Missy, In Memoriam

In the living room of my friend Kes Woodward’s home here, Missy is looking out after us all from a huge, vivid portrait he did of her. She passed away on Sunday, taken suddenly by a heart attack while she was working out at the health club. She was 59. The funeral will be today at 4 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church.

We arrived yesterday evening on a flight from Minneapolis carrying others here for the same reason. Kes greeted us at the airport. For a man whose world was turned upside down in an instant, he was doing remarkably well, looking after the arriving guests, hooking us up with his nephew Charles as our navigator in the rental car to get to the house. Kes and Missy’s home was full of family and friends, eating and getting to know each other in rooms filled with his wonderfully powerful art, much of it portraying birches on big canvasses. The most recent work in his studio, which Missy hadn’t seen completed yet, presents a line of birch trunks against a luminous, empty whiteness. Darlene and I ate and visited till about midnight Boston time, then checked in here at the Spring Hill Marriott.

I met Missy several times but mainly knew her through how Kes talked about her on walks when we had chances to visit in person and then through our candid and steady e-mail correspondence over the years. His love and appreciation for her were boundless and infused with humor. He often told stories of his foibles as seen through her eyes, laughing as he recounted some common-sense correction she’d offered, sometimes related to his ambivalence about the business side of his growing success as a painter. “Missy says I….” he would begin, and I could hear the love and joy gathering in his words. Kes is no lightweight, so I always figured Missy to be a woman one wouldn’t want to mess with. She introduced him to the world of art in college, when he was planning to be a scientist. She was a beloved and respected pediatrician here in Fairbanks. Their story is told well in this reportin the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and in this In Memoriamarticle from Davidson College, where Missy was the first woman to graduate, in 1973.

Kes and most of those gathered here have not yet begun to talk of Missy in the past tense. It still seems possible, in some stubborn corner of the heart, that she will walk in the door in any moment and set things right. Meanwhile, we are adrift in unbearable loss.

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