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So Long to the Bear

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April 27, 2006

So Long to the Bear

By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

We met in 1973, and discovered that we were fraternity brothers and that we had both been drill sergeants at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1968, although we never ran into each other. Gary worked for the National Shooting Sports Foundation for a number of years, and then moved west where he started writing about guns for a living.

He was a hugely gifted writer, and he knew his stuff, and he was the funniest son of a bitch I have ever known. But his best humor didn’t appear in print. It couldn’t have. In these politically correct times it would have gotten him fired, or shot. It was dark, bitter humor, the humor of despair.

If he had been less talented, he would simply have been obnoxious, but he was hysterical to read. Ed Zern used to ask me for his letters when I was done with them.

The Bear drank and lived hard and pissed away a good part of his talent and his life, and people who knew him were convinced that they would get a phone call one day telling them that he had died by his own hand.

It didn’t work out that way. He was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in the summer of last year, and was given 3 to 5 months to live. He called me in August to tell me the news, and said that he was at peace. “All the trouble I’ve had,” said the Bear, “I’ve brought on myself.”

Then he said “I’ll call you again before it comes.” But he never did. It came in the night only a few weeks later, and I never spoke to him again.

So I’d be grateful if you would remember the Bear kindly. He was a genius, and his own worst enemy, and a friend of mine.

Comments (24)

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from "Sunshine" To Gary wrote 5 years 42 weeks ago

Dear Friends of Gary,Gary Sitton was a wonderful person who came into my life when I most needed him. He taught me to believe in myself because he believed in me. He was truly a remarkable friend.Gary worked for a short time for Safari Club International in Tucson as their PR person before becoming the Editor of Petersen's Hunting Magazine. You will never meet a more gifted writer. I used to call him "The Smartest Man I Know", for good reason.I know he was his own worst enemy, but a truer friend you will never find.He once wrote a fiction story about a fishing trip, a beautiful girl, and a big flat rock for me! It was witty and poignant without being corny!I like to think that he acquired the nickname "Bear" because of his size and his huge teddy bear heart, not because he could be such a stinker. Anyone who knew Gary at all, knows all three applied to this special man.I would like to know if there was an obituary written and published for him. If anyone knows, I would appreicate being able to read it.Thank you David Petzel for your wonderful article on my firend.

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from Bob Geary wrote 6 years 21 weeks ago

I had several nice visits with Gary Sitton over the years and he had a real talent. As for Ed Nixon, he lived on Flathead Lake in Montana and I talked to him by phone in 2000 and his health was very bad so I did not get to visit with him at that time, but he did say that Craig Boddington was going to put out a book with all of Ed's stories and some other material as well.

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from tommy simonds wrote 6 years 42 weeks ago

can the man who posted regarding Ed Nixon contact me regarding some of his articles? thanks tommy

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from walt turner wrote 6 years 46 weeks ago

God Bless Mr. Sitton, for all of the knowledge, experience, & humor he gave so freely to all of his readers. I pray he knew how much he was appreciated by all of us that admired his fine work. Happy Trails, Sir.

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from Mark Stouse wrote 6 years 48 weeks ago

Lisa, thanks so much for letting me know! That is the best news in the world to me. God bless you and your family! Mark

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from Lisa Lloyd wrote 7 years 5 weeks ago

Mark,I so appreciate what you said about not knowing if Bear knew God, but that God knew him. I can ASSURE you he not only knew God, but that he introduced God to some special friends in the end of his life. He died with the peace that he knew exactly where he was going. The irony was that he died with more peace then he lived with! But, that was exactly how Bear was! If you are wondering how I can be so sure, it is because I was there with him, along with my mother (his wife) to the very end.Thank you for your kind words!

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from Aussie hunter wrote 7 years 18 weeks ago

Yes he was favourite firearms writer of mine, I used to get the hunting mag all the time he wrote for it. One I particulary liked was when he was in Kentucky and he had an old Winchester 97 pump on loan on a bird hunt, and it had and old bit of solder on the end of the barrel for a sight.And he done very well with it that surprised him to, it was a good article..I was very upset when I learned of his passing he was certainly a very gifted writer..Regards..

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from Mark Stouse wrote 7 years 32 weeks ago

It's the Sunday night before Labor Day 2006 and I just heard the news abou Gary. I had the pleasure once or twice, both in the company of Wootters and the late Jack Carter, and it was Gary who wrote the first articl on BlackStar in Guns & Ammo in 1994. At that time, BlackStar was just a glimmer of what it would eventually be, and Gary and John were the first writers to believe in what we were doing with the insides of rifle barrels. I will always remember him well for taking an interest in a small company that meant nothing at the time to anyone except me. He was very, very funny in the sort of way that all the best humorists are, and it ran freely from a deep reservoir of pain that was quite evident, even to me 12 years ago. Unless things changed at the end, Gary didn't believe in God, but I always thought that god believed in Gary Sitton. Best regards, Mark

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from Gary W.l wrote 7 years 34 weeks ago

Just found this blog the other day and was scrolling through previous months postings. Petzal is an irreverent, down to earth gun loony & one of my favorite writers. The comments on Gary Sitton made me think how much I missed his wit, wisdom, and insight. I never missed an article or column by Mr. Sitton. His writing could bring a knot to my throat, or lift up my spirits on unpleasant days. I wish I could have met him in person. Maybe someday I can l visit the "Sitton Tree"

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from Ray Spain wrote 7 years 38 weeks ago

The "Backtracking" column was one of my all time favorites! Every time I read that column I "felt" something. Writers that can do that are remarkable and very rare. I hope his work is published in book form for all of us to enjoy again.

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from KJ wrote 7 years 42 weeks ago

I kept one of those "Backtracking" columns written by "Jacob Bowers" - it was a poignant tribute to a friend of Sitton's. In it he makes the statement that his friend "died alone, which he said is the way we all do it, so the thought doesn't bother me any." He was as gifted a writer as I've ever read. He knew the names of trees and wildflowers.

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from Beck, C wrote 7 years 44 weeks ago

It is sad to see such a person pass away, but yet still lives in a person which was passed on to me by my father..

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from Alan Gass wrote 7 years 45 weeks ago

Thank you to everyone for the kind words about Mr. Sitton. I've known his son for almost 20 years and had a few opportunities to spend time with Mr. Sitton. He was a truly good man and was lucky to have known so many people with so many good memories of him. I attended a memorial at Penn Baggot's ranch in Ozona, TX where they spread his ashes and memorialized his favorite tree as "Sitton Tree." It was a heart-felt goodbye for a man who touched many lives.

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from Dick Filippini wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To DEP: Speaking of great writers like G. Sitton, any chance you remember a writer by the name of Ed Nixon? He wrote 10 or 11 stories in "Hunting" Magazine starting back in the mid 80's till about 1990. Some of the titles were "Too Close to Grizzlies", "Witness Trees", "Old Decker Men", "September Songs", "Bears in Remembrance" & Tribute to a Packhorse". I've got all of them packed away in my library. After his last article in 1990, he just disappeared and never wrote another article for "Hunting". Then, "Hunting" republished one of those stories a few years ago (can't remember which one), but never any more of them. This guy was a TREMENDOUS storyteller. He wrote stories about guiding & outfitting for elk in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and you could swear you were sitting in the saddle or by the campfire. F&S publishes some of the "old timers" once in a while, any chance you could find this guy and run some of his old stories? Boddington thought he did some of the finest, if not THE finest, writing to ever appear in "Hunting".

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from Dave Petzal wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To Mr. Fillipini: I was long gone from Fort Knox by 1969; and I think the Bear was, too. He claimed that his MOS, besides 11B40, was Chaser, Prisoner, Beating Up in Grayhound Bathrooms. Veterans will understand.

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from Dick Filippini wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To: El-WazirGary Sitton wrote the "Backtracking" back page column (as Jacob Bowers) for Hunting Magazine for a while back in the early 90's. Only reason I know it was Sitton is cause Boddington mentioned it in one of his editorials. I still have a July 93' issue of Hunting where he's on the back page under "Jacob Bowers" and also wrote two feature articles under his G. Sitton name. Don't know when he dropped the "Gary" and went to "G". Some of those "Backtracking" columns are superb writing. He could really tell a story. He used to hunt with some regularity on John Wooters' place in Texas. Wrote a number of articles about his hunts there and they were all great. He was good and I sure miss his writing. A few more years and some experience under his belt and Petzal might get right up there with him.

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from El-Wazir wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To Dick Filippini:What was the "other" name that Gary Sitton used which you refer to?

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from Dick Filippini wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

I'll be damned. It's funny the way things work out. I just found this blog about a week ago and I'm going thru the archives and stumble upon your tribute to Gary Sitton. I absolutely loved his work cause he could tell a story better than 99.9% of the writers out there (present company excepted). Other than F&S, Rifle and Handloader Mags, I've dumped all the rest years ago. Most just rehashed the same stuff over and over. Mr. Sitton, however, was a classic. I used to tear out his stuff and toss the mags; still have a file of those articles. Even those he wrote on a back page for some magazine under a pseudonym. (did I spell that right?? probably not) Man he was good. Found out he'd passed sitting in my barber's chair reading an old issue of G&A and damn near cried. He died the day after my birthday last year and I didn't find out till this month. I went thru basic at Ft. Knox the summer of 69 on my way to Nam and I wonder if either of you guys was there then? Anyway, thanks for a great tribute to Mr. Sitton. It's funny how you read a favorite writer long enough and you feel like they're a personal friend. It was like that with Sitton. He called em like he saw em and they don't make em like him any more. He will be missed.

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from Jeff Nelson wrote 7 years 49 weeks ago

Dave, thanks for the comments on the late Gary Sitton. He was one of my favorite writers, too. An article he wrote in Peterson's Hunting years ago that featured a Remington 700 in .338-06 with a schnabble-tipped Garrett Accur-lite stock had such a impact on me that I put together a similar rifle in .270 Wby. It's been my main deer/sheep/antelope gun for nearly 15 years. I also thought he looked a bit like O'Connor, and from your comments, was probably just as irascible!

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from O Garcia wrote 7 years 50 weeks ago

One thing I remember about G Sitton was his 'bias' for fixed power scopes, which made him appear like a voice crying in the wilderness. Even in the age of reliable variables, he remained a fixed power guy.But for the rest of his stuff I've read, there's little to find fault. Like John Wooters, Sitton was a firm believer in a bullet's terminal performance first. If that meant Nosler Partitions, A-Frames, Fail Safes, Barnes X's and Trophy Bondeds, so be it (good bullets, by the way).

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from Dave Petzal wrote 7 years 50 weeks ago

To Ernie K:He did indeed write ad copy for a number of years, but no fiction, nothing else. He was not a facile writer. It came hard to him, and I think it was all he could do to write about guns.He did look a little like JO'C, now that you mention it.

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from Ernie K. wrote 7 years 51 weeks ago

I thought that your remarks about Sitton would have stimulated more response. So much more interesting than discussing the finer points of the latest bore cleaner. Did Sitton ever write anything outside of firearms and hunting? I understood that he was, very briefly, an advertising copywriter – I believe in Phoenix. But what about fiction? Anything like that? With those wire-rimmed spectacles, he always looked quite O'Connor-ish.As in Jack.

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from Lone wrote 7 years 51 weeks ago

I am saddened to hear this. We will keep the man in our prayers. Thanks Dave, as well, for keeping things in perspective. For gentlemen like him I hope there is cold ale and good hunting in Heaven.

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from Ernie K. wrote 7 years 51 weeks ago

Thanks for the memory. Gary was a writer who was always worth reading – not just for the subject matter, but for the magical way that he solved the problem. Damn it, he really made you stop and think. I only hope that his work is soon compiled and sold in book form. Maybe you can help make that happen, my friend.

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from "Sunshine" To Gary wrote 5 years 42 weeks ago

Dear Friends of Gary,Gary Sitton was a wonderful person who came into my life when I most needed him. He taught me to believe in myself because he believed in me. He was truly a remarkable friend.Gary worked for a short time for Safari Club International in Tucson as their PR person before becoming the Editor of Petersen's Hunting Magazine. You will never meet a more gifted writer. I used to call him "The Smartest Man I Know", for good reason.I know he was his own worst enemy, but a truer friend you will never find.He once wrote a fiction story about a fishing trip, a beautiful girl, and a big flat rock for me! It was witty and poignant without being corny!I like to think that he acquired the nickname "Bear" because of his size and his huge teddy bear heart, not because he could be such a stinker. Anyone who knew Gary at all, knows all three applied to this special man.I would like to know if there was an obituary written and published for him. If anyone knows, I would appreicate being able to read it.Thank you David Petzel for your wonderful article on my firend.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bob Geary wrote 6 years 21 weeks ago

I had several nice visits with Gary Sitton over the years and he had a real talent. As for Ed Nixon, he lived on Flathead Lake in Montana and I talked to him by phone in 2000 and his health was very bad so I did not get to visit with him at that time, but he did say that Craig Boddington was going to put out a book with all of Ed's stories and some other material as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tommy simonds wrote 6 years 42 weeks ago

can the man who posted regarding Ed Nixon contact me regarding some of his articles? thanks tommy

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from walt turner wrote 6 years 46 weeks ago

God Bless Mr. Sitton, for all of the knowledge, experience, & humor he gave so freely to all of his readers. I pray he knew how much he was appreciated by all of us that admired his fine work. Happy Trails, Sir.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark Stouse wrote 6 years 48 weeks ago

Lisa, thanks so much for letting me know! That is the best news in the world to me. God bless you and your family! Mark

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Lisa Lloyd wrote 7 years 5 weeks ago

Mark,I so appreciate what you said about not knowing if Bear knew God, but that God knew him. I can ASSURE you he not only knew God, but that he introduced God to some special friends in the end of his life. He died with the peace that he knew exactly where he was going. The irony was that he died with more peace then he lived with! But, that was exactly how Bear was! If you are wondering how I can be so sure, it is because I was there with him, along with my mother (his wife) to the very end.Thank you for your kind words!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Aussie hunter wrote 7 years 18 weeks ago

Yes he was favourite firearms writer of mine, I used to get the hunting mag all the time he wrote for it. One I particulary liked was when he was in Kentucky and he had an old Winchester 97 pump on loan on a bird hunt, and it had and old bit of solder on the end of the barrel for a sight.And he done very well with it that surprised him to, it was a good article..I was very upset when I learned of his passing he was certainly a very gifted writer..Regards..

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark Stouse wrote 7 years 32 weeks ago

It's the Sunday night before Labor Day 2006 and I just heard the news abou Gary. I had the pleasure once or twice, both in the company of Wootters and the late Jack Carter, and it was Gary who wrote the first articl on BlackStar in Guns & Ammo in 1994. At that time, BlackStar was just a glimmer of what it would eventually be, and Gary and John were the first writers to believe in what we were doing with the insides of rifle barrels. I will always remember him well for taking an interest in a small company that meant nothing at the time to anyone except me. He was very, very funny in the sort of way that all the best humorists are, and it ran freely from a deep reservoir of pain that was quite evident, even to me 12 years ago. Unless things changed at the end, Gary didn't believe in God, but I always thought that god believed in Gary Sitton. Best regards, Mark

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gary W.l wrote 7 years 34 weeks ago

Just found this blog the other day and was scrolling through previous months postings. Petzal is an irreverent, down to earth gun loony & one of my favorite writers. The comments on Gary Sitton made me think how much I missed his wit, wisdom, and insight. I never missed an article or column by Mr. Sitton. His writing could bring a knot to my throat, or lift up my spirits on unpleasant days. I wish I could have met him in person. Maybe someday I can l visit the "Sitton Tree"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ray Spain wrote 7 years 38 weeks ago

The "Backtracking" column was one of my all time favorites! Every time I read that column I "felt" something. Writers that can do that are remarkable and very rare. I hope his work is published in book form for all of us to enjoy again.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from KJ wrote 7 years 42 weeks ago

I kept one of those "Backtracking" columns written by "Jacob Bowers" - it was a poignant tribute to a friend of Sitton's. In it he makes the statement that his friend "died alone, which he said is the way we all do it, so the thought doesn't bother me any." He was as gifted a writer as I've ever read. He knew the names of trees and wildflowers.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beck, C wrote 7 years 44 weeks ago

It is sad to see such a person pass away, but yet still lives in a person which was passed on to me by my father..

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Alan Gass wrote 7 years 45 weeks ago

Thank you to everyone for the kind words about Mr. Sitton. I've known his son for almost 20 years and had a few opportunities to spend time with Mr. Sitton. He was a truly good man and was lucky to have known so many people with so many good memories of him. I attended a memorial at Penn Baggot's ranch in Ozona, TX where they spread his ashes and memorialized his favorite tree as "Sitton Tree." It was a heart-felt goodbye for a man who touched many lives.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dick Filippini wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To DEP: Speaking of great writers like G. Sitton, any chance you remember a writer by the name of Ed Nixon? He wrote 10 or 11 stories in "Hunting" Magazine starting back in the mid 80's till about 1990. Some of the titles were "Too Close to Grizzlies", "Witness Trees", "Old Decker Men", "September Songs", "Bears in Remembrance" & Tribute to a Packhorse". I've got all of them packed away in my library. After his last article in 1990, he just disappeared and never wrote another article for "Hunting". Then, "Hunting" republished one of those stories a few years ago (can't remember which one), but never any more of them. This guy was a TREMENDOUS storyteller. He wrote stories about guiding & outfitting for elk in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and you could swear you were sitting in the saddle or by the campfire. F&S publishes some of the "old timers" once in a while, any chance you could find this guy and run some of his old stories? Boddington thought he did some of the finest, if not THE finest, writing to ever appear in "Hunting".

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave Petzal wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To Mr. Fillipini: I was long gone from Fort Knox by 1969; and I think the Bear was, too. He claimed that his MOS, besides 11B40, was Chaser, Prisoner, Beating Up in Grayhound Bathrooms. Veterans will understand.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dick Filippini wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To: El-WazirGary Sitton wrote the "Backtracking" back page column (as Jacob Bowers) for Hunting Magazine for a while back in the early 90's. Only reason I know it was Sitton is cause Boddington mentioned it in one of his editorials. I still have a July 93' issue of Hunting where he's on the back page under "Jacob Bowers" and also wrote two feature articles under his G. Sitton name. Don't know when he dropped the "Gary" and went to "G". Some of those "Backtracking" columns are superb writing. He could really tell a story. He used to hunt with some regularity on John Wooters' place in Texas. Wrote a number of articles about his hunts there and they were all great. He was good and I sure miss his writing. A few more years and some experience under his belt and Petzal might get right up there with him.

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from El-Wazir wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

To Dick Filippini:What was the "other" name that Gary Sitton used which you refer to?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dick Filippini wrote 7 years 46 weeks ago

I'll be damned. It's funny the way things work out. I just found this blog about a week ago and I'm going thru the archives and stumble upon your tribute to Gary Sitton. I absolutely loved his work cause he could tell a story better than 99.9% of the writers out there (present company excepted). Other than F&S, Rifle and Handloader Mags, I've dumped all the rest years ago. Most just rehashed the same stuff over and over. Mr. Sitton, however, was a classic. I used to tear out his stuff and toss the mags; still have a file of those articles. Even those he wrote on a back page for some magazine under a pseudonym. (did I spell that right?? probably not) Man he was good. Found out he'd passed sitting in my barber's chair reading an old issue of G&A and damn near cried. He died the day after my birthday last year and I didn't find out till this month. I went thru basic at Ft. Knox the summer of 69 on my way to Nam and I wonder if either of you guys was there then? Anyway, thanks for a great tribute to Mr. Sitton. It's funny how you read a favorite writer long enough and you feel like they're a personal friend. It was like that with Sitton. He called em like he saw em and they don't make em like him any more. He will be missed.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff Nelson wrote 7 years 49 weeks ago

Dave, thanks for the comments on the late Gary Sitton. He was one of my favorite writers, too. An article he wrote in Peterson's Hunting years ago that featured a Remington 700 in .338-06 with a schnabble-tipped Garrett Accur-lite stock had such a impact on me that I put together a similar rifle in .270 Wby. It's been my main deer/sheep/antelope gun for nearly 15 years. I also thought he looked a bit like O'Connor, and from your comments, was probably just as irascible!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from O Garcia wrote 7 years 50 weeks ago

One thing I remember about G Sitton was his 'bias' for fixed power scopes, which made him appear like a voice crying in the wilderness. Even in the age of reliable variables, he remained a fixed power guy.But for the rest of his stuff I've read, there's little to find fault. Like John Wooters, Sitton was a firm believer in a bullet's terminal performance first. If that meant Nosler Partitions, A-Frames, Fail Safes, Barnes X's and Trophy Bondeds, so be it (good bullets, by the way).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dave Petzal wrote 7 years 50 weeks ago

To Ernie K:He did indeed write ad copy for a number of years, but no fiction, nothing else. He was not a facile writer. It came hard to him, and I think it was all he could do to write about guns.He did look a little like JO'C, now that you mention it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ernie K. wrote 7 years 51 weeks ago

I thought that your remarks about Sitton would have stimulated more response. So much more interesting than discussing the finer points of the latest bore cleaner. Did Sitton ever write anything outside of firearms and hunting? I understood that he was, very briefly, an advertising copywriter – I believe in Phoenix. But what about fiction? Anything like that? With those wire-rimmed spectacles, he always looked quite O'Connor-ish.As in Jack.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Lone wrote 7 years 51 weeks ago

I am saddened to hear this. We will keep the man in our prayers. Thanks Dave, as well, for keeping things in perspective. For gentlemen like him I hope there is cold ale and good hunting in Heaven.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ernie K. wrote 7 years 51 weeks ago

Thanks for the memory. Gary was a writer who was always worth reading – not just for the subject matter, but for the magical way that he solved the problem. Damn it, he really made you stop and think. I only hope that his work is soon compiled and sold in book form. Maybe you can help make that happen, my friend.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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