Requiem Eucharist: In Thanksgiving for the life of
Oliver Holmes Gilliland. The program.

The Program in PDF
 

The Homily -- The Reverend Vanessa Glass

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in me.”

We are gathered in community today to remember and give thanks for the life of Oliver Gilliland. And, how wonderful it is to see all of you in a place that Oliver came to call home.

I first met Oliver late last summer shortly after coming to Grace Cathedral. We became fast friends when he learned that I had a young daughter at home. Always asking about my daughter, Grace, one of our shared joys was delighting in the infinite openness of childhood.
These last few months I was fortunate to spend time with Oliver – talking, reading or praying. Every time we met, I marveled at Oliver’s ability to create community wherever he went. As a young man in Topeka he created sanctuary for those seeking a place to read or rest at the local bookstore.

And then in his dying, Oliver created community among those who came and cared for him. Not by doing anything, but simply by being who he was. One night gathered around his living room, someone said that Oliver always saw the best in every one – almost as if he could see into your soul and draw out your best self.

At Grace Cathedral, Oliver’s gift for creating community was quickly recognized. He served as a greeter and eventually became the head of the greeter’s guild. Many visitors from the Bay Area and from around the world were greeted by Oliver as they made their way up the Cathedral steps. His radiant smile exuded a warmth and charm that invited wonder about what kind of experience might lie ahead.

Oliver had a transformative experience when he came to the Cathedral a few years ago in search of a spiritual home. His spiritual quest was a serious one, as he sought to engage body, mind and spirit. The gothic architecture appealed to his aesthetic side, but the music and liturgy shaped his belief and his praying. Oliver loved the Cathedral for what it represented as a house of prayer for all people. This was a place where his spiritual paths intersected and were welcomed as one.

Oliver’s life was one of deep gratitude. He loved the beautiful things in life, but to him beauty was most deeply embodied in the wonderment of a child, the joy of a friend’s success, or in the talent of a soon to be discovered writer. Yet it is in Oliver’s lasting friendships, which most fully illustrate a life of abundant thanksgiving.

For Oliver, thanksgiving came together in the weekly celebration of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Oliver saw pieces of his own life reflected in the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of the bread. For he knew how to be bread for the world, and his daily living he modeled for us how we, too, could be bread for the world.

Between Sundays Oliver’s days began by listening to the Greek, Hymn to Otan. Mid-day he might be reciting the Lord’s Prayer or asking others to recite it with him. His days ended by praying Compline from the Book of Common Prayer and all the while his statue of Buddha presided over his daily liturgies.

This practice of presence invited others to consider the fruits of the spiritual life. Today’s gospel speaks to Oliver’s embodied experience where eternal life is about engaging the present reality where Christ dwells in us and we in him. Eternal life does not begin after this earthly life. It begins in the here and now...

...and what a fine teacher we had in Oliver as we witnessed his belief in God and something larger than himself that opened him up to the possibilities of truth hidden in death. Eternal life is rooted in the incarnation and comes to fulfillment in the resurrection. And these last months, Oliver embraced it all – the fear and anxiety coupled with the joy, gratitude and grace that are part of the spiritual journey.

And so here were are. Gathered in community, gathered in this house of prayer for all people to continue the spiritual journey. In the sharing of ourselves and sharing our stories of Oliver we become bread for one another and we witness the promise of the Eucharistic feast and the hope of the life to come.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eulogy -- David Porterfield

All of us -- well, some of us -- well, at least I have -- at times thought to myself -- at a party or gathering -- "Gee, when THAT person leaves, I'll look a good 30% better!"

In a way, that's how everyone who knew Oliver felt at the time of his death -- not because of his remarkably good looks or his amazing and impeccable style, but because of his even more stellar sense of integrity.

I quickly became aware of the depth of my admiration for him when, upon one of my earlier visits following our reconnection after high school, we passed a homeless man on the street. Oliver immediately went to him and spoke to him in his ever-present tone of kindness. He told me how his method of dealing with the seemingly impenetrable problem of homelessness in the Bay Area had evolved.

He said that when he first arrived here, he freely gave money to each that he encountered. As he became concerned that his funds were being improperly spent, he then decided to take them to buy food. His exasperation grew as the population multiplied, and he could no longer afford to feed everyone he encountered. He explained that finally he had come to realized that the least he could do was to recognize and speak to the homeless, thereby affirming their dignity as human beings.

As quickly as my admiration grew, so did my understanding of this tidiness. On another trip to visit, I stopped at Nordstrom's winter clearance here in San Francisco and bought a gorgeous new black leather jacket. I was SO proud of that coat. As I paraded into his entry hall on Trestle Glen, I bumped the wall, leaving a black leather smudge. Before I even had a chance to put down my luggage, Oliver had run to the kitchen to fetch the 409 and began furiously spraying and rubbing the wall. I soon came to realized that Oliver was the reason that God has given us 409.

Even thought these differences foreshadowed our long-running Felix and Oscar relationship, they never once interfered with our love for one another. In fact, our differences enhanced our fondness.

My evangelism success with Oliver is one of my religious life's greatest triumphs. Even though Oliver had always been as spiritual as anyone I knew, introducing him to the unconditional love and respect of the Episcopal Church finally allowed him to embrace his Christianity.

His newly re-established faith became a cornerstone of his life and an enduring source of comfort for him until his death.

As I have come to understand that we all have the capacity to grow into sainthood, I have come to know even more that Oliver was there for years. His combination of abiding faith and just plain goodness will remain a beacon of love to every life he touched.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eulogy -- Victoria Shoemaker

There are so many reasons why we are all here today and I believe that there is not one person here whose life was not touched and enriched by simply being with Oliver.

I would like to offer this eulogy on behalf of all of us who loved him, those hundreds who sent cards, emails, flowers, prayers, and those who came to care for him during these last few months.

We are the living testament to a life rich in friends and to the the power of love that is freely and gracefully given. May we all go forward from this time on and give as freely as Oliver has. May we make each other’s lives rich by his example.

A true testament to Oliver, the man, has shone through in so many ways these past few months.

During his struggle, though he was often in pain, his first thoughts were always of us....were we sleeping enough, had we eaten, had we been home? Surely we were not going to cancel a hair appointment, a social occasion, that shopping spree! Indeed, he himself planned trips to Dandelion, his favorite shop, outings for haircuts, a drive to Mt. Tam, a dinner out...always looking ahead. Sadly, these were only plans, not to be fulfilled.

What he did love were a few spur of the moment dinner parties, an occasion to get out the good china and treat whatever he was able to eat that day as a true celebration. In his silk jammies he placed telephone calls from his bed...first to his East Coast friends because he could call them at 5:00 or 6:00 am when those of us in the West would not have been amused by a call. Then he would call his West Coast friends. Even when he protested that he was not able to take calls, the mere sound of the phone ringing would renew his strength. He spent hours reading the cards and emails that came by the hundreds...and when able he wrote thank you notes back.

This elegant...graceful...independent, and very private man had to give his life over to others...a piece at a time ... accommodating people in his home 24 hours a day, hearing the hustle and bustle of people coming and going, enduring tupperware and dishes being put away in the wrong places, and dust bunnies popping up everywhere. And our earnest attempts, flawed by his standards, to dust and vacuum. A skit worthy of I Love Lucy.

He had to face, and deal with, a certainty that we can only dimly imagine and “take care of business”, often gently goaded by others. Yet, he never snapped at us, not once...although I suspect he would have truly loved to a few times.

A final, lasting gift that Oliver gave us was to bring together friends from all areas of his life...childhood friends, bookworld friends, Grace Cathedral friends, dear friends from every corner of his life. We came together to be with and care for Oliver, and in doing that the seeds of friendship that he planted bloomed. There is a reason Oliver loved all of us, and we, in turn, found reason to welcome each other into our lives.

On the last afternoon that Oliver was conscious, he suddenly exclaimed “I’m so happy! This may sound strange right now, but I have never been more happy in my life. I am surrounded by those I love in my home, and finally, I realize how much I am loved.”

A lesson well learned, sweet man. You are loved and you will always be. Thank you for loving all of us.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eulogy -- Bill Rusin

Oliver and I have been friends and colleagues for 31 years. I first met Oliver in Topeka Kansas in 1972. I was a rep with more states to cover than the number of accounts I had to call on. Oliver was a seasoned bookseller – for all of one and a half years. He was the manager, buyer, and of course decorator supreme of the Alpha Omega Bookstore in Topeka, Kansas. I was immediately bowled over by his knowledge of books, the breadth of the stores inventory, the tasteful displays and his enthusiasm for books and especially the Norton list. To say I had reached sales reps nirvana would be an understatement. A sales call that should have taken all of one hour lasted for the entire afternoon.

As I was packing my bags and getting ready to head on, Oliver said, would you like to stay for dinner.

I’ll cook.

As an aside, I can attest to never having heard Oliver utter those words again over the next 30 years. For which, believe me, I am forever thankful.

So we headed to Oliver’s apartment to cook dinner. His apartment was on the second floor of a house a short drive from the bookstore. When we reached the top of the stairs, Oliver turned to me and said, ever so gently but rather emphatically, “would you mind taking off your shoes”. A strange Kansas custom? I’m afraid not – one of Oliver’s charming idiosyncrasies, I’m afraid yes.

When he opened the door, and we stepped in I thought it was an antique shop decorated by the Grateful Dead.

Around the living room were a few beautiful antiques accented by numerous Indian print bedspreads thrown over a beanbag chair, a sofa bed and a director’s chair, all tastefully coordinated.

We then headed to the kitchen to make dinner.
The dish he prepared has come to be known as “Oliver’s Rubber Band Chicken”. For it’s similarity in both taste and texture to the former.

I’m now breaking a promise that we made to each other, that as long as we were a team – I would never reveal Oliver’s secret chicken recipe. Forgive me, Oliver.

But it goes as follows:
 One whole chicken
 One thinly sliced onion
 Three finely diced stalks of celery
 Place the chicken, onion and celery in a pot and cover with water
 Add salt, but just a little
 For added flavor, add pepper, but not too much
 Bring to a boil and cook until the chicken is tender, which it wasn’t.
 Serve over brown rice.

Believe me, The Zuni Café has nothing to worry about.

The next time I called on Oliver at the bookstore, I convinced him that he should no longer be a slave to the kitchen; I was taking him out on good old W W Norton’s dollar.

From then on it was the cashew chicken, but not too spicy, tea and fortune cookies at Topeka, Kansas’s only Chinese restaurant.

Our paths parted in 1973, Oliver moved out to San Francisco as a bookseller and then went to work for William Morrow in New England and New York.

He and I teamed up once again in 1982, when he applied for the job as sales rep for Norton in the bay area. He came to his Norton interview as though he had stepped out of GQ, which is enough to make anyone standout at W W Norton. He asked me if it would be all right if he asked a few questions to begin with.

20 –30 questions later and with no end end in sight, I asked,  Do I get a turn?

He smiled his impish grin, and with that famous twinkle in his eyes; we both laughed and he said, May I ask just one more question. Will Norton pay for my move?

This became a sticking point. For those of you unfamiliar with Norton, our motto is “Books that Live” but our former Treasurer’s motto was: “Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

I told Oliver that all he had to do was to go to U-Haul and get an estimate and we’d give him a check in advance.
To this day I have not forgotten the look on his face as he said,
“ Bill, are you expecting me to move myself”.

I regrouped and replied,
I’d never consider it. We just like to give folks options.

I guess we passed Oliver’s interview process with flying colors. He asked for a contract. I said the only contracts I’ve ever heard of at Norton were authors’ contracts and we’re rarely able to find those. We shook hands and I said, let’s go; we’re going to have a blast together. Now back to the move.

During those intervening years, you see, the antiques had increased as the Indian print bedspreads decreased. I had told him to pick a mover and we’d pay for it. He then proceeded to interview each and every transcontinental mover in New York City before he decided on the perfect one.

In retrospect, I believe it would have been cheaper for us to move a wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art than to move Oliver’s furniture to the bay area. When it arrived in San Francisco, was it as perfect as when it had left New York, absolutely. Because we know in our hearts that Oliver had checked every piece to the very last detail.

And would we have wanted it any other way .. Absolutely not.

Over the next 21 years, I got to know many of Oliver’s friends and accounts throughout California and the Northwest.

Every time I came to Oakland, he never once threatened to cook, I always took off my shoes before entering his house, and when I left to head back to New York, because of his infectious enthusiasm for life, the books and his job, I felt I could fly on my own.

It’s a testament to Oliver that whenever I was with him I felt honored to be able to say; I was Oliver’s friend and we worked together.

Although Oliver is no longer with us, his spirit and what he represents remains with all of us, and for that we can be thankful to say we all have known a remarkable friend and colleague.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eulogy -- Drake McFeely

Oliver was all of the wonderful things you’ve heard, a prince among men. Oliver was also the crown jewel of the Norton sales staff, the face of Norton at bookstores not only in his territory but across the country. Oliver was therefore the obvious choice to educate me about trade sales when I was plucked from Norton’s college division and asked to run the place nine years ago. Though I had known Oliver about as long as he’d been at Norton, it was during our tag team visits with booksellers—the most recent was in November, in Seattle and Portland—that we became close.

I’ve got an assignment today, but first I want to correct an impression. Everything you’ve heard so far is true about Oliver’s legendary patience and sympathy for others. In fact, you could easily have the impression that Oliver never got excited, never got angry. But let me tell you about the nice man we all knew. At the most recent BEA, the book industry’s huge convention, in the middle of a busy afternoon, suddenly there in the Norton booth was a very major and very former Norton author. His anonymity is assured: there are several who have trucked their fame elsewhere recently; it is unfortunately the nature of the business. Anyway, bygones are bygones so Bill Rusin and I chatted awhile with this author. After he left, and things had quieted down, up came mild-mannered Oliver. I had never seen him like this, and never would again. He was furious. “How could you talk to that man?” We tried to explain something about, well, bygones being bygones, expecting Oliver to back down. It didn’t work with Oliver. For him, loyalty was everything, and of course when you had Oliver on your side, life was pretty good.

Oliver’s death was more like a car wreck than an illness, it happened so fast. Once he had his diagnosis, he courageously set his mind on positive thoughts for the time he had left. He made his final weeks a celebration and then was flabbergasted at the number of people who showed up at the party… in person, by phone, and by mail. They included a number of Norton authors, some of whom are here today. The outpouring of love meant the world to Oliver.

My assignment is to read from a handful of the many letters from authors. I hasten to say that this sample is completely haphazard, including for instance, none of the letters directly to Oliver. But you’ll get the idea from these few that happened to show up on my machine.

National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart wrote of “the deep love Oliver clearly had for books, the wide scope of his reading, the great hope he had that the right books would find the right readers, the integrity he brought to the business.”

Another National Book Award finalist, Brad Watson, described “a man who felt passionately about a book his company was publishing, and who wanted everyone to know how strongly he felt about it.  I was overwhelmed, and I am eternally grateful.”

And with apologies to all other authors whose words I could not include in this eulogy, I will close by taking the liberty of reading from a note from the great poet, Adrienne Rich. As she put it: “I wrote him when I learned of his illness and he wrote back that every day was a miracle, he felt so much love coming from all directions. He richly deserved all of it.”

We’ll miss you, Oliver.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Procession
Procession of family and friends to the Chapel of St. Francis for the committal.

 

 

Click on the photo on the right to see the movie   

With thanks and appreciation to Grace Cathedral, and to The Rev. Vanessa Glass, Associate Pastor