The Coolest Guy I Ever Knew

Our family shortly before we left England.

Our family shortly before we left England.

Today would be my brother’s 73rd birthday. Tony Wiggins was the coolest guy I ever knew, and one of the smartest, funniest and kindest. He introduced me to jazz, let me drive his various sports cars when I was a novice driver, took me to see “2001 A Space Odyssey” and, going back to my dimmest childhood memories, ranged with me over the Newmarket Heath collecting dandelion greens for our pet rabbits.

He also tormented me, his little sister. I was very sensitive and reactive to teasing, so of course he teased me—very creatively. When I was about five, and he about 10, he figured out that his home-made periscope could see not only vertically but around a door left slightly ajar, a trick he used to spy on me in the bathroom.

The single greatest regret of my whole life is that I spent too little time with Tony throughout our lives and didn’t know him nearly well enough. One reason was a lack of confidence that I rated his time and attention. Other reasons are complicated, related to geography, family dynamics, misunderstanding and miscommunication. But trying to assign guilt or blame changes nothing, and with maturity and soul work I have moved to simply trying to remember and love him. After he died, his widow said, “I’m a better person for having known Tony,” and I hope the same is true of me.

In the final months of his life, in 2000, I made several trips to Cleveland to spend time with Tony, sometimes just sitting quietly beside him as he slept. We didn’t talk a lot, but during  that time I learned that he and I had some quirky common interests:

  • Identical Meyers-Briggs profiles: INTJ. (For years I claimed to be ENTJ because I thought it was better to be an extrovert. I gamed the test, but eventually learned that your type should be based on how you recharge. I’ve learned I’m a “performing introvert,” which Tony would have been as well.
  • A love of Wallace and Gromit and all the Aardman films, and of Terry Gilliam movies
  • Fondness for all things New Yorker (and New York)
  • Fascination bordering on obsession with the history of Antarctic exploration, including the writings of Robert F. Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

Tony loved Monty Python, kites, art, good writing, theater and movies and almost every kind of music. (There was a time when every one of our family of five sang in the church choir.) He loved his wife and children and enjoyed his wife’s large warm Italian family, which was such a contrast to our small, chilly English one.

Tony was agnostic, but when the nuns at the college where his wife taught prayed for him, it was just fine with him. His memorial service and burial (in Lakeview Cemetery, where President James A. Garfield is also interred) were, if one can praise a sad event, glorious. His work was creating corporate productions, and he planned his own final production in every detail, from the minister (an old family friend) to the music and the readings. Of course everyone there was someone Tony loved and who loved Tony, so his light kept shining.  He couldn’t have planned the timing, but it was early April, a brilliantly blooming Northern Ohio springtime.

Tony and our Auntie Thora, about 1996

Tony and our Auntie Thora, about 1996

Part of Tony’s legacy, for me, is a greater mindfulness and appreciation for the life I’ve been blessed with. I will never forget the blue light of an Ohio winter dawn, waiting on a freezing platform for a train to the airport after one of my visits with Tony, overwhelmed with gratitude for having been able to spend time with my brother and sorrow for his terrible illness.

If you have brothers or sisters, dear friends or other loved ones you see too seldom, take note and don’t have regrets after it’s too late. I am lucky that I still have my sister, and I enjoy seeing her and keeping in touch with her. Staying connected to Tony’s remaining family is also very important to me, and I hope to see them all next year.

I used part of this poem, by Stan Rice, as an epigraph for a poem I wrote after Tony died. I share the whole Stan Rice poem, which says so much about familial love, at least the family I knew.

The Strangeness

The strangeness of others—

Even your sisters and brothers—

Is a responsibility to

Overcome—or some night they will be lying

In a bed dying—and how you loved them,

Its quality—will be as unknown

To you as your own mother was

While a living stranger.

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3 responses to “The Coolest Guy I Ever Knew”

  1. barbara silversmith says :

    thanks SO much for this–just saw it in an e-mail from old freind Celeste Wiggins, as I at down to plan MY Dad’s Memorial Service–he died at 98 on 11/5/2012. I am that “old family friend minister” Rev. Barbara SilverSmith

  2. wigginswordsandimages says :

    Barbara, of course I remember you! I am careful about putting other people’s names in the blog. Condolences on the loss of your dad, but what a gift to have had him to such an age! I’m sure the service will be as right as Tony’s was..

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