1. Life & Culture

Farewell, Jan Glidewell, and may the circle spin on

When I decided I wanted to pluck some gems from the trove of 3,500 columns that Jan Glidewell wrote for the Times, I expected they'd be irreverent, iconoclastic or borderline lewd.

Jan wrote like he lived his life. There was nothing really out of bounds for a man who fought with the Marines in Vietnam and fought society's norms on clothing, religion, race, sex, and drugs the rest of the way.

But when I asked readers to help me pick the excerpts, the suggestions I got back were mostly of a different sort.

They were columns about things Jan had done for them. They were columns about his generosity. As his colleagues know, Jan didn't hesitate to share his views, or as Times reporter Jamal Thalji reminded guests at Jan's memorial gumbo bash last weekend, views of him. Occasionally, Jamal said, he would open a desk drawer to find a gift from Jan — a full-color photo of Jan clothed only in his flowing white beard.

The best example I found of this kind of column came to me from his last wife, Betty Kennedy. He wrote it in April 2001 and the headline was "Potter's wheel helps the circle continue." It starts this way:

"Just the hint of rain fell outside the small shed behind my house as a switch was thrown and a soft whirring began.

"A shapeless glob of wet clay, reflecting the single electric light with a color on the gray side of taupe, spun as rivulets of water made galaxy shapes as they streamed toward the edge of the spinning wheel.

"I mused on the microcosm at work before me. The wheel, a circle, long a symbol of life, rebirth and the cyclic nature of things, was functioning by the same laws that control the earth and the universe. The Coriolus effect that affects the spin of water going down a drain and hurricanes smashing across the Atlantic was affecting the rivulets of muddy water destined for a yellow plastic catch basin, its color long obliterated by layers of clay sediment — and away from the act of creation taking place at the center of this mini-universe."

He goes on to explain that the potter's wheel had been a gift to his wife, Lee, but she had become sick soon after and had never had the strength to use it before she died in 1997.

So Jan gave the wheel to a friend and co-worker, Suzie Hayes, also a talented artist. Tragically, a recurrence of cancer meant that she had no time for pottery before she died.

"Another potter came into my life at about the same time — my daughter-in-waiting as I call her until her mother and I are married — a 19-year-old woman full of enthusiasm for life and art. ... I checked with Suzie's husband, Tom, and offered to buy it from him. It had, after all, been a gift. But he would have none of that ...

"I passed it along to Kathleen at Christmas time with a note telling her the truth, that I had never given it to a potter I didn't love, and that all I asked was that she do what her predecessors had been unable to do — use it.

"I watched that circle close on the floor of the shed as her hands reached into the shapeless lump and drew forth a perfectly symmetrical, delicately thin pot ...

"I like to think there were more than one pair of hands on the clay."

Editor Bill Duryea can be reached at