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AFTERWORD THERE WERE a lot of highfalutin’ things said about Sam Whitten at the memorial service held in his honor in late January. Librarian colleagues Hartsell Young and James Stewart spoke of his dedication to civil liberties and the idea that libraries, which contain the records of all the human race has thought and learned, should be free and available to all. Someone joked that Sam was one of those rare librarians who wants people to read his books. There were tributes to Sam as an inspirational teacher. David Richards described him as “a seeker after truth, social justice, and racial equality. He was permanently engaged in the political issues of his time,” Richards said. It is important to know how a man fits into the context of his time. Sam Whitten was a model librarian, a staunch defender of civil liberties, and a catalyst in the formation of Austin’s current liberal community. But it’s often the minutiae, the flavor of speech, the idiosyncratic particulars of character that first plumb the unfathomable well of sadness and later offer the consoling glow of memory when a friend dies. Ann Richards, David Richards, Molly Ivins, and I sat down in front of the big fireplace in Ann’s living room one evening to catalogue the things we wanted to remember about Sam. Some of those memories were included in Ann’s remarks at the memorial service, here condensed for Observer readers. Kaye Northcott. 6 6 AM WHITTEN was a dan cin’ fool,” Ann began. “He would arch that skinny back, swing out his arms, flash that smile and his feet would step out into a life of their own. But Sam hated all forms of physical activity except dancing. As a friend, you knew he would do anything in the world for you, but he wasn’t worth a damn when you had a flat tire. Kaye Northcott is a freelance writer living in Austin. She edited the Observer from 1970-76. “There was something about ,Sam’s internal timing system so that he didn’t become fully awake until after dark. And his active life began about 9 or 10 o’clock at night. He would stay up as long as there was conversation left in anyone. Molly Ivins says there was that tension in Sam between patience and impatience. Sam was so damn bright he was forever waiting for everyone else to catch up with him. But he was a great listener, too. He loved conversation and he loved company. I would come back from a long campaign trip, and he would come to the door as he saw me coming up the walk and cry out, ‘Come in this house,’ as if I were the person he most wanted to see in all of the world. “It was that insatiable love of good talk that made Sam tolerate camping and any other form of outdoor carrying on. He was a reluctant nature lover. He froze in the winter; bundled and scrunched into a fold on his camp chair by the fire, he would mutter, “Why are we doing this?” But another song from Wayne Oakes or a jig from Mary Holman would jolly him. Always the last one to bed, he would crawl in his car because he refused to sleep on the ground. And once, Virginia, who always did the driving, parked the station wagon on a slant. Well, the next morning, Sam complained bitterly that he had been forced to sleep with his feet above his head and everything he’d drunk the night before had run down to his brain. This particular condition was known as the ‘Sam Whitten flu.’ “If winters were a trial, summers at the beach were the crowning sentence. His fair skin and that tender bald head fell prey to that hot Texas sun. He wasn’t all that fond of sand either. But he loved the trips to the shell shop with the kids and the trips to Matamoros to get himself ‘one more Mexican goodie.’ “It seems like every year he started himself a new collection. There were the Mexican masks and then the platters and the mermaids and the candlesticks. Whatever it was in Sam that made him a fine book man and librarian made him a collector and saver of things. “Most houses bear no mark of the man that lives there. But Sam’s touch was everywhere. Everything that mattered to him was there good books, good food, good friends, good drink, his kids, and Virginia. Sam knew that the little things added up to the big things. “Sam once told Kaye Northcott, with what she thought was great wisdom, `You know, one things about getting older is you learn to recognize what you really enjoy, not what people think you ought to enjoy, but what you really do enjoy.’ It was in that vein that Sam announced that he was never going into Barton Springs again. The water was freezing and it was ridiculous to keep pretending that it was fun. “A night or two before he went into the hospital for his cancer operation, Sam asked Virginia to change out the folk art display he kept on a high shelf in the dining room of their house on Thirty-Second Street in Austin. This was a big job because Sam was so picky, but Virginia, being Virginia, obliged. He chose to put out the trees of life. These are the candelabras with which the Mexicans commemorate life’s passages. There are pretty ones with birds and flowers that celebrate primavera or spring. There are Adam and Eve trees of life, with the snake and the apple. Another with calaveras, skeletons, among the branches that are brought out on the day of the dead, the day on which the Mexicans honor the people they have lost. “Sam is such a sudden and irreplaceable loss to so many of us. He and Virginia, via their First Fridays, helped us develop and preserve a circle of friends that spans generations. It was not unusual to find three generations of the same family at First Fridays, sometimes four. We all became family, after a time.” Sam Whitten Remembered THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23