Monday, July 06, 2009
Last week, I visited my friend William L. Brudon for the last time. He was in hospice care, and sound asleep when Adrienne and I visited. It was hard for me to see Bill in a state that was obviously closer to death than living. However, he was pain-free, and I'm hoping that his mind was in the dream state that he had talked to me about a few months ago. Today, Bill passed away in the morning, quietly, and gently. He was 87 years old. I don't know if he ever was able to read the last letter that I wrote him last month, or if his wife Margaret read it to him and he comprehended the contents. I'd like to think that he did, and was pleased about what I had told him of upcoming photography projects.
There are a lot of things in my head regarding Bill. Amazing to me that in 10 years, so much has happened. I knew Bill on the downward slope of his life, unlike many other people that had known him far longer. Up until the past year, his mental acuity was good, but other health problems basically made it impossible for him to draw or paint, or even to hold a camera. That had to be very frustrating to man that had been doing those things his entire life.
Bill meant a lot to me -- I always thought of him as a father figure -- someone that could tell a good joke, laugh at a pun, and tell me what I didn't know. He was full of stories, having been in that generation that WWII defined, and though he never graduated from college -- he was the epitome of someone that made great use of their talent. If you do a Google search, you'll see his name on several textbooks of human anatomy and cranio-facial books. He was a renowned medical illustrator at the University of Michigan, and before that, a natural science illustrator. But that's not all -- he could paint lovely landscapes (and in fact, used to exhibit in the early days of the Ann Arbor Art Fair), nature scenes, and knew photography inside and out. He was an ardent bibliophile -- and I have been the beneficiary of some of his library. I have also been the beneficiary of a lot of his photographic equipment, not to mention that my wife and I bought his house in Ann Abor in 2002, which included a nice darkroom. Bill was special to me. He shared his knowledge freely, and was generous with his time to someone that also had a passion for something he cared about.
I knew of Bill long before I met him. His artistic and photographic skills at the Museum of Zoology (where I work) were legendary. He left there in 1960 to pursue a more rewarding career in the Medical School. I met him in the late 1980s, and became reacquainted with him when he volunteered for the Ann Arbor Flower and Garden Show in the early 1990s. My wife saw him more than I did at that time, and when I re-entered photograaphy, determined to learn about macro-photography and to take it seriously, she mentioned to him that we should get together. From that point on, in late 1999, Bill and I became goood friends. He became a mentor, and taught me about art and photography, and was an honest critic of my work.
I wish I had known Bill much earlier in his life -- he had throat surgery before I knew him, and his voice was raspy (and easy for me to imitate -- I'll always think of his "Hey there, young fella.") and as he aged it was harder for him to speak loudly enough and long enough for a conversation at times. After we bought the house, and were going through things he'd left behind, I found a casette tape from the early 1970s, and played it. I was astounded to hear his real voice -- a mellifluous, kind voice that I had never experienced in person.
Even though we shared a passion for photography, we went out shooting together only once - in November 2000, we went over to visit Dick Alexander at his farm near Manchester. I took a bunch of photos then of those two telling stories and laughing away. Bill took photos of me and of Dick as well, and I have those. Bill kidded around with me and often called me "son number 3" and he enjoyed being called Dad, though in my letters I addressed him as Daddy-o. Bill made a difference in my life, and I, in his.
Bill's generosity of cameras and equipment made it possible for me to get a sound start in macrophotography. As I progressed, and it became clear that I was really serious about photography, Bill would pass along another camera or lens or book to me. Just last week, I was using the Pentax 6x7 that he gave me in 2001. So, it's impossible for me to not think of him when I'm out photographing.
I don't believe in an afterlife, and I'm not religious. I do believe that we are remembered by our deeds and by our life's work. Bill's prodigous, if unglamorous, scientific artistry has been seen by thousands of people in the medical professions. His art lives on, and serves to educate others. He was more than an artist, a photographer, a bibliophile, an astute student of the civil war, a philatelist, a tinkerer, a calligrapher, a story-teller, a teacher, a father, and a husband. He was, and always will be remembered as a good friend that has held a most special place in my life.
Bill, in his studio at Silver Maples, 2004.