Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Family man remembered with tears

Gary Hunt memorial captured a unique soul

Express Staff Writer

Penelope Hedrick Hunt emulates her mother, Sarah Hedrick, at the microphone Saturday, during the memorial service for her father, Gary Hunt.

An emotional memorial service for well-respected and beloved Hailey resident Gary Hunt was held Saturday on a brilliant blue-sky day. People remained stunned by the collective tragedy of his untimely death in a car crash on May 10, but couldn't help but smile. For Hunt had a generosity of spirit that seeped into the service continuing its positive affect.

Consider the writer-in-residence program initiated in his honor by one of the Wood River Valley's many book clubs. Consider, too, the variety of people who spoke at the service with such a degree of passion that no eye was left dry and no time remained even to mingle once the service was over.

His intelligence, wit, ability to love and sparkling blue eyes were mentioned often during the speeches made at River Run Lodge, near Ketchum.

Friend R.L. Rowsey, who led the service, referred to Hunt as the antithesis of a generalist. Rather, he was specific. And each of the approximately 700 people who crowded the River Run Lodge held specific memories about Hunt. They remembered books he turned them on to, conversations that linger and remain unfinished. They remember the way he held his daughters and colored with them, the way he skied with his son Gray David, and the way his marriage to Sarah Hedrick brought him—at long last—the family he so desired.

The service began with a slide show of photos created collaboratively by friends Jeff Whitaker and Elissa Kline with help from Gray David. It was set to music Hunt especially loved: "You are My Sunshine," by Mississippi John Hurt, "Life is So Peculiar," by Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" by James Taylor. With this, the ambience was set as, smiling through tears, people sang along quietly, held hands and hugged.

The several speakers, who talked about the "chapters" in Hunt's life, began with Robin Eidsmo, director of the Sun Valley Writer's Conference. For 11 years Hunt managed the on-site bookstore at the conference.

"It's such a privilege to talk about Gary," Eidsmo said. "The writers' conference is such a combination of so many people, in particular writers who came to know Gary and treasure his truly wonderful spirit. We are a family and Gary was such a part of our family."

Writers' conference Assistant Director Marcia Mode-Stavros read "Gift" by W.S. Merwin, a participant in the annual conference, that begins: "I have to trust what was given to me / if I am to trust anything." She said later that the poem gives hope for the future.

Sun Valley Center for the Arts Executive Director Sam Gappmayer worked with Hunt for five years while he was on the organization's board.

"It would be a vast understatement to say that Gary was smart, articulate and well read," an emotional Gappmayer said.

Another colleague and friend from the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Kirstin Poole also spoke.

"He was a gift to all of us," she said. "He worked so hard for this community. His longing was to be a great parent. He was."

Many book clubs counted on the staff at Hunt's bookstore, Iconoclast, to help them with their picks. Ketchum resident Bob Kaplan spoke on behalf of the Words, Wine, Port and Cheese Literary Society, a group that asked Hunt to help them initially.

After the first meeting they asked him to join them.

"He was such a kind and gentle man. He never said an unkind word about anybody. Wait. He did. It was," Kaplan said to laughter. "If there is a big book up in heaven I would bet Gary's already read it."

At the service he announced his group's decision to start a memorial for Hunt.

"We wanted to do something in Gary's name that would fit in with his interests and keep his spirit alive in the valley," Kaplan said. "The Gary A. Hunt Memorial Writer-in-Residence program will be an annual event."

A writer, who will be provided residence, a stipend and expenses, would make presentations at the Community Library, local high schools and perhaps to book clubs, Kaplan said.

"For Gary, Iconoclast was not just a bookstore, it's a lifestyle," one of Hunt's best friends, Jeff Whitaker, said. "I'll end by saying, 'Gary, this is Zelda.'" Then, tearfully, he held his 6-week-old daughter, Zelda, slightly aloft.

Hunt's sister, Brandi Nolet, spoke on behalf of her family. While their mother, Sunee, swayed back and forth next to her, she told stories about him that evinced another swell of laughter.

"Long before he achieved rock-star status in the valley, he was the star in our family," she said.

Mike David, Hedrick's ex-husband and the father of the three oldest of their children, shared parental duties with Hunt over the past five years. They became friends, thanks to Hunt's tact, sensitivity and deep caring nature, David said.

In a nod to Hunt's presence in his children's lives (and preferred footwear) he said he would in turn help Penelope, Gary and Sarah's young daughter.

"Gary would have done the same for me if our flip-flops were flip-flopped," he said.

At last, a poised Hedrick stood at the podium. Eloquently, lovingly, with laughter and tears, she spoke about her husband and partner, their years of friendship, and of how each of her children had held a particular space in Gary's big heart.

"This physical partnership is over but that otherworldly partnership will continue," Hedrick said.

While she spoke Penelope played close by, preoccupied with flowers set-up there, and a microphone where she did a little silent routine that seemed at once touching and hopeful.

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