[Editor's note: Rawlins Gilliland penned this tribute to legendary local figure Jean Carpenter in advance of this morning's memorial service, during which he will read several pieces of poetry at the family's request. We had intended to post earlier, but a server issue delayed that.]
At this very moment at Holy Trinity Catholic there is a memorial service for Jean Carpenter -- or, as it's being billed, a "Celebration of Jean Carpenter's Life." Seems only right. For 30 years, her Carpenters & Associates PR firm represented the State Fair of Texas, among others, but her mastery of public relations will not be the thing that draws the crowd to the church this morning. Rather, it will be Jean's profound relationship with the city in which she was born and where she died six days ago.
Other towns more conventionally "interesting" than Dallas proffer fascinating people anywhere you go. It's lay-of-the-land lore in, say, a New York or San Francisco. It's why you live there or leave here. But Dallas? You never know who lives here until you manage to discover them. I "discovered" Jean in this century -- ironically, at the memorial service for KERA-FM's talk-show legend Glenn Mitchell, who died in November 2005.
After I had talked with Jean for several minutes, I turned to a friend and said, "Is she for real?" My friend became defensive and snorted, "What do you men?" To which I said, "That may well be the loveliest, most gracious and charming, intellectually astute person I have met since my mother died." After that, it became normal for Jean to call from home or Santa Fe or California to discuss an op-ed or commentary I had written. She read every line and, more important to a writer (certainly of "opinion" pieces), she read between every line. How could I not want to write about her?
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Yep, Jean Carpenter was very much "for real." And a lot of people who have known and loved her a very long time are reeling in the wake of her death. I thought about Dallas as I walked in the Trinity Forest Wednesday morning and how, when we lose someone whose sparkle lights a room and illuminates a life, this city becomes like a bottle of champagne that when poured, despite being the best vintage, tastes flat.