Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Remembering Grant Gallup

I had never heard (or maybe I had and have forgotten) the late Rev. Grant Gallup was called "Sister Mary Rattlebeads". It is completely appropriate however. Grant Gallup, Episcopal Priest, teacher, humanitarian, gourmet and friend, died after a long illness in his home in Managua, Nicaragua November 26th at age 78.

Grant simply was one of the most incredible people I ever met. When he was ordained a priest, he told the Bishop to "send me where no one else wants to go." That was Grant, the true embodiment of the spirit of Christ's teachings. He loved the poor and the oppressed; marching with Martin Luther King in the South in the 60's, living and working with those embroiled in a revolution in Nicaragua, hiding Nicaraguans who were being pursued and persecuted by a corrupt government, visiting Iraq just before Bush's invasion to support Iraqi Christians in danger, visiting Cuba when it was illegal to do so, being out and proudly gay long before others tested the waters. His parish, St Andrew's in Chicago, was in a tough and poor all African American neighborhood. Some took bets on how long this white boy from the UP of Michigan would last. He stayed 30 years until he took up his final residence in a poor and tough neighborhood in Managua. No matter what trouble someone was in Grant was there to support; comforting families who had just saw a member shot, go to prison, helped those who lost a job or their home and those in need of a meal. He could be a tough love at the same time; if he respected you he demanded your respect in return. Be petty or take advantage of him and you'd be admonished and likely banished quite directly.

Grant read voraciously, his library at Casa Ave Maria, a guest house/ecumenical center founded by him in Managua, was extensive even after a fire ravaged much of it. He loved music, folk dancing, art, young men and certainly charmed the ladies. He set a magnificent table; amusingly the table cloth was a kids' "Hercules" sheet. He simply explained that he liked the cartoon figure of the buff young fellow.

Just a few days before he died on November 26th, I got a message that some friends were going to honor him at a Thanksgiving gathering in Managua. On the 25th, I sent a message to his friend Bayardo and asked him to read it to Grant. This is what I sent:

Dear Grant:

I understand your friends are honoring and giving thanks for your work and presence on this Dia de Gracia.

Querido amigo, I am grateful for all that you taught me about the wonderful country that is Nicaragua; its struggles, its beauty, its people and history. I am richer for the times spent on the patio at Casa Ave Maria listening to you interpret the mural and having the amazing opportunity to meet some of the saints enshrined therein. I give thanks for the bountiful meals and the simple ones as well, shared around your table. One of the best Thanksgiving Days of my life was spent at the Casa, sharing a turkey and all the trimmings with you and Maggie, and Greg Houston and others who had gathered there.

I came to Nicaragua as a curious tourist and reluctant pilgrim in 1999, thinking it would be my one and only trip. Although many others have broken my record, I stand at 15 times since then that I have come to the country I call my home away from home. I was happy that my son Daniel and his new wife got to experience Nicaragua on their honeymoon; they hope to return some day. I got the privilege of introducing the sights and sounds of Nicaragua to my friend Bruce, who also got to meet you at the Casa.

Each time I make rice, I do it as a Nicaraguan lady taught me and revel in its simple beauty and taste and elegance, just like Nicaragua. Thus there is a bit of Nica in my soul now, and much of it is due to you. Thank you, thanks be to God for you.

Amigos para siempre!

Don Clark

Rest in Peace dear friend, and keep rattling those beads.

Grant Gallup at Casa Ave Maria March 2008, my last visit to him:

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