By Shannon Scott
This writing is a little something I’ve read at Jack’s grave during my tours of Bonaventure. Its fitting he’s buried near the entrance of the place that his photograph immortalized for the rest of time. I avoided telling his story grave side because it was too emotional. In fact the first time I read this, a group of 30 people basically saw me cry, pause and then cry some more. I didn’t see it coming but it was like I could process his loss doing that there. I’m sure I’ll cry again there some night. I don’t mind. I think it adds to the storytelling and is fitting of his memory to show people how he was admired and loved. I think this is the role of story teller at times. You become a vessel for such spiritual feeling and its personal but more than that too. With the recent passing of another friend and recent burial in Bonaventure, I was reminded of this writing and wanted to share it.
I lived on Jones & Abercorn for 14 years, and Jack Leigh’s studio & home was at the corner of Oglethorpe & Abercorn Street. We shared more conversations in that stretch of city life than I can count. He was a sage soul. Quiet & reserved so it was hard to “know him.” He spoke worlds in a chuckle, nod or smile and not sure if he was conscious of that or that was just “him.” Me, I just talk a lot. His ex wife, Susan Patrice spoke to that in regard to his taking the famous photo of “The Bird Girl” for the dust jacket of “The Book.” She told me that Jack told her he “courted the fog” in order to get this shot. Yes, perhaps in his quiet reserve, he could siphon such moments with the energy he didn’t spend speaking. Anyway, Jack always showed real appreciation for other artists and people doing their thing and always wore black jeans, black shoes and a black t-shirt like some college kid in art school. Its been weird, following his death, to have watched his prolific studio go from convenience store to Thai take-out. His ex-wife, mother of his children, one aptly named Gracie and you can guess why, is a dear friend of mine & photographer too. As Jack was dying of colon cancer, the theory being the exposure to dark room chemicals, he turned very yellow and Susan, his ex, my friend, would walk with him up and down Abercorn. Of course he was dying and so the looks we all exchanged were what they were, but he seemed like same old Jack, not bothered by too much, even dying. But his eyes also said to me he didn’t want to leave the world, especially for his children. Even so, The Bird Girl became their angel and my guess set them up for life financially and has helped them go to college and much more. The memory of him evokes a big sigh from me as I sit here…. I know Bonaventure Cemetery was famous before him, but how famous would it be now without that photo? The book was good, but the photo was what sold it all the way around and everyone kind of knew that. It made Bonaventure famous in the way Jim Morrison made Pere Lachaise a worldwide, household name. I mean only so many know Jean Paul Sartre right? Anyway, Jack would appreciate us thinking of him and me bringing him back to life a little here today. I’ll tell you something that I don’t always share with folks. The magic of Savannah is that even if you don’t know the local characters in depth, like you grew up with them, or sat at their dinner tables or shared a beer with them? Doesn’t matter. What you do know of them, makes you love them like they were your dearest, and when they pass on, it tugs at you just the same as if you had done all of that and more with them. And THAT is what makes Savannah so magical. Visiting Bonaventure is kind of like getting a free moment inside of Heaven. You get to visit old friends for a minute. Sure you have to go after a bit, but its like having a pass to the place that you can use time and time again.
Jack Leigh November 8, 1948 to May 19, 2004. My friend.