 51; Julian Edelman, 35; and Morrissey, 62. . . . Sunday birthdays: Drew Carey, 63; Jewel, 47; Joan Collins, 88; and a happy early birthday to Marie Costello, 90, ageless and priceless.