Mar 102008
 

On Saturday afternoon, Don Perrin and I drove up to Lake Geneva for Gary Gygax’s funeral. The visitation had started at 11 AM, but we left after I got back from Marty’s last indoor soccer game. The funeral wasn’t scheduled until 2 PM, and we got there well before 1:30 PM, so we had time to spare.


It was a closed-casket funeral, so I didn’t get to see Gary one last time. The family had assembled several boards worth of photos, though, which showed Gary throughout his life, and a handsome painted portrait of him in his later years stood on an easel next to the casket. There was also a banner with the names of hundreds if not thousands of well-wishers sent from ENWorld, plus over a dozen large flower arrangements.

I recognized many of his family members, especially his sons from his first marriage (to Mary), Ernie and Luke. I also saw his daughters Elise, Heidi, and Cindy and spotted Alex, his son from his second marriage (to Gail). It had been years since I’d seen any of them, but Luke and Gail recognized me immediately, and I spent a few minutes with Gail, chatting about Gary. She seemed well, although as she said, the last week had been a whirlwind of funeral arrangements and media requests. She suspected it would hit her hard the next week, when she could sit down and finally absorb it all.

Gail told me she knew that Gary knew how much people appreciated him and his work. In the early years, he’d often shrug such things off, but as he got older he understood it more. To him, the most important things were using games to have fun and to build community, and he’d clearly succeeded at that.

Lots of the old crew from TSR showed up, including my Alliterate pals Doug (and Chris) Niles, Steve Sullivan (and his wife Kiff), and Lester Smith. I also saw Frank Mentzer, Skip Williams, Jim Lowder, Jim Ward, Jamie and Renae Chambers, Cam Banks, James Mishler, Sue and Monte Cook, Duke Seifried, Tom Wham, Harold Johnson, Stephen and David Chenault, David Kenzer, Jolly Blackburn, Brian Jelke, Bill Fawcett, Jody Lynn Nye, David Wise, and many others.

The room was packed. As Don said on the drive up, “This is gaming’s first state funeral,” and it felt a bit like that. The funeral was open to the public, and word had it that some fans had flown in from as far away as California. As Monte commented on his site, it seemed like it should have been bigger, but it’s hard for people to travel cross-country on such short notice. I suspect we’ll have a memorial event at Gen Con this summer that will pack a ballroom. As it was, I didn’t see many if any empty seats in the funeral home.

The funeral was as wonderful as such a sad occasion can be. I sat between Don and Duke, a few rows back, just behind the family, and listened to every word.

The reverend started out with Psalm 23, and could not help but thinking how Gary would have turned it into an adventure, particularly when we got to the part about “my rod and my staff.”

After the readings, four men got up to talk a bit about Gary. Harold Johnson spoke first. He reminisced about what a great friend Gary had been to him over the years, and he nearly broke down toward the end.

Jim Ward got up next and gave Harold a hard time for forgetting to introduce him as he went crying all the way back to his seat. It was a good-natured ribbing from someone who loved Gary as much as anyone else. Jim told about how he’d met Gary. The two of them had been in a bookstore in Lake Geneva, and they each ended up picking up the same seven historical books. Laughing about the coincidence, Gary told Jim about the then-new D&D, and Jim said, “I have to play this.”

Later, after a game of D&D on Gary’s back porch, Jim said, “There should be a science-fiction version of this.” Gary, as generous as ever, said, “Well, why don’t you write it, Jim?” And that’s how Metamorphosis Alpha came to be.

Next, Stephen Chenault spoke about how blessed he felt to have known Gary and published his work over the past few years. He mentioned how he’d been in shock after the new and hadn’t been ready to respond to the flood of calls from the media. Then a reporter from a prominent news organization asked about Gary, “Is it true he lived in a dungeon?” That shook Stephen, and he knew he had to start talking to help set the record straight.

Last of all, Luke Gygax got up and spoke for the family. He’s a captain in the US Army Reserves, and he wore his dress uniform for the occasion. He said he knew Gary was many things to many people, but he could only speak of him as he knew him: his best friend, his role model, and—most of all—his dad.

Luke, who clearly inherited Gary’s love for stories and talent for spinning them, told a number of tales from his life with his father. He made the rest of us cry, then laugh, then cry again.

He mentioned how he and his older siblings would beg for bedtime stories. And how a day home sick would turn into almost a week when Gary, who worked at home, would break out a huge wargame to keep them entertained while Luke recovered—at least until Gail caught on and sent the now-healthy Luke back to school.

At the end, Luke turned to the coffin and said, “I love you, Dad, and I salute you,” then snapped off a sharp salute before returning to his seat.

No one’s eyes stayed dry through that.

In his homily later, the reverend quoted from two men who’d written about how Gary had affected their lives: Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman. You can read Wil’s story on his site, but Neil’s concerned how he could thank Gary for his career because Neil gave up being an impoverished, young journalist after being asked to write a high-paying cover story about how D&D corrupted youths.

After the funeral, Don and grabbed a cup of coffee with his friend Craig, then headed over to the American Legion Hall for the wake. This is the same place where I’d gone to my first convention (a Winter Fantasy) and first met Gary 26 years ago—the same place that had been part of four early Gen Cons—and I hadn’t been back since. Despite the somber occasion, I couldn’t stop grinning from the way the déjà vu sent my head spinning.

The main room had several tables set up for gaming, and a projector played pictures from Gary’s life on one wall. In the front room, a bar served beer and pop, while Elise and Ernie and other family members hung out in the kitchen, from which the girls had served countless hot dogs during conventions past. I pointed out the spot in which I’d played my first convention game ever, a session of Boot Hill with Steve Winter, who’s now one of my fellow Alliterates.

At that Winter Fantasy, my mother had driven my friends and I up for the day then gone shopping in Lake Geneva. When she came to pick us up, she waited patiently for our last games to wind up. As she did, she spoke to one of the men in charge of the convention and—having been to several regular conventions herself—pointed out a number of ways in which this small gathering of gamers could be improved. I found her at the end of this conversation and was shocked to see that she’d been talking with Gary himself.

I sat next to Duke for a bit, and he showed me dozens of clippings of his fantastic miniatures dioramas. At 80 years old, he’s as vibrant as ever. He plays in a couple of bands, one of which my old band teacher from high school leads. The other is, of course, the Duke Seifried Trio, which plays at the Speakeasy in Janesville, among other venues.

Duke was the first executive vice president of TSR, and he helped bring polyhedral dice and miniatures into the fantasy gaming hobby. When I was 15 years old, I interviewed for a self-published magazine I ran, and the subject was the private miniatures gaming weekends he would run at his house as team-building exercises for executives. He claimed that his depiction of Helm’s Deep was the most accurate ever, as he’d visited with Professor Tolkien himself and made sketches with him before designing it.

I’m told that—last week, before Gary died—Duke Seifried stumbled across a one-of-a-kind metal miniature he’d made for Gary many years before. He’d set it aside, intending to give it back to Gary. Instead, it wound up in the pocket of Gary’s suit, and he was buried with it.

Frank Mentzer got up and spoke soon after the event began. He talked about meeting Gary and working as his right-hand creative man for so many years, which helped him learn how to write in Gary’s unique style, which they called “High Gygaxian,” or “Higax” for short.

I understand the gaming went on until the management kicked everyone out at 9 PM, although I’m sure it could have kept going all night. I knew I had to get back to my family before too long, so I didn’t join in a game and stuck to catching up with friends and offering condolences instead. (Don and I left a little before 6 PM.) Still, I saw lots of them being played, with everyone laughing and enjoying themselves, despite the reason that had brought them together.

More than one person referred to it as Gary Con 1. I don’t know if it will ever be repeated, but the once was fantastic enough. My favorite of all the games I saw being played was an old-school D&D session of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, the first published D&D adventure in which I ever played. The Dungeon Master had all the original material in front of him, and something like eight players hanging on his every word as he led them into the

I think Gary would have loved that.

I find myself missing Gary, which is ironic, as I didn’t miss him much when he was alive. I was happy to chit-chat with him when our paths crossed, but I never made it a point to seek him out. Still, I always smiled when I’d read his notes on an e-mail list we were on, and it comforted me to know that he was out there still writing and playing games, even if I wasn’t involved.

He was the Stan Lee, the Orson Welles ,of gaming. He didn’t invent the concept of games, of course, but he (and his co-designer Dave Arneson) reinvented them in novel ways that caught fire in the hearts and minds of people around the globe. Without him, the world would be a lot duller, and I would have probably wound up punching a clock somewhere as a systems analyst.

So, here’s to the man who splashed color across the world, who spiced our dreams with his special fantasy melange, and who gave us good reasons to gather with friends, play games, and make stories of our own.

Here’s to you, Gary. I salute you too.

  36 Responses to “Gary’s Funeral”

Comments (34) Pingbacks (2)
  1. This was an awesome post, Matt. Thanks for being so thorough and so concise, all in the same editorial. It was good to see you and everybody else there, completely at odds with the sadness of the occasion.

  2. This was an awesome post, Matt. Thanks for being so thorough and so concise, all in the same editorial. It was good to see you and everybody else there, completely at odds with the sadness of the occasion.

  3. Thanks, Cam. It was good to see you too.

  4. Thanks, Cam. It was good to see you too.

  5. Stan Lee.
    Spot on!

    A wonderful memorial, Matt.
    You made me feel like I was really there.

    One of my former students, who played Mercutio recently and was in my Revenge of the Sith bookclub when it was released in advance of the film, stopped me in the hallway just the other day. He wanted to tell me about Gary and I replied that I had heard the news. He said, “We rolled up a character of him last night.”
    The bell rang and, as I started the class on Maus, I realized that I didn’t ask, “What class?” :)

  6. Stan Lee.
    Spot on!

    A wonderful memorial, Matt.
    You made me feel like I was really there.

    One of my former students, who played Mercutio recently and was in my Revenge of the Sith bookclub when it was released in advance of the film, stopped me in the hallway just the other day. He wanted to tell me about Gary and I replied that I had heard the news. He said, “We rolled up a character of him last night.”
    The bell rang and, as I started the class on Maus, I realized that I didn’t ask, “What class?” :)

  7. Matt;

    Thanks for the summary. I hope that his family knows how much he meant to everyone who wasn’t there, and how much he affected the lives of so many people he never met.

    The Stan Lee comparison is apt.

  8. Matt;

    Thanks for the summary. I hope that his family knows how much he meant to everyone who wasn’t there, and how much he affected the lives of so many people he never met.

    The Stan Lee comparison is apt.

  9. I’m glad you guys liked it. The more I think of Gary as Stan Lee, the more it matches up. I suppose that makes Dave Arneson into Jack Kirby, the genius partner who never got quite the recognition of the publisher-genius partner. I don’t mean that to slight either Gary or Stan, both of whom I admire as creators. When you’re a creative person in charge of a company, it’s in the best interests of the company to promote you as a creative force, and both men did an excellent job of it.

    As for Gary’s family, I think they felt the love. They’ve lived with his fame for decades, of course, and the public outpouring of emotion didn’t go unnoticed. I loved the ENWorld banner with all the names on it. The sheer quantity of people who attached themselves to it seemed to say as much as any of the notices on TV or in print.

  10. I’m glad you guys liked it. The more I think of Gary as Stan Lee, the more it matches up. I suppose that makes Dave Arneson into Jack Kirby, the genius partner who never got quite the recognition of the publisher-genius partner. I don’t mean that to slight either Gary or Stan, both of whom I admire as creators. When you’re a creative person in charge of a company, it’s in the best interests of the company to promote you as a creative force, and both men did an excellent job of it.

    As for Gary’s family, I think they felt the love. They’ve lived with his fame for decades, of course, and the public outpouring of emotion didn’t go unnoticed. I loved the ENWorld banner with all the names on it. The sheer quantity of people who attached themselves to it seemed to say as much as any of the notices on TV or in print.

  11. Thanks for writing this Matt. I feel like I experienced the day with you and I to, having never met Gary, now miss him.

    If Gary Con does become a regular event, hope fully t id done to to honor the true spirit of gaming and the impact it has made on a lot of peoples lives.

    Ugh, just read that agin, no pun intened with the above. My apologies

    Brian

  12. Thanks for writing this Matt. I feel like I experienced the day with you and I to, having never met Gary, now miss him.

    If Gary Con does become a regular event, hope fully t id done to to honor the true spirit of gaming and the impact it has made on a lot of peoples lives.

    Ugh, just read that agin, no pun intened with the above. My apologies

    Brian

  13. Reading your summary of Gary’s funeral brings back many memories. I was one of those “friends” who went to that Winter Con in Lake Geneva with Matt. I also remember playing Boot Hill(soon became my favorite game) also with Steve Winter and Matt. I don’t remember much of that actual Boot Hill session except being trapped in some Mexican village and having the bad guys taunting us with “Hey Gringos!!”

    I of course was in awe to see Gary Gygax and many other of the TSR originals at that Con and many others. Great memories, most of them with Matt, as we played many one on one role play sessions. I miss those days and your summary of the funeral made me feel a little more connected to those long ago days.

    Keep up the great work Logan Nightstalker, I mean Matt.

    Trudge

  14. Reading your summary of Gary’s funeral brings back many memories. I was one of those “friends” who went to that Winter Con in Lake Geneva with Matt. I also remember playing Boot Hill(soon became my favorite game) also with Steve Winter and Matt. I don’t remember much of that actual Boot Hill session except being trapped in some Mexican village and having the bad guys taunting us with “Hey Gringos!!”

    I of course was in awe to see Gary Gygax and many other of the TSR originals at that Con and many others. Great memories, most of them with Matt, as we played many one on one role play sessions. I miss those days and your summary of the funeral made me feel a little more connected to those long ago days.

    Keep up the great work Logan Nightstalker, I mean Matt.

    Trudge

  15. Thanks, Brian!

    Mike! Long time, no see, neighbor. (Mike’s brother Pat was my first DM, and our group whiled away countless hours on any game we could get our hands on.) Glad you stopped by. Hope to see you around Beloit soon!

  16. Thanks, Brian!

    Mike! Long time, no see, neighbor. (Mike’s brother Pat was my first DM, and our group whiled away countless hours on any game we could get our hands on.) Glad you stopped by. Hope to see you around Beloit soon!

  17. Yes, those were some fun days and nights. I miss being able to find time to play those great games and attend the Con. Maybe some day I will come out of retirement and once again explore the wonderful world of role playing games.

    Hope to bump into you real soon. Oh by the way, do you still have your Kaypro computer?

    Trudge

  18. Yes, those were some fun days and nights. I miss being able to find time to play those great games and attend the Con. Maybe some day I will come out of retirement and once again explore the wonderful world of role playing games.

    Hope to bump into you real soon. Oh by the way, do you still have your Kaypro computer?

    Trudge

  19. Thank you so much Matt,my wife just found your sight and we would again like to thank you for you account of that day and your history of TSR.

  20. Thank you so much Matt,my wife just found your sight and we would again like to thank you for you account of that day and your history of TSR.

  21. You’re welcome, Bill and Elise. I was honored to be able to attend the funeral and to have known Gary for so many years. We all miss him, although I’m sure that’s nothing compared to your sense of loss.

  22. You’re welcome, Bill and Elise. I was honored to be able to attend the funeral and to have known Gary for so many years. We all miss him, although I’m sure that’s nothing compared to your sense of loss.

  23. I stumbled upon this today, and it brought me back to both the sadness and the real sense of community and family that the event had. Even living in the same town for the past seven years, I’d only had the chance to spend time with Gary a handful of occasions. It was a real thrill for me to get copies of the early 80s “red box” version of D&D and get both Gary and Larry Elmore to sign it for my then-unborn son. Though I didn’t have a personal relationship with him, Gary was profoundly important to me and my life.

    Having lost my own father more recently, I also now understand all too well the feelings of Ernie and Luke at this event. I was very glad to bestow upon them the first off-the-press copy of Dragon Lairds, our company’s very first board game: one that the Gygax family playtested and continued to play.

  24. I stumbled upon this today, and it brought me back to both the sadness and the real sense of community and family that the event had. Even living in the same town for the past seven years, I’d only had the chance to spend time with Gary a handful of occasions. It was a real thrill for me to get copies of the early 80s “red box” version of D&D and get both Gary and Larry Elmore to sign it for my then-unborn son. Though I didn’t have a personal relationship with him, Gary was profoundly important to me and my life.

    Having lost my own father more recently, I also now understand all too well the feelings of Ernie and Luke at this event. I was very glad to bestow upon them the first off-the-press copy of Dragon Lairds, our company’s very first board game: one that the Gygax family playtested and continued to play.

  25. My condolences again on the loss of your father, Jamie. I was in the kitchen at the American Legion Hall when you gave the Gygax’s the game, and I could see they appreciated it. You did a good thing.

  26. My condolences again on the loss of your father, Jamie. I was in the kitchen at the American Legion Hall when you gave the Gygax’s the game, and I could see they appreciated it. You did a good thing.

  27. It has been nearly 9 months since Dad died. The loss is great…he was the most intelligent, complicated, funny man I’ve ever known. He must have know 1000′s of puns, jokes, riddles, stories. I’m grateful for the story you wrote Matt. There are so many myths and misconceptions about him and us..I guess that will continue.
    My family and I miss him daily and those memories of selling pop and hot dogs to the gamers will remain, as will the play-testing of many of Dad’s games and the games of people who worked with him. He was happy doing his “work” and it wasn’t easy to pull him away from it.
    Luke’s tribute was beautiful and more heartfelt than anything I’ve heard my little brother ever say.
    The lead figure that Duke made did indeed get put into the pocket of Dad’s orange button-up shirt (one of his favorites) and is likely still with his ashes. He wasn’t a suit wearing kind of guy… I want to thank all the people who did make it to Dad’s funeral. Try as I might to rid myself of the memory of that day, seeing friendly faces from the past was nice and meant so much to us. Thank you.

  28. It has been nearly 9 months since Dad died. The loss is great…he was the most intelligent, complicated, funny man I’ve ever known. He must have know 1000′s of puns, jokes, riddles, stories. I’m grateful for the story you wrote Matt. There are so many myths and misconceptions about him and us..I guess that will continue.
    My family and I miss him daily and those memories of selling pop and hot dogs to the gamers will remain, as will the play-testing of many of Dad’s games and the games of people who worked with him. He was happy doing his “work” and it wasn’t easy to pull him away from it.
    Luke’s tribute was beautiful and more heartfelt than anything I’ve heard my little brother ever say.
    The lead figure that Duke made did indeed get put into the pocket of Dad’s orange button-up shirt (one of his favorites) and is likely still with his ashes. He wasn’t a suit wearing kind of guy… I want to thank all the people who did make it to Dad’s funeral. Try as I might to rid myself of the memory of that day, seeing friendly faces from the past was nice and meant so much to us. Thank you.

  29. Thank you, Cindy. Your dad inspired a lot of people with his work, but the funeral made it clear just how much more his family loved him than anyone else possibly could.

  30. Thank you, Cindy. Your dad inspired a lot of people with his work, but the funeral made it clear just how much more his family loved him than anyone else possibly could.

  31. I never met Mr. Gygax nor even attended a GEN CON, despite living in WI my entire life and gaming since the early ’80′s. When my old DM called and informed me Mr. Gygax’s passing, I tried to explain to my wife the profound influence this man had on my life, despite never meeting (truly one of my life’s only regrets). It took my counting out the 20 plus books which contained his name in the credits before she understood. My former DM, his wife and I attended and Luke’s tribute is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Mr. Gygax touched so many of our lives in a way that can not be explained to someone who’s never slain a dragon, just for the fun of it! Since the funeral, we’ve gotten the old party together and started playing again, in Greyhawk, just like old times.
    Thank you Mr. Gygax and family for how all of you have helped shape my life….

    Nevets “9-Finger” Nitram

  32. I never met Mr. Gygax nor even attended a GEN CON, despite living in WI my entire life and gaming since the early ’80′s. When my old DM called and informed me Mr. Gygax’s passing, I tried to explain to my wife the profound influence this man had on my life, despite never meeting (truly one of my life’s only regrets). It took my counting out the 20 plus books which contained his name in the credits before she understood. My former DM, his wife and I attended and Luke’s tribute is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Mr. Gygax touched so many of our lives in a way that can not be explained to someone who’s never slain a dragon, just for the fun of it! Since the funeral, we’ve gotten the old party together and started playing again, in Greyhawk, just like old times.
    Thank you Mr. Gygax and family for how all of you have helped shape my life….

    Nevets “9-Finger” Nitram

  33. Thanks for the note, Steve. I know exactly how you feel.

  34. Thanks for the note, Steve. I know exactly how you feel.

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