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Opinion Column]
For the week of December 13 through 19, 2000

Remembering Jack Hemingway, a true gentleman


In 1982, in order to explain to my Southern California friends why in the heck I was moving to Ketchum, I answered, "If it's good enough for the Hemingways, it's good enough for me." At the time, I meant the Ernest Hemingway of literary fame. But since I have leaned more about the beauties of this part of the world and have settled in, feeling more like a native than a transplanted Californian, I have come increasingly to think of "my" Idaho as the kind of place where Jack Hemingway chose to spend his life.

So, today, I write not of the Hemingway who changed 20th century letters with his spare style, although I am tempted to regale you with anecdotes about the times I have spent with Ernest Hemingway aficionados and in the classroom teaching his life and letters. While I too, am a fan of Papa Hemingway, and honor his accomplishments and mystique, this isn't the time to dwell on his works. I think it is maybe more important to honor the memory of his very real son and proud achievement, Jack.

Maybe it is presumptuous of me, one who didn't know Jack Hemingway personally, to write about him. When he was alive and present at so many Ketchum locales, I would never have had the audacity to approach him, although that was my standard, not his. I am very respectful of a celebrity's right to personal space, and, in fact, that is one of the things I like about living here. We don't bug the notable people who pass through here or choose to have homes in this valley. I like that we leave them alone. Many years ago I did succumb to the temptation to compliment Burgess Meredith on his life's work while we both waited in a post office line in Malibu. Luckily, he was inordinately pleased, even adding that that was the kind of applause he lived for. But I do try to be careful, especially here in our small town.

I would hope that my reflections about Jack Hemingway would echo the thoughts of those who knew him well; let me share my admiration for him.

The list is long; I respected him for many things. First, he bore sorrow and pain with dignity; we can all recall the times he had to wear private grief under public scrutiny.

Second, he wore his celebrity well: I never thought of him as someone who cashed in on being a Hemingway; those who spent time with him learned to introduce him by his first name because he didn't want to trade on family fame.

I sensed also that he didn't have a trace of arrogance or snobbery in him. He didn't wear a label that said, "Keep off. I'm a big shot." His friendliness was evident at Chateau Drug, for example, where one could turn a corner and spy that tall and kind figure at the sporting goods section, engaged in a conversation with one of the clerks. Once, I even spoke with him about some fishing tackle I was buying. He gave me his full and gentlemanly attention. A few weeks later I might encounter Jack in the Ketchum post office. Again, he would be chatting with one of the locals about the weather or the latest valley whoop-di-do.

He seemed like the kind of man who would be a grandfather with an ample lap. I have been told that indeed he was a wonderful father, always respecting his daughters even as one accords courtesy to strangers. He was civil and polite, especially to his family, a quality many public charmers lack.

Without observing it directly, I knew he had a sense of humor. Gene Steiner cites an example. When he and Butch Harper were hunting with Jack, they noticed how many times he misplaced his car keys; they all accepted the search for keys with good nature. On the final day they stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Stanley, and Jack unknowingly dropped his keys in the parking lot. Butch found them, put them into his pocket, and kept them through dinner. Then, when Jack excused himself, he slipped them into his coffee. When Jack returned to the table, took a swig of the coffee and felt the keys, he dead-panned, "So this is where they've been!"

It has been noted in other tributes that he worked for the preservation and conservation of Silver Creek and of other wild places, that he served as a commissioner on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for many years. He fiercely protected the Idaho that brought his father here in the `30s. Many have wonderful words of tribute for those efforts.

Most definitively, though, Jack Hemingway seemed like a true gentleman, and I miss that behavior. It is worthy of note when I hear a child say "Thank you" or inquire about my health. In a recent column I bewailed the proliferation of examples of road rage. Sometimes I fear the likes of Jack Hemingway are rarer than ever. I hope I'm wrong. He represented an era which I fear is vanishing...a time of manners, civility, honorable conduct and a willingness to listen. I'm glad gentle and gentlemanly Jack Hemingway passed though our lives.


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