Today I learned of the sudden passing of a good friend and fellow traveler in the writing world: Dick Côté. Evidently he fell on some steep steps at his home office, hit his head, and suffered major brain trauma. When brain death was determined, those close to him let him pass in peace, as he would have wished.
I first came to know Dick through my Amazon reviews, perhaps ten years ago, perhaps longer. I believe he sent me a review solicitation, and I accepted. I found him a highly competent social historian, and continued to review his books out of my interest in the subjects. We became friends, and I can remember many of what I fondly called Chardonnay conversations. He was a tremendous source of knowledge about writing and publishing, and I listened more than I talked. He always called me “my fine young friend,” which I found bemusing up to my early fifties.
Dick had an interesting life. A Connecticutian of French descent, by the time I knew him, he was living in South Carolina. His views were not largely mainstream in Charleston, but Dick was the sort of man who looks past such differences and inspires others to do the same. We have too few of his kind today. After college, he served in the Air Force in Vietnam, a role that troubled him all his days. He was a freelance writer who ghosted a great many books during the days when one could make better money doing that. The most notable might be Safe House, the autobiography of defector Edward Lee Howard. He flew to Moscow and spent several weeks mining Howard’s memories, then set forth to turn those plus Howard’s notes into a credible book. He later learned that it had all been a setup (unsuccessful) to lure Howard back to US custody. Dick was forgetful, so he retold me the story during nearly every phone call, which is why I remember it so well.
His last really major book project nearly broke him: In Search of Gentle Death. This was his social history of the global right-to-die movement, spurred in part by friends of his who were active in it, and in part by his memories of his mother’s unpleasant passing due to ALS. It was a first-class job of writing and research, and an absolute money sink from day one. I had the privilege of serving as proofreader, which was exhausting, invigorating, and fun. That’s how it was when one rode with Dick, those three adjectives. A man of perpetual good humor, no matter what the hour of the day, he always advised me to take the rest of the day off. A passionate hard worker, I know he understood the comedy inherent in that good wish.
Dick was a fairly outspoken atheist, so he did not believe that he is still with us in any spiritual form. (Think about the oddity of those verb tenses.) I, however, am not an atheist. I know this: I have lost a good friend, a fundamentally decent and caring fellow, and a source of wisdom about our line of work. I also know that if Dick was wrong, and is in fact eating crow watching us from an afterlife, he’s laughing at himself. He is also, in that case, breathing an enormous sigh of relief that he never had to face the question of how to end incurable earthly suffering, nor were his loved ones confronted with Schiavoian agony.
He has a Wikipedia page under “Richard N. Côté.” I am not sure the accents will work with a link, and I admit that I am not exactly in the frame of mind to twiddle with technical details. You can find it easily enough.
Dick, my fine old friend, take the rest of the day off.