The editorials that Wendell Garrett wrote for this magazine over forty years radiate a quiet confidence in American democracy. But if you read a great many of them alongside the notebooks of quotations he kept throughout his life you begin to see a man who was actually turning over the topsoil of our democracy in search of solid ground to justify that confidence. As he synthesized the thoughts of the founding
fathers and of historians past and present into the mini lessons of his editorials, he had to admit, like his hero John Adams, that democracy was often its own worst enemy, that in Hawthorne's words (which he copied into his quote book), "in this republican society...somebody is always at the drowning point." Surely Wendell's early life as a child of sharecroppers who was born just before Black Tuesday taught him that our liberties can be placed in the service of power until many citizens really are at the drowning point.
Despair is easy and Wendell did not succomb to it either in print or on the streets of New York-where he powered his wheelchair through harrowing traffic and indifferent crowds protected by nothing more than his particular brand of optimism. Not surprisingly, among the writers often found in his quote books is F. Scott Fitzgerald who understood courage as the capacity to know the worst yet think the best. Surely Wendell's ability to think the best came in part from his admiration for the great, solid things our democratic citizens have made-the architecture, paintings, furniture, and decorative arts-that endure, unsullied and uncompromised. He dedicated his life to them and, we can agree, they have repaid his faith.
Click below for a photographic tribute to Wendell, along with a few quotations from his little black books.
There will be a celebration of Wendell's life at the Winter Antiques Show on January 28, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. It will be a joyful occasion. This was a joyful man.