In the Arena

In Memorium…and a Touch of Class

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I’m just back from North Carolina, where my good friend Doug Marlette was buried on Saturday in a country churchyard near Hillsborough. Some of you may have seen this appreciation, which I wrote for the print magazine:

A Southern-Fried Rebel
“Y’all oughta come to Renaissance Weekend,” the anarcho-cartoonist Doug Marlette once told me. “It’s the annual meeting of the Bill Moyers wing of the Southern Baptist Convention. The sociology is just gothic!” Doug’s ability to offend–gracefully, brilliantly, effortlessly–went into overdrive when confronted by high-minded Dixie earnestness. One year he unveiled his version of the Clinton Memorial at a Renaissance workshop, with Hillary Clinton sitting in the front row: a statue of an unzipped zipper. Doug reveled and rebelled in his Southernness. He wrote a novel about his grandmother, a textile-union militant. He called his comic strip Kudzu, because he loved the twisted symbolism of that vine. He was enthralled by irony, and I wish Doug were around to reflect on the gothic ridiculousness of his own death, at age 57, on a back road in Mississippi, in a collision with a loblolly pine that was as straight and true and stubborn as he was. As Doug would say: Lord, I’m gonna miss that boy.

But there’s an interesting postscript. On Saturday, the Marlette family received the following message:

Doug Marlette, with a sharp wit and an even sharper mind, always managed to find great humor and insight in the most serious issues of our day. I always loved his contribution to our political dialogue, even if I wasn’t always happy being a character in his cartoons! I am deeply sorry for your loss and will join countless fans in always remembering him fondly. Doug was a true character, and we will always miss his unique point of view.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

An incredibly classy act on the part of New York’s Junior Senator. But I think both Clintons know that, in their case, Doug’s corrosive brilliance was based in whimsy, not malice. He reserved his malice for those who really deserved it.

It is was a sad and hilarious funeral, which is the very best kind. And the very best line was the last one uttered by the last of Doug’s ten–count ‘em–eulogists, his best friend, Pat Conroy: “The first person to cry, when he heard about Doug’s death, was God.”

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