There’s a hole in the universe tonight.
Rich Rusk was a dear friend. We fought for social justice with Come To The Table and with the Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee. We went to Rock Hill to meet a reformed Klansman. We went fly fishing. We held our own private remembrance services for Sam Hose, in Newnan. This was an active friendship. We didn’t just sit around and tell stories about Alaska.
True friends don’t come around very often, but Rich and I were fast friends from the day we met.
Rich came to Newnan with representatives from Southern Truth and Reconciliation and the Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee to talk about the Sam Hose lynching in Newnan, which occurred in 1899. Someone was so concerned that Come To The Table was discussing Sam Hose that they called the sheriff. Undaunted by the presence of law enforcement, Rich shared the story of the Moore’s Ford massacre and how the memorial committee sought reconciliation in the Athens area. He thought we should do something similar to commemorate the lynching of Sam Hose. We met at the lynching site each April 23 to say a prayer and leave flowers. We would remember, whether anyone else did or not.
Rich was a writer. He called his first book, “As I Saw It”, a tape-recorder book but anyone who knew Rich could hear his voice. He wrote this book with his father, Dean Rusk, who served as Secretary of State under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He said he wanted to write another book. He also wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and made it through several sections.
Rich was passionate about the environment and he loved fly fishing. He enrolled Bob and me in a course at UGA so we could learn, too. He knew we would love fly fishing. He and Janice took us to a Trout Unlimited banquet. We took one trip to Blue Ridge to fish, in December, in the snow. I’m a girly girl, but I put on waders and went out in the river. I prayed I wouldn’t have to touch a fish, though I loved standing in the river, in the snow. Bob caught a fish, but he didn’t want to touch it, either.
Rich loved anything outdoors. There was one Saturday where he and Bob left Janice and me at their home to review the Moore’s Ford scholarship applications. Janice and I had a fun day inside while Bob and Rich kayaked down the river. Bob rolled his kayak and lost his glasses, and that trip was ever after known as the time Rich tried to drown Bob. We were always kidding around.
Then there was the trip to Rock Hill to meet Elwin Wilson. We loaded up in Rich’s van and drove to South Carolina, fascinated by the idea that someone who had done so many terrible things could reform and make peace. We wanted to enlist Elwin’s help in getting the FBI to reopen the Moore’s Ford case. We were successful in getting the case reopened, but no arrests were ever made. Rich never gave up.
Rich was passionate about the environment and climate change. He called a couple of years ago and said he was riding a bicycle from Athens to somewhere in south Georgia, with Waymund Mundy and two other people. I thought he was kidding but we invited them to spend the night at our home. I don’t think any of them made it the whole way on the bikes, but it was a fun evening.
When my friend was moving to Athens for graduate school, I called Rich in hopes he would have a rental that would work for her. He didn’t, but he made some good suggestions. That would be the last time I would speak with him.
My mother is at the age where she goes to a funeral every Saturday. I’m just not ready for that. I’m not ready to be old.
Rest in peace, my friend. We will miss you.