A Great Man

In March I learned of the passing of my friend, David Walton. My initial shock was more in disbelief that he died 3 years shy of his own predicted passing on his 90th birthday. Though he was 87, and lived an overflowing bubbling life, he was not ready to go. But then again, I’m not convinced he ever would be.

I knew David because he had been my dad’s friend. David and my dad, Lennard Livingston, met in the eccentric social circles of Monterey and Big Sur in the 50’s. My dad owned the restaurant in Big Sur called Ragueneau’s Kitchen (named from the Cyrano de Begerac play where Ragueneau is a pastry chef and poet) at the same time David had a cafe in Monterey called Sancho Panza.

Most of my life David had lived abroad and all I learned of him were from the stories my dad told. I can’t actually remember meeting him as a kid. David reappeared in my life over 10 years ago when my dad passed away. He came to my parent’s house on a hill in Santa Cruz, the same house, coincidentally, that David’s nephew, Todd Walton, had lived in in the 1970’s. He sat down on the sun porch looked out the window and said, “Len must have loved to sit here and watch the bay. It was true. That had been my dad’s spot to watch the world happen while cancer ate away at him.

David came back to the U.S. one time each year from his adopted home country of China. He believed you could travel through time by traveling around the world. He liked living in China because family was still the central social unit and manners mattered. He never said that about the manners part, but I think he liked that people followed a predictable protocol of respectful behavior towards one another.

On his visits to us in Santa Cruz he would show up with a small wicker suitcase in one hand, computer in the other and always wearing his black pants, socks, shoes, dinner jacket, white shirt and bow tie. David taught me how to tie a real bow tie. Though I think he thought it was pretty silly that I insisted he teach me, but he obliged gracefully with his slow smiling mantra, “well, okay.”

He would settle right in at home. He was at home anywhere in the world. He told my friend Kyle and me, “Although much of my time I am alone, I am never lonely. The universe keeps me filled with wonder. I am at friends with it, which I guess is the same as being at peace.”

I loved to have him visit. He was like water. He would mold himself in to any space you gave him, flowing freely. He was at home wherever he was and he always felt like family. He would eat anything at anytime, travel on any schedule, stay up all night talking if you wanted to (though he might doze off now and then). He and my mom are the only people I know who grow older with out growing rigid.

After a number of David’s visits to us in Santa Cruz, hearing him invite me to China every time, my friend Kyle and I finally went to visit him in China. Kyle had formed a bond with David that he had never had with anyone else. David was a great thinker, philosopher and endlessly full of hope. Hope on the big scale world picture is rare these days. In January, David sat at our dining room table and told us about the next book he wanted to write. It would be about how to fix politics and the government structure so that we could have leadership in this country by people who were truly qualified, accountable and working for the people.

I admit to being a cynic, but being around David actually gave me hope for the world. He believed deep in his heart in the good of all people and was generous with everything he had. And that is the rarest gem quality to find in a human.

The deepest connection I shared with David was his love of water and swimming. Todd recalled in his account of David that he used to jump into the Pacific Ocean every morning when he lived in Monterey. David had told us about his favorite swimming lake in Xichang, where he lived in China, and how he went at least a couple times a week to swim. He took us there and Kyle and I knew why he loved it so much. The water was the perfect temperature and families gathered to picnic at the lake’s edge. We swam together and splashed around.

Once I learned how much David loved the Sierra I started sharing my summer ramblings in the mountains with him in more detail. He would recall back to me having climbed the same peak or walking through the same meadows. He made me feel like I was giving him little gifts by telling him these stories. Because while he said amazing things, and did beautiful acts, it’s as Maya Angelo says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” David made me feel calm and respected. He brought magic back into the world.

Being with David in China was the best part of being in China. He was constantly surrounded by good vibes. When we went out, he gracefully made his way through the neighborhood street market, buying live fish, vegetables and all the while communicating without speaking a word of Mandarin except ‘thank you’ and ‘it doesn’t matter.’ His apartment was shared with Chinese friends who were his voice in China. He held ‘English corner’ where people came and gathered around him to listen to stories, tell stories or ask questions. Some seemed to come just to be in his presence. A gentle force.

We shared two of the best meals of our lives with David and his friends.

We shared two of the best meals of our lives with David and his friends.

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage into wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell and without end.

Hermann Hesse
from Magister Ludi

4 thoughts on “A Great Man

  1. Fabulous, Haven. I’m so glad you got to have David in your life. He modeled a way of being that I know had a huge impact on how I relate to other people. At the outset of every adventure, every meeting with another person, David’s opening facial expression, so to speak, was a welcoming smile. Thank you for so beautifully and thoughtfully sharing your memories of him. Todd

  2. Pingback: David Walton Concludes a Gracious, Giving Life in China | Deep Politics: Environment, Democracy, Health & Beyond — and a Bit of Fun

  3. Haven, Great piece about David. I new and befriended him when he helped Micaela Livingston out with her restaurant : Ports, in Hollywood. David was Top Drawer, as he would have said.
    He was what makes a man a gentleman. I was pleased to hear his death occurred in China.
    David once said to me: ” Mark, if you look for me you will find me among the pages of Lost Horizon and Of Human Bondage….” Yes, David was Robert Conway , and Elliot Templeton, but really he was David Walton…which was so much more.

    Mark Pollock
    Napa, Calif.

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