John Aylward, the beloved Seattle actor who died May 16, once bailed us out with one of his quietest performances. A fine carpenter and a troubled soul had just died of a very unexpected drug overdose. It was the middle of the ’80s. The carpenter for some reason had made it clear, if anything happened to him, he wanted a proper service. We made some calls, a lot of calls, and used some influence, but no minister of any religion needed this one on the resume.
We rented a room for a Sunday afternoon memorial at the Westin Hotel. Norman Durkee, the Seattle musician/composer who had like many, a great affection for the carpenter, had a piano moved into the room and secured 30 black umbrellas to stay open during the service, to set the tone.
Someone suggested we call John Aylward, who was then a star actor at the Seattle Repertory Theater. John accepted without pause. He went to the costume room at the Rep and arrived at the Westin as Father John. Actor John also had a great affection for the carpenter. Father John never flinched. He performed the ceremony. He spoke a short piece about carpenters, and honor, and he stayed until every single person had spoken with him about what was important. Durkee played the piano quietly, and movingly, throughout.
It was a great surprise, but the carpenter’s parents, from Colorado, were at the service. And they were honored. Father John shook everyone’s hand and was gone.
We never talked about it. In the early 1970s, there was almost nothing going on, except The Empty Space Theater, started by John Aylward and others. On Monday, John Aylward died, at 75, after a long career of wonderful acting. I last heard him perform at the Virginia Inn, on Christmas Eve, when he read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the few of us who were working late that day. Goodbye, Father John.