Monday, January 11, 2010
Rex Passes On
Rex Walking at Drew's and My Wedding, 2003
Photo by Kira Lillie
Amid earthen rumblings, and blustery winds, one of our most important and loved community members, Rex Rathbun, passed on this past Sunday, January 10th. His 90th birthday would have been March 5. Though I can't say that I have had much of a personal relationship with Rex these last 10 years that I have been frequenting Petrolia, he had many indirect influences on my life and on this community, from which I regularly benefit.
Besides being one of the larger-than-life charicatures that curiously inhabit this remote valley, Rex has had a strong and essential hand in almost every local institution that we use and rely on. He was a major force in creating and envisioning the Mattole Valley Community Center, which has become a regular and quintessential gathering place for many of us. He was a founding member of the Mattole restoration organizations, and was a lifetime supporter of watershed restoration. He was the champion of Mill Creek, assisting in the preservation of over 200 acres of old-growth forest. He was also involved with the Petrolia Volunteer Fire Department, the Mattole Grange, and I don't even know what else. And that's just at a community-wide level.
In the 1980's, when many of the families who live at the farthest outposts of civilized life didn't have phones, they used Rex and Ruth's "Ranch House" as the hub for their communications and family life. And many also talk about Rex's tool lending library. As a skilled tradesman, Rex had just about every tool you could possibly need for many a homestead task.
But Rex's legacy is even more personal for me. His involvement with restoration is directly why Drew, who has become my husband and father-of-my-children, came here in the first place. Drew's college friend Drew's mom was friends with Rex's sister-in-law (I know, this sounds rediculous), and had visited the Rathbuns here in Petrolia. Through this roundabout way, both Drew's came to the Mattole to do an internship with the Mattole Restoration Council. Rex was the person they contacted, and communicated with in arranging their educational experience. Rex was also one of the first people I met when on my field quarter in college, when he loaded up the 16 of us in the back of his white truck, and drove us all up into Mill Creek (before such things were forbidden). And in the end, it turns out that Rex and Drew are related, about 5 generations back, where they share a common ancestor. When Drew and I visited Exeter, Rhode Island to look for grave sites and family history, we found that there was a Rathbun cemetery on Barber Road, dating to the 1800's.
So yesterday, we lost a connector, a mentor, a family member, an inspiration, a man who believed in public good, and wasn't afraid to speak his mind about anything. Rest in peace, dear Rex, thank you for all you have contributed to our collective lives. We will miss you, and send love to your Ruth, and the rest of your family. We will be sure that your grandson knows who you were, and that all your legacies live on.