One year ago, on Sunday, December 6, 2015, I bid my ceremonial farewell to Greg through a celebration of his life at the Salamander Resort near our Middleburg, Virginia home. The memorial ceremony brought together well over 100 friends and colleagues from across the country and from all phases of Greg’s and my life.
While all of the tribute speeches were beautiful, the closing speech was particularly illustrative of why I chose to establish the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund, focusing on animal rescue, veganism, and wildlife conservation, as the best possible way to honor Greg’s memory. This speech was delivered by Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior vice president at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with whom Greg and I had worked closely on the rescue of our dog Itchy and horses Henry and Caroline.
As a longtime student of Chinese language, I was particularly moved by Daphna’s quote from the ancient philosopher Zhuangzi: “Straight trees are the first felled, sweet wells are the soonest exhausted.” (original Chinese: 直树先伐，甘井先竭).
Below is the transcript of Daphna’s tribute, which follows my own in this video I posted after the memorial.
It’s an honor to be here. Thank you so much Alysoun for the opportunity. I was fortunate to see Greg a few times over the last few years, most recently in Los Angeles during our 35th anniversary gala. Greg had the warmest, most contagious smile – and he also smiled with his eyes. For me it was totally impossible to be around him and not smile too.
When I think of him, the word kindness comes to mind. And no one needed kindness more than Itchy, a dog you might have met, who is here with Marina, another dog Greg and Alysoun took in when she needed help.
You’d never guess by looking at Itchy today, but he spent the first ten years of his life in a filthy, cluttered outdoor pen, 24 hours a day, all day long and all night long. By the time we got him, his body was ravaged with heartworm disease, and a very severe whipworm infestation, and he weighed roughly 22 pounds less than he does today. It was thanks to the love and nurturing of Greg and Alysoun that Itchy is now the picture of health and happiness. It’s a real treat for me to see him today.
PETA’s founder and president Ingrid Newkirk sends her love and best to you, Alysoun, and offers these words from all of us at PETA:
“In China they say ‘straight trees are the first felled, sweet wells are the soonest exhausted.’ That was Greg.
Greg and Alysoun’s home became the country seat of love and the planned refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals – from deer to raccoons to frogs to butterflies who live there unmolested and welcome. It is a safe haven for the dear dogs and cats who needed help, and were adopted and loved by Greg and Alysoun.
It also became the safe harbor for two badly neglected horses, Caroline and Henry. Henry was a victim of the horse racing industry; Henry and Caroline had nowhere else to go – but now, thanks to Greg and Alysoun’s commitment, patience, and generosity, the bonded pair prance in fields, their coats and manes aglow with good health and joy.”
Greg understood that all life is precious, and deserving of respect and protection. “The Mouse’s Petition” by the poet Anna Barbauld sounds to us as if it might have been Greg talking softly and wisely to others who might be about to hurt some disregarded living being:
If e’er thy breast with freedom glowed,
And spurned a tyrant’s chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain!….
Beware, lest in the worm you crush,
A brother’s soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind….
So when destruction lurks unseen,
Which men, like mice, may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.
Greg was the angel for many, many, many animals. All of us at PETA who had the pleasure of meeting Greg felt his great kindness, and are honored to have known him.