Jack Ziegler and Charles Barsotti made up the entire Kansas wing of the New Yorker until Charley passed away last night. I asked Jack if he’d care to share a few thoughts on Charley, and here is what he had to say:
A friend of mine and I had dinner with Charley Barsotti and his wife Rae this past April 18th. It was a lovely, summery evening, sun going down, out on the patio at Aixois, a little French restaurant about a block or so down the hill from their house in Kansas City. It was the last time we saw each other. A week after that I got a call from Rae saying that they’d just come back from his doctor who told them that at that point the medical professionals had done all they could for Charley. It would be a matter of weeks.
At our dinner, Charley and Rae had looked even nattier than their usual selves, all dolled up like they were about to jump on line at an Easter Parade. Over the past four years, after I’d moved to the KC area from Connecticut, we would get together fairly often for either lunch or dinner and I’m sure Charley used to cringe at some of the outfits I would appear in – shorts & sandals if the temperature was anywhere near 80 degrees, levis at all other times of year. Charley was always properly coifed, pressed and cuffed. I always felt that if he’d had a pair of spats, he would have worn them. Next to him I looked like a bum. But Chas. never rolled his eyes, nor did he try to hide behind his napkin or crawl under the table. I eventually learned to dress a little better, a little more KC-style, whenever I’d make the trek in from Lawrence, KS, to lunch.
At that final dinner, he was frail, much thinner, and walking with a cane, but his spirits seemed as high as ever. We talked about The New Yorker because we always talked about The New Yorker – and also the crappy, deteriorating state of the world because that was always a big concern for Charley who had a great sense of what was right and a great befuddlement of what always seemed to be so impossibly wrong. And, as usual, we laughed a lot. At one point Charley speared a piece of potato or something with his fork and Rae told him he wasn’t supposed to eat that, given the strict palliative diet he was now on. He popped it into his mouth anyway and enjoyed this little defiant poke at his illness, as did we all because – yeah – it was the right thing to do.
Charley’s drawings were (are) beautiful, elegant, simple, smart, thoughtful, funny, fun, and silly. I think he might have liked that last adjective best. As my friend Dewey, who had never met him before that night, said as we were driving back to Lawrence, “What a lovely man.”