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In Memoriam

Rusty Magee

A Celebration of our Beloved Friend

Riverside Memorial Chapel
New York City

Sunday, March 2, 2003

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John Cunningham

Lifelong Childhood Friend from Ann Arbor

It is great to be among Rusty's family and friends. . . and it's an honor to have the opportunity to say a few words about Rusty.

Since I heard the news on February 16, my mind and body have been flooded with images and feelings of my experiences with Rusty. . . Rusty at the piano in Ann Arbor, at his home on Hill Street, at the Zweiflers', the Mitchells' and. . . at the Cunninghams', rooming with Rusty at the Dave Strack basketball camp in 1967, biking in Nova Scotia in 1974, visiting in Dallas in 1980, our weddings and the weddings of our friends, enjoying our kids with holidays in Deep River and Shawnee - "Brown-Eyed Girl", "Lover's Prayer", "My Back Pages", "New York Romance", "All You Need is Love", "What a Wonderful World", "Scapin'", "Ubu Rock", "Feste". . . "Sweet Appreciation". So many vivid memories, so many good memories. . .

On my last visit to hospital, Alison and several friends were ready to share a bottle of wine and propose a toast to Rusty, as we began to raise our glasses, Rusty's shaky hand raised his water glass, and he toasted us! A toast filled with profound words that called us to love ourselves, to love one another and appreciate life. He added some witty, humorous thoughts, as well - I won't even try to recreate it - but as so many times before, it simply blew me away!

This talented and compassionate man gave us so much, and now, once again, he has brought us together.

So even while we grieve his death, we continue to be inspired by his message of love, his works of creativity, and the courage he displayed throughout his illness.

Thank you Alison and Nat for taking such good care of Rusty. You have been and continue to be the pillars of strength and support.

Yesterday, while sharing the stomach flu with my 2 year old daughter, Abby, we watched the specially programmed Mr. Rogers marathon paying tribute to his life. Although I always thought of Mr. Rogers as corny (and frankly, a bit creepy), Abby's attentiveness caused me to listen in a serious way to the simple, but challenging messages of these shows. Messages that are so often heard, but so rarely fully realized.

Be kind, appreciate others, emote and express yourself artistically, cherish and celebrate life! It struck me utterly - Mr. Rogers could have called these, "Rusty's attributes", and they were constantly at work in his relationships and his art.

I certainly learned a lot about being a friend from Rusty; for over 37 years, he nurtured our relationship, staying in communication, visiting, boosting my confidence about my career and really being there to give me honest counsel and support during some of the most trying times of my life. He also was there to celebrate many of the happiest moments of my life - I cannot imagine a better friend. I know this is true for so many others here today, too. For myself and all your friends, I say "Thank you, Rusty Magee!" - " We love you!"

Rusty's passion and compassion were always coupled with his incredible mind. The power of his mind was awesome. I first realized this when we went to our first Detriot Tigers game in 1969. Rusty was updating batting averages and other stats instantaneously as the game progressed (and kids, this was before calculators and laptops). By applying his genius, he was able to connect with any audience, from young children to the most sophisticated intellectual. There seemed to be no limits to the information he could absorb, and to the original ways that he would process and analyze information. There were many times I felt that I possessed too few synapses to keep up with what was going on in Rusty's brain - it almost seemed as if his mind was in fast forward, while mine was in slow motion.

But for me, ultimately, he always grounded his mental magic, with his huge heart. The heart that allowed him to love so much and so many people and so many things. During my visits in the hospital he always expressed his love so freely, first and foremost for his family, but also for his many friends and for the very details of life.

He loved people so thoroughly, but also his records, c.d.s, baseball memorabilia, comics, stamps, maps and so much more. He seemed to make a personal and almost spiritual connection with everything in his environment. Rusty made connections that made us think, made us laugh and made us cry. And near the end of his life, he seemed to be making a concerted effort to connect with something even greater - and he often brought up God. Because he thought of my mother as a woman of great faith, we talked about her and God quite a bit at various points during his illness, including the last time I visited him in the hospital. My mother loved Rusty, and she used to say that people who nurture the soul and connect us to the best parts of being human are people who are doing the work of GOD - if this is true, then Rusty was certainly one of God's hardest workers! As my Mom battled cancer, in her last days, she made very few requests. One request she did make of me was to see if I could find "one of those Christmas Eve tapes of Rusty and your friends in our living room.". For over a decade, my family and a group of friends went to St. Andrew's Church for midnight mass and after the service, Rusty led us in carols and improvisation into the early morning of Christmas Day. "If you can find it", she asked, "find the part where Rusty led us in "Joy to the World". "Nobody can bring joy to "Joy to the World" like Rusty", she said. I reminded her that he would then go straight into ". . .joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea" and she laughed and added, "nobody else can do that either!". Unfortunately, we couldn't find that tape and instead, Rusty Fed Exed me one of his recent tapes. My Mom loved it. Rusty said that my Mom's spirit comforted him when he went in for his operations and in our conversations Rusty remembered a comment she had made to him when she talked to him by phone during her illness: She said, "Don't worry, Rusty, I'll still be around, just in a different way.". In our conversation, Rusty said, "That sounds good, I think I'll subscribe to that one.". I am comforted by the fact that Rusty's spirit will be with us forever, that he will continue to bring joy to the world and that his music will play on. In one of our last conversations, Rusty said he regretted that my mom never got to hear songs from his musical, "The Green Heart". Well, listen up Mom (and Rusty)! It is now my pleasure to introduce one of Rusty's friends and favorite performers who will sing one of his most beautiful compositions, "The Green Heart". Ladies and gentlemen: Rebecca Luker.

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