The Priest Who Might Have Been
One late night at the old Herald newsroom Gerry reflected, wistfully, that his contemporaries in the seminary were, one by one, being ordained. If he had stayed the course, by 1972 or thereabouts he might have made it to the priesthood.
The order of Melchizedek never lost its fascination for him; on a similar occasion, he said of his newsman's job: The typewriter is my altar, the cup of coffee is my chalice, the cigaret if my sacred host.
In the cold light of day the comparison sounds mawkish and melodramatic; but when you come down to it, Gerry was sacerdotal, in a raffish sort of way.
Certainly he observed two of the three great vows. In this country, you virtually take a vow of poverty if you hope to be a decent newspaperman or teacher; and Gerry was both. He was celibate, too; though there was a time at Stanford when I thought that if he only could bring himself to declare his feelings for a special lady, she'd have raced him to the nearest bed, or altar.
The vow of obedience was the hard part. The story goes that within his first month at the seminary, he found his way into the cellar and got drunk on altar wine. Obedience would be particularly tough on Gerry - he had too much of an impishness of humor, too much of an eye for the absurd and the fatuous, to submit without question to authority.
And lord! how he loved to skewer officialdom. All newsmen do; one does not join the profession out of a sense of modesty. But Gerry Gil's editorials could be particularly irritating because they were devoid of vituperation or scalding rage; their tone was one of patient, good-humored explanation of the obvious to a prize idiot.
Gerry's editorials were inimitable in other respects. They weren't always aimed at the foibles of the mighty. He had an editorial, would you believe, on the novels of lsaac Asimov. He was masterful on the subject of educational testing and statistics - again, hardly your everyday editorial fare. And he had this habit of scanning the liturgical calendar or the day's gospel, and spinning it into an editorial on some saint or parable.
This last, of course, is a standard ploy of a preacher looking for a likely sermon; another indication, then, of Gerry's ministerial disposition.
It is an odd thing to dwell on, when there is so much else to write about Gerry - that he was ninong to heaven knows how many of his friends' children; that he probably yearned to be better known as a professor of research methods than as a journalist; that he wrote letters to the editor, reams of them, using different names and typefaces, sometimes one letter to refute another that he had written, and thus carrying on a debate with himself; that he was the truest friend one could ever hope to have.
But it is as priest that I will remember him; a priest who might have been, and as it turns out, really was; one who felt he heard the calling, and fashioned an offbeat lovely, response.
Friday, July 28, 1995