Gene McGeorge
Gene McGeorge

Obituary of Gene McGeorge

GENE McGEORGE, in loving memory. Born in Fresno, Oct. 19, 1927; died in Seattle, Sept. 21, 2013. Born John Grove, or Grover, in the time of the Dust Bowl, to a 16-year-old half Cherokee mother from Oklahoma and a father about whom all we know—aside from him being Grover or Grove—is that he was mustard-gassed in WWI and died in a veterans’ hospital. In Grover City, California. Mother’s name: Marjorie Goodpasture. She picked crops until she died 4 years later. Then John (Gene) and his 2-year-old sister Barbara were sent off to a ‘kid farm’ where the farmers were paid by the head to care for orphans. I suppose these people were foster parents. The men wore one-piece overalls, and some of them played a guitar, probably from Sears & Roebuck. The wife was a large evangelist preacher who beat everybody up, including the men. The walls of the main shack were papered with newspaper. Most of the other kids enjoyed feeding baby birds to the dogs or bending each other’s fingers backwards. Shoes, socks, jackets and sweaters were unknown, as were all foods except hominy. Some time in the past, John had been told, “Whatever happens, take care of your little sister.” He took that job very seriously, so when the foster parents decided to separate them (as punishment for something), he bit the wife down to the wrist bone, and then she broke his neck. After that he was put out in the dirt-yard alone, where he sat with his head on one shoulder and studied ants. ONE DAY, two years later, a long blue Buick drove up, and John was put into it with his paper bag containing two items of clothing. Inside the car were WALTER and RUTH MCGEORGE. After this, John Grove(r) became GENE MCGEORGE and lived with his new parents in one of those ‘One-Nail Macgregor’ stuccoes in Berkeley. His sister remained on the farm. At 14, he was hospitalized for a year with osteomyelitis and told that if he survived he would spend his life in a wheelchair. So it became important to him to become not just a walker but a mountain hiker, as well as to attend university, marry, and have a family. He graduated from UC Berkeley in English Literature. Here he met and married art student PAULINE BLAIR. They settled in Santa Barbara where, in trying to become a carpenter, he quickly ended up designing and building houses on land he bought with his partner, FRANK ROBINSON. There are maybe eighty MCGEORGE-ROBINSON homes in the Santa Barbara area. They raised four children—SEAN, BRUCE, KATIE, and GORM, all currently living in British Columbia. Gene built his family a luxurious peak-roofed, many-windowed, fireplaced home complete with swimming pool. Then he began work on a PIVER-DESIGNED TRIMARAN in which he proposed to sail around the world. This boat was finished but never rigged, because not all ventures had happy endings. At this point, he met his second wife, KAJSA OHMAN. They performed together in an Appalachian string band, THE SCRAGG FAMILY, for several years (I forgot to mention that he played the violin really beautifully), touring the west in a bus. When the band broke up, Gene and Kajsa, with new son GAVIN, moved to a remote area of Montana, where son NILS was born. “Promise you will never write about me,” Gene often said to his second wife. But she never did promise, and in fact she said, “Of course I will write about you. You are ACTUALLY the most interesting man in the world, unlike that TV wannabe who tries so hard to imitate you.” It is true, for many who knew him, that Gene McGeorge was the most interesting man in the world. Heart and soul, he opened himself to everything that came his way, learned from it, and took it in as part of his persona. Everything was an open possibility with his name on it. He went sailing one day, in a rented boat. He didn’t know anything about sailing, but he learned enough about it that day to buy a little sailboat and become a sailor. Eventually he was hired as charter skipper for the famous old schooner SEA SONG, out of Santa Barbara. His nautical career, as with every other aspect of his life, yielded a vast collection of stories--and if he were here, he’d be telling them. (“Once I took the Max Factor family for a cruise,” he would start. “They all had make-up on, even the men, and the daughter wore a mink bikini…….” Or, “Once on the Ensenada race, when I’d had to lock the owner in the forecastle because he was……….”) But anyway—Montana. There was the music store. BITTERROOT MUSIC, in Missoula. This store came to him the way most things came to him, by fate, and he did with it what he mostly did with things that came to him, which was make it beautiful. Wondrous. Shabby, but a place where you could buy a guitar if you didn’t have enough money, or hang out for hours and buy a single string. He was universally beloved, though one of his employees chided, “Gene, you just cannot be a businessman and hold your glasses together with a safety pin.” Concurrently there was the next band. [The Kajsa Ohman Band, eventually called THE ROUGH RIDERS, with Steve Garr and Mike Story.] For a time they were the ruling band of Missoula’s TOP HAT, worked constantly, toured a lot and were insanely popular until they broke up, as bands are likely to do. Then he was invited to join the sound crew of THE GRATEFUL DEAD for an eastern tour. And from that, more fabulous stories. Oh, I almost forgot. Gene—now officially Captain McGeorge—was hired to go to SRI LANKA and rescue a big sailing-cruiser that had been stranded there. This entailed a long stay while the boat was repaired and equipped, followed by weeks at sea—and the stories kept coming. How we all wish he had written them down! But so much of every story was in his telling, his arm-waving, his uproarious laugh. Then sometime along in there, he served as COURT WATER COMMISSIONER in the Bitterroot Valley. This job is commonly referred to by ranchers as ‘ditch runner,’ but Gene became known and appreciated as a problem-solver and negotiator who could bring longtime enemies together to talk things out. Honestly, if he had been PRESIDENT OF THE U.S., we wouldn’t have all these problems now. Needless to say, though, he didn’t want that job. During the many years after all this, when he and Kajsa were not traveling in their old motor home, he did volunteer work, substitute teaching, drafting, and the occasional music gig. Also there was the endless task of building his log house. Endless because for one thing, there was no more money, and for another, he was kind of wearing out. He really loved the coffee-hour by the morning fire where there was no subject left un-discussed, and the evening cocktail hour, where the sunset was never the same twice. No matter where he went or how successful he was, the Dust Bowl clung to his roots. Whatever he saw as a child, in that absolute rock-bottom poverty and plain meanness, whatever he learned while sitting alone watching ants, it was something that set him apart from the rest of the human world, an almost magical wisdom that lit the way for others, even if they didn’t know where the light was coming from. Because Gene really did not claim to be that light. He didn’t desire the Sage’s Throne. Mostly, he wanted to have fun. He wanted others to have fun also. He wanted people to get their hearts’ desires. He wanted no one to be hurt by the fun or have to pay the piper. He wished for a world where everyone would just naturally give more than they took. He wished to spread out his hand and say, ‘Let all good things appear.’ And half the time they did. The other half the time? Oh my. On material evidence alone, sometimes he seemed like the man in Jesus’ parable who did not build on rock instead of sand. Over the years much of what he accumulated or built just seemed to sift away. And more was built, and more sifted away. However, the fact is that he did build on rock. The rock was in him, and he built on it throughout a long, rich lifetime. We who are left behind can build on it too, any time we want, because he showed us that it’s just there, for all to use.
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