Life gets more and more interesting the closer it is examined. I remember being impressed several years ago by someone defining life as “a material that maintains its form through a change of substance.” Lets those little details go flying, no?
The above was written by Jeremy Wilber, in the course of an email conversation I had with him that graced me over the last five weeks of his life. In the first email, he asked me to publish the letter that’s on the front page after his passing. And he showed himself to be ever aware, with a characteristic twinkle, of my deadline.
If you would you consider placing the following letter in the edition following my death, I in return will do my best to rig the event no sooner than a Sunday and no later than a Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.
He had also expressed that he wanted to live until the first of the year so that he could have the distinction of being the longest serving Woodstock town supervisor, surpassing Isaac Elting, who was on top for 13 years, from 1810-1822. Jeremy’s tenure exceeded Elting’s by one day.
When he died on New Year’s day, he successfully completed both goals.
I had gone to see Jeremy in November, shortly after he got home. Not knowing what to expect, it was with some dread. What I found was a great deal of love. Surrounded by his beautiful family, Jeremy, very much present, was holding court in his living room, bed bound, for sure, aware of his fate, yet receiving visitors with enthusiasm, working on town business, meeting daily with deputy supervisor Bill McKenna and other town board members. “What am I going to do, sit around and mope?” he said.
We talked about the years gone by, about the job of supervisor, laughed about both being veterans of the impossible job, which he was still doing and proving daily that it was not so impossible, and about how mystifying politics, and life can be.
Eyes were dry, at least to visitors, among his family members as they saw to his needs, gently dispensing care.
He was writing, sending emails on his iPad, reading news, determined not to let a moment pass. We talked of personal things, business things, and he marveled over the love he was receiving. I told him I, too, loved him and was glad to be contributing to the supply he was taking in. He knew what a significant factor it was, both from his family and from the town (where his condition had been pretty much an open secret) in keeping him alive.
When I left, after about a 20 minute visit with him, I felt lighter. The dread, the fear of the dying man, was gone. I was there to cheer him up, but this dying man had, instead, uplifted me.
Everyone I talked to who had been lucky enough to visit with Jeremy in his last weeks said they felt the same thing.
The dying biz gives a lot of time for rewrites, which is good I think…
By December 11, we were several drafts into his letter to the town. I told him he could go on polishing and rewriting, if he liked. “Couple of months down the road maybe you’ll hit on something you like better…”
Thank you, he replied. Hey, this could be the beginning of an Edgar Allen Poe story…
I came to Woodstock Times in 2001, just after Jeremy began his first term as town supervisor. Naturally, covering the town is one of the major stories for a local newspaper, and sometimes it can get adversarial. We had known each other for, oh, at least 20 years at that point, and I had already done the job (four years was quite enough for me, thank you), and there were rocky issues he had to deal with, whether to put the highway garage on the Comeau or somewhere other than the rebuild in the same location that ultimately happened. There was a comprehensive plan controversy. He had to roll with the incredible housing boom of the early 2000s and on into the big bust of 2006-2008. Relations with the press and constituents could get scratchy. But the budgets were always balanced, always on time, and tax increases were kept to minimal levels.
He returned to the job in 2013, after easily winning reelection in 2012. The town was glad to have him back. Having contentious years behind him, he used his experience to approach issues in a disarming fashion, able to consider all viewpoints, was readily decisive, and accomplished much. The Town Hall renovation provided better facilities for the police and dispatch. The Highway Garage functions well. The Community Center renovation went smoothly. He provided vision and leadership when a movement to sell Cooper Lake water to Niagara Bottling company by the city of Kingston (which owns the water) fizzled. And, as always, the budgets were smooth, reasonable and sustaining.
Moreover, his treatment of his fellow townspeople made them understand that here was a guy you could talk to, that you were a part of the town, could have a say in how it was being run, so you could know what it felt like to make a life here. May it continue like that as we move on.
Okay, up to [draft] #6 now. I was reminded today that it’s been six weeks since I was told two weeks was an outside chance, he wrote to me on December 19. Confusing, no?
Confusing, yes. But uplifting, still. Could he make it? Please, God, don’t let him die on Christmas…
No, New Year’s day was more fitting, if it had to be at all. Take that, Isaac Elting.
So we celebrate you, Jeremy, too soon gone, for your love of Woodstock, for the time you gave us, for always putting forth energy and intelligence, and looking out for us. Rest in peace, man. We won’t soon forget you.