He loved the mad ones.
The ones his beloved Jack Kerouac said were “mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved. Who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...”
Richard Gaines found those words by Kerouac on a poster and framed that poster and hung it in a place of honor, so no one who walked through his front door could miss it.
Richard was not, to put it mildly, much on religion. But that poster was for him religious, and its words were a holy credo, and he lived that credo every minute, hour and day of his life. His life was not nearly as long as those of us who loved him wished it could have been. But if it had to end when it did, that it ended as it did is at least some comfort.
He went surrounded by his garden. A personal Eden he’d created and cultivated with his heart and hands. It was his little patch of paradise; he is in every blossom, every leaf, every blade of grass and green living thing growing in it. He went under the summer sky he loved so much.
Under the sun burning like Kerouac’s fabulous yellow roman candles exploding across the stars. He went in the water, and he loved the water. Rocked in its arms like the seamen and fishermen whose lives so inspired his life, we can imagine
that as he went, it may have been for him as the great TS Eliot who had, like Richard, swum and sailed through the summers of his boyhood in the waters of Gloucester— wrote in his poem ‘Death by Water’ that “he rose and fell ... passed the stages of age and youth, entering the whirlpool.”
It’s impossible to think of Richard as dead. He would say it’s an oxymoron. He would say he still had so much more to do, and had he lived, he would have done it. He never, as far as he was concerned, could have done enough for his
fishermen. He was their warrior, he was a warrior.
His favorite piece of music was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and when it came to the fishing industry, his pen was
one terrible swift sword that cut to the chase, cut to the heart of the matter, cut the powerful down to size, and his truth is
marching on right now — in the form of a lawsuit lodged against NOAA, in which Attorney General Martha Coakley accuses the federal government of failing in its responsibility in considering the devastating economic impact of their regulations on our fishing families.
Anyone who knows anything about Richard Gaines knows that he, in effect, is the author of that lawsuit. He could have been a lawyer. He could have been a lot of things. Like that famous cat, he lived nine lives (at least) — lived every one of them to the hilt. Once, he devoured a lobster whole, shell and all. Never mind that it landed him in hospital. That’s just how he was, how he devoured life.
He loved to bomb around Gloucester blasting the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at deafening decibels, and on one such trip his passenger, Joe Garland, begged him to slow down. But he couldn’t. Not because there was anything wrong with the brakes, but just because it wasn’t in his nature. It wasn’t Richard. I’ll never slow down, he told Joe, and he never did.
Like Joe Garland, he was a conscientious objector to the 21st century. In the newsroom, he had no patience for new fangled gimmicks like Google. Why waste time Googling, he’d say, when he had a perfectly good and faithfully dog-eared Encyclopedia Britannica at his disposal?
He was, as many have observed these past few days, a throwback as a journalist, a quixotic idealist living in a world that has largely forgotten the meaning of those words. But he was also, as a man, a throwback to another kind of man:
A weekend Theroux, at home in his Walden, where the only wars he waged were with the weeds. A Paul Bunyon character, whose idea of recovering from back surgery was to go out and chop a winter’s worth of fire wood. A Hemingway hero, whose matadors were halfbacks playing college football on TV. A Fitzgeraldian romantic who married a girl who really did come from Gatsby’s world of green lights across the waters of the Long Island Sound.
Richard was all these things, and to his family who loved him, he was everything. A young family friend on hearing he’d died, said, “It just isn’t possible.” And maybe it isn’t.
There were three stories on the front page of the Gloucester Times the day after he died. Two were written by him, and one was written about him.
The one that was written about him said that he was dead. But how could a dead man have written the other two? It just isn’t possible.
Joann Mackenzie is a community editor and staff writer with the Gloucester Daily Times, and a cousin of Richard’s widow, Nancy Gaines.