Brian Williams by Charlotte Porter
When Brian was a baby, his mother once told me, he was always reaching out to strangers. It was as if he wanted to embrace everyone, happily and fearlessly. Her description has become one of my favorite images of a man who has gathered so many of us to his side, where we could laugh, and tease, and see our better selves reflected in his eyes.
There are others in our community of Tarotists and artists who will be able to write far better than I about Brian's talents and depth of knowledge in those fields. I sit on the sidelines and adore him, and these are some of the things I love most.
First, of course, is his brilliance. His curiosity is so wide-ranging, his memory so prodigious, his language so fecund, that he can talk for hours -- and would, were he not so modest -- about subjects ranging from the importance of Giotto in Western art to putting together a stunning Mardi Gras costume from thrift shop finds. He's always fascinating, never pompous. And he's always funny. He can charm with warmth, or eviscerate with one razor-sharp barb. If he'd turned his talents in more conventional directions, Dorothy Parker would have been left in the dust.
Then there is his smile. His husky laugh. His smoky voice, which sounds as if he'd spent far too many nights in clubs or bars. I got to know Brian later than much of the Tarot crowd. By the time we met, in Florence, Italy, in the summer of 1999, he had already grappled with cancer and was no longer the round-cheeked youngster pictured on his web site. He was lean and bespectacled. With a smile that could melt glaciers.
He led Tarotists on two breakneck tours of Italy, in 1999 and 2000, and I was fortunate enough, along with Arnell Ando and Mike McAteer, to join him for both. Arnell covers these in great detail in her reminiscence, so I won't here. And to me, it's small things that stand out -- Brian running to get copies of the Bergamo newspaper, so we could read the story about our "important visit" to the tiny town of Clusone; Brian giving us shards of a pottery bowl, telling us to plant them to ensure our return to Italy; Brian being almost as delighted as Arnell and I to discover copies of his Pomo Tarot in a Venice shop, then inscribing them for us over a dinner of rather unappetizing sea life.
His mother and brother, John, joined us on the first trip, while his sister Genny did driver duty on the second. Genny told us another story that has become one of my favorites about Brian: When they were young -- Brian, the oldest, was about 9 -- the parents dropped them off at a museum in Washington, D.C., where Brian proceeded to spend all their money on art postcards. Hours later, young John was prostrate on the steps, crying, "Can't we just have a hot dog?" Replied Brian, "No, we must have art!"
There were times on those trips when I knew just how John felt.
He was determined to fill his days to the brim. When he came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 2000, you could feel his delight. He donned the costume of an 18th century Venetian nobleman, and wowed the crowds. I scurried to keep up, having more fun than even New Orleans ought to allow.
It would have required a battle not to love Brian, and like so many, I just surrendered immediately. He has the incredible talent of making the people he cared about feel special -- smarter, wittier, prettier. If someone like Brian believed it, we could, too. It's a gift I hope to carry close to my heart forever.
Essay © 2002 Charlotte Porter