...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

One of our best class acts
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I don’t know how many people in my life I’ve considered to be class acts. It’s a form of high praise from me. I’m sure no one sets out saying “I’m going to be classy” and I’m sure few classy people think of themselves in that way.

Mr. Tony Hillerman was a class act. And yes, I'm going to write about my interactions with him, but I’m really trying to make this about Tony, not about me. But who and what he was is reflected in that.

Yeah, in case you haven’t heard the news today, the amazing, talented and classy Tony Hillerman died on Sunday at the age of 83.

I know of no one, no one who had a bad word to say about the guy. But that’s not unique. Writers, in my long experience with them, are mostly a great group and don’t usually have a lot of bad press. But Hillerman was above the rest. I don’t know how he did it. He just did. He just was.

In 1994, I was on the committee for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. Two of the very early decisions we made as a committee were two of the easiest decisions I think any group ever made in this regard. One was that Marcia Muller was our choice for Guest of Honor. The second was that we wanted to give a “lifetime achievement award" and it was to go to Tony Hillerman.

As I was the non-working committee member (everyone else had jobs), I ended up being the go-to person in terms of a lot of planning, and phone calls. I was also the person planning program so inevitably I got to talk with a lot of our attendees about the panels the wanted to be on. My long-held belief about choosing guests of honor is that’s what they ARE. They are your guests. They don’t have to do ANYthing if they don’t want to. We would, of course, love to see them participate in lots of stuff, but hey, it’s about having fun and having folks come up to you and go “gosh, wow, boy oh boy”.

And this was before email was a common tool, so we did lots of letters and phone calls.

My position as “answerer of phone calls" led to some fun moments and one of those was the day the phone rang and the voice at the other end introduced himself saying “Hi, it’s Tony Hillerman”. And Andi replied, suavely, “uh, uh, uh, um, hummanuh, hummanuh, oh HI! What can I do for you?”

And he said, “No on, that’s why I’m calling. I want to know what you want me to do. What can I do for you?”

That was my first introduction to Tony.

And I admit that I do, almost every time, call him Tony. Not that I considered us friends – you don’t meet someone twice in that situation and claim a friendship. But if you ever met the guy, and I’m sure lots of you did, or even read his work, you got the sense that he was Tony and not “Mr. Hillerman.” He was, yes, an old-time gentleman, he was much older than I was (my mom's age), but he was one of those guys utterly unimpressed with his fame, the fact that he had millions of books out there, that he was so well-known.

We arranged along with a lecture series in town that Tony would come to Seattle and appear at Bouchercon and speak at Seattle Arts and Lectures. Even back 14 years ago, travel was starting to be a nuisance, so it was a great way to make an opportunity for more people to hear Tony while he was in Seattle. The only request I seem to recall from Tony and his wife Marie was that we find them a church to attend on Sunday morning. I recall him telling me what denomination, we told him where the nearest was (I think, in fact, it was a block away and it was fine) and when they came into Sea-Tac, I went with the SA&L person to meet him. And there they were, Tony and Marie. Never Mr. and Mrs. Hillerman.

Tony’s star turn at the time was him trying to convince his audience that New Mexico had the stupidest criminals in the country. His speech at the Bouchercon banquet was painfully funny stories about ATM thieves who dragged the ATM home with them ("Gosh, how did you find us?” Um, well, we sort of followed the big ruts in the street where you dragged the machine behind your truck…..”) and had he chosen to talk for two more hours, few of us would have complained. He loved making us think. He educated us seamlessly about the Dineh, the people, the places. And he loved making us laugh. Why else would he tell that now-famous story about trying to publish mystery novels featuring Navajo policemen where the response was that it was fine if he got rid of the Indian stuff

He gave us so much.

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