On July 1, my manager learned that one of his former teachers, Clay Felker, had died at the age of 82. Clay led an amazing life. My manager took a class from him in 1995 at UC Berkeley, which named a magazine center after Clay. The school did this to honor him for having founded New York and Ms. Magazines, and for mentoring so many wonderful writers — Tom Wolfe, Gail Sheehy (whom Clay ultimately married, and who took such great care of Clay while he was ailing for the past 12 years), Gay Talese, Gloria Steinem, and on and on.

Clay’s funeral was very moving, my manager says. Clay had been in the Navy, and two sailors who doubtless never met him performed a ritual with an American flag, finally folding it and handing it to Gail, as the Air Force had once handed a similar flag to my manager’s mother after his father died. As he watched the two young sailors perform with great solemnity and respect, it occurred to Bill that one of the few things these men could be certain of is that someday, they, too, will be honored in this way.

Tom Wolfe, who wrote a wonderful cover story about Clay, read excerpts from it aloud at the funeral reception, which Mr. Wolfe hosted. While there, Bill was able to talk with one of his great idols, Robert Caro, and with Robert’s wife, Ina — and to tell him that he, Bill, had managed to convince his, Bill’s, book club to begin to read his, Robert’s, immense and spectacular biography of LBJ. Bill wondered for a moment if it might somehow be wrong to pass the time at a funeral by meeting some of the amazing people in attendance. But then it occurred to him that Clay himself would certainly have approved — and, if Clay had seen Bill *not* meeting such people, he, Clay, would have scolded Bill, saying, “Well, there they are — what are you waiting for?”

Clay is gone, but his voice remains, in the heads and hearts of all who met him. Bill feels lucky to have been one of them.

Posted on July 18th, 2008 | filed under Uncategorized | Trackback |

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