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.


Rhonda said...

Thank you, that was lovely.

I met Rex and Ruth this past summer. I also got to meet Dan and Jasper for the first time.

Nieves' father, Clarence is dear friend of mine.

I will be back to read your blog again.

I'm a Pacific Coast gal living in what is now frozen England. My little family is looking to move back, somewhere in the next few years.

Yours, Rhonda

QBQ said...

How strange that just today I searched for Rex on Facebook, though that doesn't sound like his style.

Now I read your blog that Rex is gone.

I met Rex, Ruth, and Danny (as he was called then) in 1967. I was a sophomore at Tam High in Mill Valley and we lived just around the hill on Vernal Avenue. I used to babysit for Rex and Ruth on the rare occasions they went out.

Soon, Rex started asking me to go to the Fillmore and, of course, I was thrilled. (My parents couldn't very well say no, could they?)

Looking back on my life I realize that Rex was one of the most important people I ever met.

I thought of him and Ruth from time to time—in fact my husband and I just passed through their area the week after Christmas 2009—and I always thought about looking them up to pay my respects.

He was a fine man. May he rest in peace.

Jackie Gaskill Kuhwarth

Anonymous said...

I met Rex and Ruth for the 1st time in 2001 and immediately felt the need to continue a conversation that had started ages past, I felt like I have seen, known and loved both of them but somehow there was a separation that didn’t last long. I felt that I was home at last, the warmth, light spirits, and originality of Rex and Ruth reassured me that humanity is still fine and that the circle of hope is not broken yet. Last August I visited them again, and continued our conversation and upon leaving I felt like always that part of me was left behind in their house and wished to stay but ALAS I had to leave and go to the crowded yet empty world leaving behind the two people that I love and respect very much. To dear Rex I read the following poem, and to dear Ruth I say till we meet again and enjoy our memories of Rex. I am on my way, “Only a moment and I shall be there whispering to the wind and singing with the nightingale the song of friendship and the river of unity”.
To Dear Rex, I read the following poem

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!)

Madlain Michael
Pacific Grove, CA