Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The obituary we wish we could have printed

My sister wrote a lovely obituary, which combined statements from several sources and included exerpts from many of Daniel's writings. Since we couldn't afford to publish it in the newspaper, I wanted to include it here.

The obituary that was printed in the Monterey Herald on Sunday, may be found here.


Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes.

Daniel Rhodes Dixon—connoisseur of that which is most beautiful in life—closed his eyes last Thursday, in what was one of the few peaceful events of his restless life. The scion of two celebrated Californians, photographer Dorothea Lange and painter Maynard Dixon, Daniel was 84.

Daniel did not like standard obituaries. He found them "lifeless" and "without heartbeat." As a journalist for the Monterey County Post, in a display of his own genius, Mr. Dixon displayed witty self-deprecation in preparing his own obituary, wherein he quoted his famed mother, the late photographer, as describing her (first) son as "irregular."

Admitting as much in his autobiographical obituary, Mr. Dixon also pictured his school days persona as "an incorrigible truant who dropped out of school in the tenth grade to become a wandering delinquent...who once stole and pawned his mother's cameras."

"Even the military couldn't keep him in line…. 9 of his 12 months were spent in the stockade... he rose to the rank of private before the Army finally capitulated, allowing him to escape with an honorable discharge. Mr. Dixon then returned to the streets. Most of his days were spent in public libraries, where he was able to keep warm."

While "staying warm," he indeed received a de facto education that served him well in later years.

Daniel's life and career were marked by excellence. Mr. Dixon's career ranged from writing articles for such publications as Pageant, Life and Look Magazines to advertising products and services for agencies that included Doyle Dane Burnbach and BBD & O, later rising to creative director at both McCann Erickson and Ogilvy &Mather by the 1980s.

Among prize-winning campaigns he directed were the famed Volkswagen ads of the early to mid-60s, the billboards and TV spots which defined the bug as a charming and reliable, if eccentric, companion.

Daniel's constant companion was the English language. While courting his first wife, Mia, Daniel began writing light verse, a diversion which he continued throughout the course of his life. Indeed, to his final days he maintained a remarkable acuity of mind.

"I've seen psychiatrists in hordesBut never found a free one In view of which these few, brief words: I'd rather be than see one."

Encouraged by numerous friends, he submitted a portfolio of his freelance work to two advertising agencies. To his amazement, both of them offered him a job.
And later…

The winter's breath
Denudes the trees.
Can this be death?
I freeze. I freeze.

Naked the root and bare the limb;
Withered the fruit when days are dim.
The stones are cold
The stars are chill;
I'm growing old
But love you still.

These leaves that swirl
From branch to bough
Oh, lovely girl,
Where are you now?

During Mr. Dixon's career, he also wrote articles for such publications as Pageant, Life and Look Magazines, as well as later for the Monterey County Post.

Directing his creative talents into politics, Mr. Dixon helped shape campaigns for the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, mayor of New York and Chicago, and President of the United States.

In recognition of his genius, Mr. Dixon humorously boasted, again in his self-written obit, that he "was probably the only man ever to be offered and to turn down the job of picture editor for Playboy Magazine."

In later years, he traveled the world giving presentations and interviews about his parents' lives and work. Among his publications, Mr. Dixon wrote a memoir of his father called The Thunderbird Remembered.

Interestingly, the nonpareil qualities he so aptly illustrates of his progenitors are unique descriptions of Daniel himself. While his father was a painter with pigments, Daniel was a painter with words.

“Looking where my father looked, I couldn't see what he was able to see. I just saw a desert, but he saw a creation – colors and contours and values and relationships that remained invisible to me until his sketches disclosed them.”

It is precisely this that made Daniel's words so brilliant—his ability to bring to light the poignance of the small things—the contours, values, and colors of life and relationships.

As he described his own views of views of his mother, he called them "perhaps blurred by emotion, but unclouded by scholarship."

Among his favorite pursuits were cooking, of which he wrote, "Beats writing...Nobody dares tell you when it's lousy."

Aside from cooking, communication was his main forte. He had a unique ability with words and used them in a courting nature. He didn't like drinking water and when asked why, he replied, "because it makes me feel bilious."

Daniel loved books. Among his favorite poems, he kept this one tacked upon the wall:

The silver swan, who living had no note,
As death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.

Farewell all joys. Oh death, come close thine eyes,
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
--Orlando Gibbon, early 1600s

He also rejoiced in the company of his ukulele, which he believed had a mind and heart of its own. He was as married to the ukulele as he was to his wife, and played it proudly, entertaining all who were so fortunate to hear with his Hawaiian ditties "guaranteed to induce groans of dismay." He was certain that his old comrade would miss him when he was gone. His last work, the capstone of his life as a littérateur, is a book on the ukulele, recently completed and now in the editing process.

In listing his surviving family members, whom he categorized as "certified eccentrics," Mr. Dixon described his wife as "his greatest joy and comfort in or out of this world." In his own words, "He is only temporarily separated from his wife Dixie. Mr. Dixon did not know whether or not he believed in God, but he did believe that this marriage would last forever, even after death."

Daniel is also survived by his daughter, screenwriter Leslie Dixon of San Francisco and Beverly Hills; a younger brother John who lives in Orinda; his grandson Thomas, three stepchildren, 9 step-grandchildren, a niece, and two nephews.

At the request of Daniel, no memorial services will be held. A smile upon his memory may be given in a moment of quiet reflection upon his words:

"From somewhere out yonder, Mr. Dixon says 'Hello!' Nobody there ever says goodbye."

1 comment:

tickintime said...

A wonderful tribute to a wonderful person. If only we had more people like him, the world would be a better place.