In tribute: Greg Abbott
The theater attracts a wide variety of folks with all sorts of personality defects, and Dramatech is certainly no different. Oversized egos, fragile personalities, narcissists, drama queens, budding co-dependents, and more were universally indebted to Greg for his calm demeanor and ability to make everyone believe that they were the most important person in his life at that time. At his wake, one former student mentioned that although meetings at Dramatech (among the crew and cast) could often be laborious experiences, all that was required to lighten the mood and make everyone feel better was to have Greg in the room, smiling his famous smile.
That is certainly my remembrance as well. I may not have been part of the in crowd, and I wasn't wedded to the theater like so many are, and that could have led to a smoldering resentment or outright disdain (in either direction) were it not for the ability of Greg to make everyone feel a part. He wasn't a diva or overly dramatic, but the drama devotees loved him nonetheless. He wasn't full of gravitas or overly serious, but the self-absorbed respected him anyway. And he was funny and disarming, so that no one ever stopped having fun long enough to develop resentments.
It is my belief that funerals are, for most involved, a very personal and selfish occasion. As Mark Twain said,
Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.Funerals are a time where people think almost exclusively about themselves. (Otherwise they wouldn't be crying, would they?) In that vein, I've spent quite a few hours in the last couple of days thinking about how Greg impacted and intersected my life. And a few more hours considering my own mortality.
A Greg Abbott Story
There are a lot of stories that can be told by Greg's students about activities and experiences at Dramatech, but the story that I will always remember about Greg took place over 10 years after my last performance. In 2001, a group of Dramatech alumni decided to put together a "Friends of Dramatech" reception. It had been over 10 years since I'd been in a show (1990), but I happened to be living in Atlanta at the time and thought I'd stop by to catch up on old times.
Greg approached me at the reception. He looked at me for a second and said, "Wait, don't tell me ... Scott Wilkinson, right?" 10 years later, and he pulled my name out of his head. Of the hundreds of students that Greg worked with, he remembered my name over a decade later.
I can't believe that I'm the only one. My suspicion is that Greg remembered nearly all of his students - hundreds of them. And that is truly amazing. It shows a level of caring for people that I will never be able to match. I can remember the names of maybe 3 people that I knew before 1994 ... and I'm related to 2 of them.
Greg was 54 when he died. Not only is that way too young, but it means that he was younger than I am now when he first directed me at Dramatech. The combination is making me feel very old this week.
Greg left behind a son and a daughter that he will not get to see graduate from High School or college, get married, have grandchildren for him. I have a son and a daughter. It is supremely unfair to take someone away that early, and it makes me angry at God and modern medicine that he was allowed to die so soon. The source of that anger is partially empathy for Greg's family, but mostly fear for my own. I don't want to miss out on my kids' lives and more than Greg wanted to miss out on his. I can't imagine a heaven good enough to make up for that loss, and I hope that's just a limitation of my imagination.
Greg's funeral was attended by hundreds - family, friends of his children, church acquaintances, and many, many students. It made me look at my life and those that I have impacted. If I died tomorrow, how many would attend my funeral? A few dozen? This is the reason that people become teachers. Not to bump up funeral attendance, but because of the tremendous impact that you can have on people's lives. And if, like Greg, you choose to use that power for good instead of evil, you'll get the funeral bump as an added bonus.
So, what am I going to do about it? I'm going to do better about keeping in touch with people who have impacted my life (rather than having to run into them at funerals). I'm going to spend more time with my kids on projects and activities so that I'm more than just the guy at home on weekends. I'm going to get more involved with my church or other community activities. And somewhere, in the back of my mind, I'm going to keep open the idea of being a teacher, for that is probably the most noble and awe-inspiring job that anyone could aspire to.
So long, Greg. I'm sorry I didn't see you more in the last 10 years. It's my loss.