Thursday, March 29, 2007
In Memoriam -- Richard Hendrickson
A lot of people – myself included -- lost a very good friend yesterday morning at about 5:30. Rick Hendrickson was a staunch friend and a fellow animal welfare advocate. I met Rick and his equally-wonderful and devoted wife Barbara while I served as Field Services Director at the Animal Protection Institute of America (API) back in the early and mid-80’s.
My first view of Rick was a bit of a shock. My first impression – from a few feet away -- was “hippie.” My immediate second impression was, “NOT!” This was the least laid-back, go-with-the-flow “hippie” (NOT!) I had ever met, or ever will.
It didn’t take long to figure out that Rick was a capeless crusader in a county in California that didn’t want to be evangelized where animal welfare was concerned. Rick's county back in the 80’s was the seat of well-organized undercover pitbull and cock-fighting. Rick wanted at ‘em (the perpetrators) so badly he could taste it.
He came to me – I was concurrently Executive Director of Humane Educator’s Council (HEC), the law enforcement branch of API – and posed a well-considered “sting” operation that was brilliant – and potentially deadly, FOR HIM. Did he care? Not much! He said, “No one will suspect me. I look just like ‘em – I talk just like ‘em – I grew up with people like ‘em. I can do this!”
As chief executive of HEC, I had to make the decision. And I said no, even though it was a cause close to all of our hearts.
I told him that although we carried badges and were well-trained in Arrest, Search and Seizure measures, our aim at HEC was to educate and inform, not to bust heads or risk an officer’s life.
I well knew that pitbull and cock-fighters are also frequently involved in drugs, firearms, prostitution and other illegal activities and, since we didn’t have a policeman’s back-up systems (comrades, instant, computer-generated rap sheets on suspects, etc.) it would be utterly foolhardy to send him in there. People involved in multiple-pronged illegal activities wouldn’t hesitant an instant -- they'd take him to a gully or to a rice field and execute him gangland style, should his ruse be uncovered.
I told him, “I think you’re too well known as an animal guy in your county, Rick – you’ve been giving animal control folks grief about the way they house and care for runaways and strays for years, for God’s sake! It’s just too big a risk to you. You’re more valuable to our cause alive than you are dead.”
I'm sure my refusal didn't sit well with him; he probably hated me for at least six months because I denied his request to play interference for thousands of outrageously misused animals that year and for the years that followed.
When the terrible floods hit northern California back in the early 90's and fields became flooded lakes, Rick and Barb went out in a boat and began to pull cattle and coyotes, badgers and bullsnakes out of trees and into (or next to) the boat so they could shepherd them to higher ground. Their efforts went on for more than a week, day and night with only brief periods of rest. Rick marveled later, "None of the animals objected. Not even the wild ones tried to bite us. They knew, somehow, that we were trying to help them."
(There is something about benevolent "animal people" that telegraphs their safety to wild animals, just as there is something about hunters and hunting season that telegraphs to deer and elk, "It's time to make ourselves scarce." Tippi Hedren's animals at Shambala always know when hunters show up to take the tour: the lions, tigers, leopards and other cats act differently. Tippi takes pleasure in reporting to these visitors, "You're a hunter, aren't you?" When they recover from the boldness of her assertion, look at her in surprise and finally admit, "Yes -- but how did you know?" she smiles and says, "I didn't know -- the cats told me" [with their body language].
After I left Sacramento and moved back to Washington State in 1985, I only saw Rick and Barb two more times, both of those times at Sacramento STAR TREK conventions. We were a decade older each time. We were greying (I was hiding mine) and Rick was having some problems with his sinuses as a result of chemical exposure during many years of working at an Air Force base. He had to be careful around perfumes, aromatic sprays -- around anything that wasn't pure, unadulterated air, in fact. He never smoked to my knowledge.
A few years ago Rick and Barb told me Rick had a spot on his lung... over time and despite efforts to eliminate it with chemotherapy and radiation, the spot enlarged inexorably. I emailed my prayer team and we all began to intercede for him in prayer last year. Barb tells me they were so appreciative of those prayers; they gave them hope and comfort in times when things were very, very dark.
The last time I saw Rick and Barb was at Creation Entertainment's 40th anniversary STAR TREK convention in Sacramento -- September 9th and 10th, 2006. In fact, if it weren't for Rick's and Barb's desire to see me again, I would not have been able to make it to Sacramento from Seattle to appear for Adam Malin and Gary Berman that weekend. Rick and Barb sent me a check to pay for my flight; Nancy Graf invited me to stay at her place, and so I accepted the invitation I had originally declined (owing to lack of funds) and I flew to Sacramento! Those of you who met or saw me in Sacramento have Rick and Barb to thank for my being there.
I think we all knew it would be the last time Rick would be with our wee group of comrades: Barb, Nancy Graf, Reggie Holloway, Paula Dent...
Rick picked up the lunch tab -- wouldn't have it any other way.
We sat around a dining room table in the convention hotel and laughed, and laughed, and laughed... but in everyone's eyes I saw a slight, sad acknowledgment. I saw it in Rick's eyes.
We were all being brave and strong. That's what you become (only by God's grace) around critically ill people, when you can bring yourself to be around them at all. (Only very good friends seem to be able to extend the enormous blessing of affectionate proximity to the terminally ill and their families, and sometimes not even they can manage it. Illness and death often scare loved ones into the next county.)
We spent my last morning in Sacramento in Nancy's back yard. Reggie came by; Rick and Barb came by. Barb mentioned that the chemo had fried some of the connections in Rick's brain and that he often substituted similar-sounding words for the ones he was really after, or he would be unable to come up with the one he was after and get upset.
Still, Rick was 110% there. He was smiling, joking, and loaded with plans for the future (if future there be, he said); he was positive and yet somehow he seemed prepared.
At one point during a subsequent phone call he told me, "If it were up to me, I think I'm ready to go, but I don't know what it will do to my grandkids and I know what it will do to Barbara. I don't want that."
When Barb called last night to tell me the news of Rick's passing, she shared that the past couple of months he kept telling her, "You're doing too much for me... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She told him, "Don't be sorry. You haven't done anything to be sorry for."
I think he was saying more than "I'm sorry you're wearing yourself out for me." I think he was sorry that he couldn't get better, despite throwing everything at the cancer that modern medicine and alternative native medicinals and prayer could throw at it. People generally have much less trouble dying than they have thinking about what their absence will mean to the loved ones they leave behind, who so depend upon them -- not only for their physical or financial well-being, but for their sense of who they are and why it matters that they exist in the world. Rick and Barb were best friends, parents, grandparents, lovers, fellow animal crusaders. Their vision was always about where "they" would go, what "they" would do, who "they" might help...
Rick's wife, kids and grandkids are the ones who will miss him most because he was such an integral part of their daily lives. But the rest of us who knew him less well or only in fits and starts as I did will remember and treasure to the end of our days the last time we saw or spoke to him.. and all the times before that when he was vigorous, focused, trying to change the world for the animals in his county.
He did it, too!
Steve Irwin had nothing on Rick Hendrickson. I wish all of you could have known him, even if for just a few minutes.
I hope after reading this, you do know him in the way he would wish to be known.
He was a really great guy.
Addendum: Will those of you with a religious faith of any stripe -- or just a good heart that cares -- please keep Barbara Hendrickson and her children and grandhildren in your prayers and thoughts? Pray for strength, comfort and peace (and lots of good-quality rest) for Barbara as she goes through the next several months of adjustment and grief.
If you would like to send Barbara a card, please email me at KRISTINEMSMITH@MSN.COM and I will give you her mailing or email address; your choice. THANK YOU!