Everything Beautiful Begins with Love
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Carol Rickey on a children’s book. Already in her 80s, and still an amazingly talented artist, Carol illustrated a story I wrote with beautiful watercolors. The book, titled Everything Beautiful Begins with Love, was about bees, family, and the changing of the seasons.
Originally, the book was written as a gift to welcome my newborn nephew Max into the world. Since then, copies of the book have been sold as a fundraiser for Reading Enables Adult Development or R.E.A.D. – an adult literacy program in Grand Haven, Michigan where Carol previously volunteered.
This past week, after Carol passed away, I revisited her original watercolors. I wanted to share them with you now as we celebrate Carol’s life. In doing so, I hope we might once again feel her warmth and remember how much she loved us.
Like the images she created, Carol was simple, elegant, approachable, and down-to-earth – always a smile on her face, always happy to see you, always ready to welcome you into her home. Her spirit lit up a room. She radiated love. As a result, she was surrounded by love.
I was first introduced to Carol by my wife, Marisol. Carol had been part of the John, Barb, and Marisol Bigler family for decades. To Marisol, Carol was a mentor, role model, and friend. When Marisol and I got married, Carol drew our invitations and was there for the wedding ceremony.
Carol was present when our son was baptized and is the Godmother of our daughter. As a little girl, our daughter liked to run her fingers through Aunt Carol’s tight and curly hair. Over the years, Carol and our daughter enjoyed creating colorful art together.
Carol had an eye for color. More than once, she painted our kids’ rooms. Marisol consulted Carol on the color of almost every room in our house. Carol’s watercolors adorn the Bigler cottage and our home.
Over the years, Carol visited us for countless Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthday parties, and concerts. I would like to think Carol liked being part of our family – as I am sure she liked being part of your family as well.
Leadership & Community
A leader and community builder, Carol had a natural way of bringing people together. She liked to mix colors, and her personality was her brush. The people around her were the palette of colors she worked with to create a more just, equitable, kind, compassionate, and happy society.
In 1967, Carol was made Dean of Women at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In an interview for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, she was quoted as saying, “I think it’s very amusing when Deans of Women are likened to mother hens. I, frankly, don’t have any clucking instincts,” she said laughing, “And I don’t think the girls need mothering anyway.”
When it came to her leadership style, this quote was classic Carol.
Change of Seasons
Carol loved every season – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. She suffered many losses in life. Her mother passed at an early age. Her husband Larry died of cancer. Later in life, she suffered the loss of her longtime friend, Jean.
Yet, through it all, Carol was amazingly resilient. I believe her art helped in many ways that we may never fully understand. I’d like to think all of us were there to help her in ways we might not fully understand.
In recent years, Carol began to realize the seasons of her own life were changing. She traveled with us to Coe College Homecoming in Cedar Rapids to say goodbye to some of her longtime friends. She donated her beloved Marvin Cone paintings to Coe College. She met with a lawyer and got her affairs in order. She started to explore different styles of watercolor, and her artwork become more abstract.
Over the next several weeks and months, we will all, I am certain, search for tangible things to help us remember the important role Carol played in all of our lives. Just this morning, I looked at the clouds Carol painted on our son’s bedroom ceiling and I imagined peeling back the layers of paint in our daughter’s room to see the floral mural Carol painted for her when she was younger.
Both our son and daughter remember dining at Carol’s house and wrestling for the rights of Carol’s Herman Miller chair. Our daughter remembers Carol’s wonderful chicken salad – the product of a famous Marshall Fields’s recipe she cut out of the newspaper years ago.
Marisol simply can’t remember a time before Carol. She often thinks of their relationship as an infinity symbol. Though there were times when they were apart, their lives frequently overlapped and reconnected – at Coe College, the Center for Women in Transition, R.E.A.D., and at numerous family events. Marisol has always felt a connection with Carol, and always will.
Over the weekend, I notified Dr. Stanley Watkins – a friend of Carol’s and Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Coe College – of her passing. Dr. Watkins told me, “…although it is sad news, in some ways that are hard to define, I always thought of her as ageless.”
Most of us can appreciate that Carol’s physical appearance changed remarkably little over the course of her adult lifetime. I think the meaning behind Dr. Watkin’s comments, however, goes beyond Carol’s physical appearance.
Carol showed us how to live a life filled with purpose and meaning. She helped us dream bigger and better dreams. She was a living demonstration of the power, and possibility, of love, kindness, warmth, and compassion. We became better people and built stronger communities because of her influence. In these and many other ways, Carol remains truly ageless.