Wednesday, June 25, 2014

the role of Albert Bigelow in our lives

Albert Bigelow's obituary from The New York Times
with my father's handwriting in the corner

One time I asked my father (Robert F. Winne) who he liked and admired most from my mother's side of the family and he said without hesitation, "Bert Bigelow".

It is easy to see why my father would have a special place in his heart for my Uncle Bert. For one, my uncle did not judge people based on hearsay (and there were a lot of false stories circulating about my father in the family at that time). I saw my uncle quite a bit because he was the trustee of the school I attended, and some of my one-to-one conversations with him were about my father and how much they had in common. 

My parents were divorced at the time, so my father would often come to the school on his own to visit or on one of the drives for my school breaks and we would run into my uncle. My uncle took us out for lunch a couple of times and he and my father would have long talks about architecture (they were both architects with a similar philosophy, aka The New Urbanist Movement ... Uncle Bert, in fact, helped with a Massachusetts government sponsored project to build low-cost housing for veterans). Although my uncle had long since moved on to a life as a painter by that time, he was interested in my fathers perspectives about humane buildings and civic design, and indeed, Uncle Bert asked to see some of his projects and send materials in the mail. I have no idea whether written correspondences went beyond that, but I wouldn't be surprised. They seemed like kindred spirits.

In many ways, their lives followed similar paths and interests.

Uncle Bert served as a navy lieutenant commander aboard destroyer escorts in the Pacific during World War II. He became disgusted with war, and in the early 1950s became a Quaker (upon reading the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi).

My father went the same path (even with the reading of Gandhi) except he became a Quaker sooner, and served as a common soldier in the German theater and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Both also became active in causes. My father's causes were mostly civic (protesting in town halls), though he did join and support some national causes too ... whereas my uncle's causes were mostly national (protesting nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and being active in civil rights causes), though he did join and support some civic causes too. 

Uncle Bert can be seen in the PBS series about the Freedom Riders ... or you can hear his name mentioned in the Democratic National Convention in this video. He is also mentioned in Black History Month in this issue.

As for me? Although I saw him as a child at his house and my Great Grandmother's house on Cape Cod, it wasn't until highschool where I forged a meaningful deep connection with him. He sent letters and cards to me up until he died with the greeting, "Dear Twin". I think we may have been twins in more ways than one.  

He was a teetotaler (like I am) and major events at his house were alcohol-free. I remember talking with him about alcohol on a few occasions. He flatly said, "Alcohol is poison" as he was pouring juice into a glass from a punch bowl at a wedding. When I pressed on about the subject, he said it poisons the body, the spirit, the morals and the drive to do anything useful for humanity (keeps one stuck in narcissistic concerns). I have come to a similar viewpoint, at least where it concerns an active addiction. 

The obvious artist connection is there too (my art and music blog is here).      

And as with him, I look up to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and don't back down from injustices and immoral policies easily.

If I were to pick a member I admired the most from my family on my mother's side who I personally knew, it would be Albert Bigelow too. 

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