To the editor: Death has been gobbling up Great Barrington’s endearing eccentrics.
First, Jim Lamme, he of the bow tie and gravelly laugh. Next, another charmingly odd lawyer: the jaunty, mustachioed Harry Conklin. And now, poet and Francophile Michael Houlihan, the bard of Barrington, who died on April 24 at age 85.
Although there are tributes aplenty to the man on Facebook, word has it that Michael wanted no obituary, hence this letter to the editor. I knew of Michael in many guises: As a French and Latin teacher at Cornwall Academy. As a volunteer for Construct, the nonprofit provider of affordable housing. As a familiar figure downtown, slowly patrolling Main Street on foot, bedecked in an overcoat and trademark long scarf. As a participant in area poetry readings and slams. And, finally, as a gaunt old man, slouched in a chair in the hallway of the senior center.
But most cherished is my memory of Michael as a mentor to a band of theater students at Berkshire School back in the 1990s. Among them was a rather wacky, carrot-topped kid named Michael Gutenplan, the ideal Luther Billis in the school’s production of "South Pacific." He also hosted a show on Berkshire’s FM radio station where the normal rock 'n' roll would be replaced by the sonorous tones of a certain Mr. Houlihan, reading his poetry in his slightly faux-British accent.
“Michael regaled us with the delights of his whimsical poetry,” recalls Gutenplan, now a practicing magician in Southern California. “He was kind and welcoming, and championed our ideas. He may just be the last man of the enlightenment. A poet, a historian, a teller of tales, and most importantly a humanist, a term he used often to describe himself. He believed in the value and goodness of man.”
Michael Houlihan may not have wanted an obituary, but one suspects he wouldn’t mind being remembered that way.
James Harris, Great Barrington