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Gerry Dumas died June 5, 2013, in Boston, though his life as a dairy farmer and philosopher had been lived entirely in New Hampshire. He was 83 years old, read broadly and deeply, and loved to transcribe meaningful quotes onto recycled envelopes. “The softest pillow is a clear conscience,” one read. “Integrity is everything."
He was raised in a city, but at the seminary where he was sent to by his dutiful Catholic parents, encountered the outdoors — and cows — for the first time. He did not become a priest; instead, he married another urbanite, and bought seven acres of farmland and two milking cows. His parents thought he was crazy.
Working for the Soil Conservation Services, he learned about farms. His daughter said he would drive to Kingdom Come for a tractor part. Meanwhile, his farm grew to 25 cows and some beef cattle — barely a gallon of ice cream and a steak by today’s standards.
He rose at 3 a.m. Not to milk cows, but for spiritual contemplation. Social inquiry was his other religion. He asked questions of the bank teller, of the janitor who cleaned his hospital room after his heart valve replacement (the replacement valve was bovine), of the strangers building their house miles away.
"What kinda name is that?" he would begin. "Where’s your family? What’s your heritage? Where are you going?" He wanted to find the good in the bad — in animosity, or war, say — and unlike most of us, did not ask questions so that he could give someone his answers. No topic was untouchable, even his own terminal infection. How could such a small bacteria (he mulled, during his last hospitalization) fell such a large man?
Though staunchly patriotic, after George Bush took the country to war, Gerry lowered the American flag that had been flying in front of the farm. And though convinced of a traditional Catholic heaven, he entertained the possibility of reincarnation when a non-traditional daughter raised it.
After his death, his family found an issue of an intercultural religious journal he'd subscribed to — just one of many journals he annotated with his own life queries, in multicolored highlighters. Inside the front page, he had firmly written: “I am what survives me.”
Did you know Gerry Dumas? Share your memories in the comments section.