Presented at a memorial service for Professor Kellis E. Parker, at St. Paul's Chapel of Columbia University, October 15, 2000.
For the past dozen years, Kellis Parker and I led neighboring lives. The thin wall between our offices more joined than divided us. So many nights I'd put on a record and he'd start to play along. Or he'd be practicing and I would offer Thurman Green or Gerry Mulligan, for encouragement.
Truth was told in both our places. He put it sweet, I put it hot, and sometimes the two would roll out into the corridor and mingle. Then he'd pass by, or put his head in the door, and we'd just smile. He would sit in my office, or we'd stand on a Broadway streetcorner, planning how to make law school something completely different.
I thought I understood the theory of an intellectual revolution, but that meant nothing. Kellis could do in life, and in the classroom, what Ezra Pound could only write about poetry: ``make it new, every day, make it new.''
We loved the loves in one another's lives. Once when a lover left me, grieving over the parting, Kellis dried her tears, oh so gently, then took up his horn and played her ``Somewhere over the Rainbow'' until she wept again.
Kellis Parker was a teacher of intellectual liberation, a mentor who got the best from everyone, a musician who improved everybody else's playing, and the most important man in any crisis. Kellis helped save this university from a conflagration once, not so long ago. Buildings were occupied, police were on campus. There they were, Kellis and a couple of colleagues, up in Hamilton Hall with the students, and there I was down in Low Library, trying to tell some truth to the arrogance in charge. I put it hot, he put it sweet. I failed, but he succeeded. Luckily I learned a lot more from him in a dozen years than he ever learned from me.
His was a wisdom not everyone could grasp. He knew how to lead without standing in front. He could make things happen without giving directions. He made everything rhyme, without even choosing the words. Those who dismissed him are going to miss him, without ever knowing why. We who loved him will always hear him, though he is silent.
Goodbye, my friend.
May your soul be always where the music is. And may you be in peace.