Alan Chartock: Jackie Guthrie defined what family means

ackie Guthrie is gone, another victim of the awful cancer scourge that has decimated so many families and lives. To know Jackie was to love her. She was a woman who truly put her family first and many of us were lucky that she had an expanded view of what exactly “family” meant. She was pretty inclusive.

Several years back, we held a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, an organization that helps women in abusive relationships. I called Jackie and asked if she could produce Arlo for the event. She did and she also asked if her brother could bring some of his wonderful wire sculpture pieces to put on display. She was always thinking comprehensively.

She loved to take videos of the Guthrie family when they performed and put them on You Tube. And of course, she was a moving force behind Arlo’s career.

Jackie and I shared a July 25th birthday. Once, a couple of years back, Roselle treated me to a dinner at the Red Lion Inn, the vortex of the Berkshires.

Seated at the next table were Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick. We’d met them on the way in and mentioned that it was a birthday dinner. Because the Fitzys are the most generous, community-minded people in the Berkshires, they sent over a birthday cake and were joined by others in singing “Happy Birthday.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder — it was Jackie, who had just run in from the Widow Bingham’s Tavern adjoining the main dining room. We hugged and she said, “I knew it was you — I knew it was you when I heard people singing ‘Happy Birthday.'” She ran back to get Arlo and I pushed them both over to the Fitzpatricks’ table where Arlo had a reunion with the senator.

Since Alice’s Restaurant revolved in major part around Stockbridge, it was really a touching moment. As I remember it, Arlo assured the senator that he had voted for him and that he was now a Republican.

I never quite figured out whether Arlo really was a Republican, but he kept telling me he was. In any case, the senator seemed very pleased. Shortly thereafter, I heard from Jackie who thanked me for having done that on the fly. That’s just the way she was.

My last email exchange with her involved the traditional Carnegie Hall concert that has been going on since the Weavers broke the Black List in their historic concert on Christmas Eve of 1955. She wanted me to make sure to get to this year’s concert “since,” she confided in me, “Pete will be there.” Pete, of course is Pete Seeger, one of the patron saints of the Guthrie family. I was touched, as always by her generosity of spirit.

To Arlo, Annie, Abe, Cathie and Sarah Lee, we wish peace, health and security. It’s never easy to lose a mother. When the family lost Jackie, they lost a woman who was not only mother to them and grandmother to their children but a woman who cared deeply about us all. She cared greatly about women who shared her experience with breast cancer. She cared deeply about the oppressed. She may not have been born a Guthrie, but she sure became one in every way.

The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center has become the cultural hub of the Great Barrington region. Lola Jaffe and her crew, including executive director Beryl Jolly, have every reason to be proud.

Their recent gala at the theater honoring John Hoyt Stookey was one of the best evenings I have ever had. Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone are so talented that words fail me. Anyone who thinks they do their jobs well should avoid these two. Compared to them, we are all failures. They made me laugh, they made me cry. Just the excerpts from South Pacific and Carousel did both.

All I can say is, “Wow!”

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/20/12


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