Muses: Vaughan Oliver and Alistair Gray

The mysterious arty graphics of 23 Envelope actually influenced my aesthetic sense. The late Vaughan Oliver (September 12, 1957 –  December 29, 2019) instinctively knew how to combine text and image into visually arresting collages. I’ll even admit that I bought some albums just because of the cover art. His designs grace some of my favorite albums. The lace shrouded mannequin on Cocteau Twins’ Treasure. The erotic elegance of the Pixies first album, and the haloed monkey on their Doolittle album. The blurred out naked man dancing and/or swaying with a phallic object on The Breeders’ Pod. His album covers are works of art, and his unique style has influenced the graphic arts.

I read Alistair Gray’s epic novel Lanark around the time of my 4AD/Cocteau Twins fandom. The two of them are indelibly linked for me. That novel, which mixes a bildungsroman with a surrealistic dystopian novel is a classic of Weird Fiction.  It was one of the books where I had an epiphany: much of life does happen in our private alternate realities and using fantasy and allegory are valid ways to talk about the human experience. Plus, the book was illustrated with his amazingly complex drawings that hinted at a personal mythology.

Rest in peace, Vaughan Oliver and Alistair Gray  (December 28, 1934 – December 29, 2019).

My Mother’s Obituary

My mother, Willa Broome Gidney, died on December 10. The funeral service is this Saturday. I am in mourning and expect to be for a while. But I will share the long-form obituary I co-wrote with my older brother.

Obituary for Willa Broome Gidney
January 29, 1931 – December 10, 2017

Willa (“Billie”) Mae Broome Gidney was born on January 29, 1931 in Gastonia, North Carolina to James Laurance Broome, a stone mason, and Stella Segines Broome, a seamstress. She was the youngest child of that marriage, which included her siblings Stella Constance Broome Fuller, Donald Broome , James Broome Jr., and Bettye Broome Poe.

Her mother, Stella Segines, died when Billie was ten years of age, and that tragic event briefly separated the family as her widowed father looked for steady work in the North. Willa was taken in and raised by Mrs. Rosie B. Thompson and her husband from ages 11-17. During this time, she excelled academically, in spite of the challenges of being separated from her family. Willa moved to Philadelphia, PA along with the rest of her family when her father remarried Ms. Frances Glasco (known to all as “Mama Frances”).

Willa attended Temple University in Philadelphia where, in addition to her studies in French and education, she joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and was one of Temple University’s first African-American cheerleaders. She also wrote a weekly column in the university newspaper entitled, “The Broome Sweeps Clean.”

After graduation, she became third-grade teacher in Philadelphia. During the summers of 1957-59, Willa earned her Masters of Education at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. It was at this time that she began courting Calvin Gidney, who would be her husband of nearly 40 years. She met him in her childhood in Newton, North Carolina, where they were both in the same third grade classroom. They wed in 1958. Billie and Calvin lovingly raised three children: Calvin Leroy (III) “Chip” , Craig Laurance, and Evan Lionel. Billie was immensely proud of her three sons, her daughter-in-law Tiffany Ricci (Gidney) and her grandchildren Calvin Lionel Gidney and Eleanor Shea Gidney.

After Calvin Gidney Jr. completed his Doctor of Dental Surgery at Meharry Medical College , the couple moved down to Washington, D.C., where Calvin set up a dental practice on Kennedy Street and Billie began working for the D.C. Public Schools, first as an elementary school teacher, and then as an administrator for the DCPS as the school system’s Cultural Coordinator. In this role, Billie oversaw cultural enrichment programs for the entire DC Public School system. She also managed to complete the coursework towards a Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) at Nova University.

In addition to her many academic and professional achievements, Billie participated in many volunteer and social organizations. She served a couple of terms as the president of the Carter Barron East Neighborhood Association (CBENA), the neighborhood group she co-founded with Mrs. Louise Whitney. Her work with many local and national clubs including the Emeralds, the Arrowettes, Just Good Friends, Girl Scouts of America, and Christ Lutheran Church enriched the lives of many in the community.

Billie spent the last twelve years of her life living at Riderwood Village, a continuing care community in Silver Spring, MD. There, she took full advantage of the many opportunities for travel, learning, cultural enrichment, physical activities, and games (at which she excelled). She was a beloved member of the Riderwood community – loved and respected by residents and staff alike.

Billie had many talents and interests. She was a voracious reader, an expert bridge player, and an unbeatable Scrabble player. She was a musician – a skilled pianist and vocalist – a gift she shared with her sons Chip and Evan. She was a skilled orator and sometimes performed her own poetry. She was a talented and funny raconteur: her stories live on in the books of her son Craig. She was always impeccably dressed and had a flair for accessories; while at Riderwood, she would even adorn her walkers to the delight of other residents.

Billie was, first and foremost, a beautiful soul – kind, wise, smart, and gentle. She lived a marvelous and long life with grace and dignity. She touched all who knew her.

For the life of Willa B. Gidney, we are eternally thankful!


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