Farewell, My Friend
In Honor of Noted Writer John Darling
By Susanne Severeid
I walked slowly down the footpath alongside John and Ann’s home. Though the flagstones were beautifully strewn with red rose petals, this was no wedding. It was a ceremony of another kind of love: the love of honoring someone who has touched many lives and the beginning of letting go. It was a small backyard gathering, masked and distanced as COVID requires. We were mostly silent in the gathering darkness of a bleak winter dusk, bundled against the thirty-degree-something cold, holding candles, on one of the last days of the year 2020.
John lay in bed inside the house, his head propped up on a pillow, able to FaceTime with some of the friends present who wanted him to know what he meant to them.
I first met John when he stopped me on the street in downtown Ashland and asked me for a quote to use in an article he was writing. We chatted and when he learned of my professional background in the writing and entertainment fields, he followed up with an in-depth, front-page profile in The Tidings. We became friends, meeting spontaneously for the occasional beer at Growlers or glass of wine somewhere downtown. We kvetched about local scuttlebutt and politics and—after Trump’s election–our mutual concern and disgust with the trending toward rightwing corruption. I remember how his eyes lit up when we talked about his time as a UPI reporter covering Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign in Oregon. (I was growing up and living in greater Los Angeles with my parents at the time, and I still recall the night of RFK’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel, and the local radio station playing, “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love.”)
I am grateful for my friendship with John, and for his seasoned journalist’s ear and always-curious interest in local issues and goings on. He was a masterful writer, and through his articles, poems and stories he educated, encouraged, and informed.
John did not do things from a distance. He had the “chops” of a journalist who knew his beat and the players; he understood the subtext of a story. He was an “old school” reporter, and I mean that as a compliment. Whether at a press conference or rally on the plaza, he was on the spot to see and feel it for himself. His shaggy, long hair adding to his casual, unassuming look, and armed with small notebook and pen in hand, I remember watching more than once as he wrote in a hasty scrawl that made me wonder how he would ever make sense of it once he got back home to his computer. But he did. He asked questions, and understood the deeper nuances of a story, whether about City Hall, a personal profile, or introducing a new business in town.
When we lose someone who has been part of the mosaic of our life, it is painful and deeply felt. Shortly before his death, his partner, Ann, texted me to say, “He wants you to know: ‘I’ve always loved your writing and your friendship.’” It means a lot that he took the time and energy to convey that message to me. But that action alone says volumes about who he was.
John used his talents widely and well, something we can all aspire to. He gave so much to this community, the Rogue Valley, and beyond. I am convinced that his spirit will live forever through his writings, views, courage, and humanity. I have been honored to be his friend and colleague, and I wish all strength to Ann and his children and family. They are lucky to have had him in their lives.
Farewell, my friend.
Susanne Severeid is an award-winning author, public speaker and performer with a background in international journalism. www.susannesevereid.com