To the Editor:
A star in Hollywood — and in the world — dimmed this week when Patricia Neal passed away. I will not say that her light has gone out. Her influence will continue to brighten our world through those she has touched, as long as we allow it.
I’ve watched some of the news releases of her passing on television with a sense of, well, dissatisfaction. They all mention her biography, and even some of her theatrical successes. Inevitably however, they come to a statement that is some variation of “a life … marked with tragedy.”
It is interesting that the woman they speak of was never the Patricia Neal that I knew.
Ms. Neal was a vibrant, generous, gregarious woman. I saw her less than a month ago when she came to see our play at Camp Jabberwocky. She was reveling in the glory of the theatre, big and small. She was full of compliments and smiles, and all those she spoke with immediately felt close to her.
It’s true that Ms. Neal had some physical struggles. I believe that we all do, or will, someday. She had multiple strokes, and it was a challenge for her to regain some of the abilities that had been so prominently displayed in the spotlight. But I never knew her to consider these events as tragedies. Instead, she carried on with her same strong spirit, her smile a beacon of encouragement, especially to those of us in the Camp Jabberwocky community.
I believe it was this indomitable spirit, rather than any physical struggles she may have had, which truly drew her to be such a staunch supporter of Camp Jabberwocky, this country’s first sleepover camp for people with disabilities.
This is how I met Ms. Neal. She summered on the Vineyard regularly and often visited. She rarely missed a performance, be it a “Tea and Sing” in the afternoon, or a no-holds-barred play put on for the enjoyment of our community, our families, and our friends. She bestowed upon us her gift of generosity in all of its various forms.
Ms. Neal knew from her own experience that the only thing that could really hold a person back was him/herself — not a wobbly walk, or trouble speaking in the hurried way to which most of us have grown accustomed. True triumph in any arena can instead be honed by these challenges, making it all the more remarkable when achieved.
I will miss Patricia Neal. I will miss riding with her in a camp van and sitting next to her during one of her mealtime visits. I will miss hearing stories of her from times past, and I will miss her contagious smile and her heartfelt laugh. However, Patricia is not really gone. I know the next time something wonderful and artistic happens at Camp Jabberwocky, Patricia Neal will be there in spirit.
Faith CarterJabberwockian since 1975