My late husband Greg was born June 6, 1963 — 60 years ago today. As one way to keep Greg’s memory alive, I share here the tribute I wrote in the first weeks after his death, and delivered at the celebration of his life on December 6, 2015 — which still holds up very well for me, despite the passage of years.
In the tribute, I shared stories of animals we rescued together. Most of them have joined Greg now — though horse Caroline is still with me, along with three cats from those days; and I have since rescued another horse named Charlie and a dog named Christopher. Of course, too, I have established this fund — which has helped facilitate the rescue of countless other animals, in addition to supporting campaigns to make the world a better place for non-human species.
“Greg came from a modest background, and worked extraordinarily hard to succeed in a competitive industry. I was always so proud of what he accomplished in his career through his intellect, energy and wit.
But what really made me proud was this: as soon as Greg had the means, he went out of his way to take care of people – his family, friends, and professional mentees. And increasingly in the last 20 years, he directed his nurturing energy not just to ‘skin people’ as he liked to call our human sort – but also to ‘fur people’ as well as ‘feather people’, ‘scale people’ and others.
Greg never doubted that if someone needed help, he could provide it through sheer force of will. No relevant experience? No problem – he would learn! No resources immediately available? Not to worry – he would find them. And somehow these leaps of faith always seemed to work out when Greg made a decision to take them.
Greg and I were together for 24 years, and I could share hundreds of examples – but here I will offer just three from our life together with animals, which represent why I will always be incredibly proud that I was his spouse.
The first was July 4, 2000. We were living in San Francisco, in a small house with a small yard, with four cats. And we had decided it was time to add a dog to our family. So we looked on Craigslist and saw that Home at Last Rescue was seeking foster homes for border collie puppies. And we thought – yeah, perfect, what a great way to ease in!
So we called, and they gave us a foster home address in Berkeley to go see those border collie puppies. And what did we find? A yard full of maybe a dozen big tough adult dogs, no border collies and no puppies anywhere to be found. And the foster person pointed to one pair in particular – Fox and Dana (named after the X Files characters). They were about 80 pounds each, and they had just been picked up from the street, where they had been eating out of garbage cans. “These two really need a home,” she said. This was obviously a bait-and-switch, but Greg immediately appreciated that it was a clever way to serve a higher purpose, and immediately agreed to take the dogs.
So we drove Fox and Dana home in our little sedan. We hadn’t even bought bowls or leashes or anything. And for a long time they behaved like the street dogs they were – they snarled at every other dog they passed, escaped from our yard, and chased kids on skateboards. But somehow, little by little, they mellowed and we made it work – these dogs lived with us in San Francisco, and then traveled with us to Virginia, New York City, and back to Virginia. Dana was with us for ten years, and Fox for over 13 years. And now Greg and Fox and Dana are all together again.
The second was November of 2012. My favorite cat Perseus had been diagnosed with cancer, and was in a specialist hospital for surgery. The surgeon called me at work from the operating station, reporting that the cancer had spread further than expected, and so I should consider authorizing immediate euthanasia so Perseus could go peacefully. I told the surgeon something to the effect that I trusted his judgment but wanted to talk to my husband. So I called Greg and relayed the news, and he said – “What’s wrong with you? Tell the surgeon to go ahead with the operation. Remind him that our animals are our kids, and we have to give Perseus a chance.” So I did. And Greg was right – Perseus had a treatable condition that was not cancer at all. And Perseus is still alive and well today.
My third story started in April of 2014. We had moved to our Middleburg place the year before, and it did have a horse stable on the premises – but we always said we weren’t horse people and we weren’t going to use the stable for horses. Until one day when we received an email from Ingrid Newkirk, the president and founder of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, from whom we had adopted our dog Itchy the previous year.
Ingrid’s message said: “Dear Alysoun and Greg, I hope you are all well …. You know that I will never hesitate to feel out the prospects for additions to your family, and I must ask you if two horse friends who we just rescued from starvation are a forever possibility. They are vegetarians of course, and birds and deer all love and feel safe around horses! Just a thought, in case you are up for this. Otherwise, forgive me. I have to try as finding good homes for horses is tough. With my best, as always, Ingrid.”
Greg and I had always thought the world of Ingrid Newkirk, and would do practically anything she asked – but neither of us knew anything about horses, and my first reaction was that it would be too steep a learning curve for us. But Greg immediately decided that this was the right thing to do, and we needed to figure out a way to make it happen. And so the next thing I knew, I was channeling Greg and sending this message back to Ingrid:
“Well, you are nothing if not persuasive, Ingrid! We have virtually no experience caring for horses – so would need a lot of guidance in the initial stage. But our place came set up for horses, and appropriate services and products are relatively easy to obtain in our area. We’re getting ready for another life-changing experience, like the day we adopted our first dog couple, Dana and Fox, back on Independence Day 2000.”
So we bought books and took an online class and consulted with everyone we could find who knew anything about horses. And of course Greg’s favorite part was learning to drive our pickup with a horse trailer attached – and also learning to operate a tractor! We brought Henry and Caroline home in June 2014 – and those two emaciated horses are healthy again, and are happily residing in our pasture. And some of my fondest memories of my last year with Greg are of all the new things we learned and did together to help bring those horses around.
Greg had an unusually strong belief that everything happens for a reason. He said this to me many, many times during our years together. I’m assuming Greg was right – as he usually was (except when it came to car things). Of course I am still trying to figure out what the reason might be that he left this world so soon. I know I’ll be working that one out for a very long time, but I do have one preliminary thought. They say that when we lose someone, the best tribute we can give is to allow that person to permanently change our lives. So with that in mind, I’d like to think that if nothing else, losing Greg can help remind all of us to take a leap of faith now and then, to stretch beyond our comfort zone to care for other people – skin people, and especially feather and scale and fur people.”