Cary Lu

Marian Bremer[hidden]

Cary was the first nerd I ever met, although in 1975 I wasn't familiar with the term.

When he first entered my tiny branch library in an Italian-American community, he stood out: he never touched the best-sellers, he seemed to be single but showed lots of interest in children's books, and he had a collection of library cards from just about every other greater Boston public library which he had to flip through every time he checked out a book.

We became friends. I was new to children's librarianship and was intimidated by having to put on all the story hours and puppet shows and programs. He was a producer for Children's Television Workshop, and he helped me. He provided several of those programs, by showing some of the Peanuts films he was producing with Ron McAdow, and explaining the animation process to groups of children. They were fascinated.

Cary was an enigma. He had the least personal vanity of anyone that I have ever known (his wife Ellen tells me that the most flattering haircut that he ever allowed himself followed his losing most of his hair to chemotherapy), coupled with an exquisite sense of beauty. He was dry in manner, but sensual (and sometimes highly critical) in his appreciation of food, smell, sight, and sound.

I will never forget the first evening that he invited me over to "see his slides." "Ho hum," I thought, but I accepted. The accoutrements were spectacular. In his railroad flat, he had set up his slide projector in a separate room with a special transparent glass door, so that the viewer wouldn't be annoyed by the projector's hum. One whole wall of his living room was covered with white cloth: the screen. Of course he explained in some detail each technical decision he'd made that contributed to the success of the whole. On the floor, there were bean bags where you could sprawl in comfort as you immersed yourself in gigantic images of flowers, insects, and tiny creatures that he had discovered in his exotic travels.

Cary's aesthetic was dedicated to capturing the beauty of nature; his mastery of technology had much to do with using media to deliver the clearest and most visceral understanding possible. He knew everything about computers (at least to my eyes), but he didn't believe in them. I wish I had seen his presentation on the history of art (which he delivered in the Caltech auditorium). I begged him many times, but it required THREE projectors, THREE screens, and a lot of special sound equipment.

I loved seeing Cary with his children: on the first visit to Boston he put Meredith on the restaurant table, where she jumped up and down and shrieked as loud as she could, and Cary looked as relaxed and joyous as I have ever seen him.

Cary called me on my 50th birthday to wish me a happy one. Then, reluctantly, he admitted that he had just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. We cried together on the phone, I for him, but he partially because he was disappointed in himself that he hadn't been able to keep the focus on me. Afterwards we talked at length about his children. Because I lost my father when I was Nathaniel's age, Cary hoped I could help him understand what he could do to help his children know who he was. We talked about the inevitable deification of those who die young, and the difficulty to the children of the deified in measuring up. He thought about writing a short autobiography, and asked me to contribute, his warts and all.

Cary did have warts. He could be irritating sometimes in his literalness and stubbornness. If you asked him a question, he usually answered the question that you asked, without acknowledging the "real" and often messier question underneath. He could be pedantic, and was definitely judgmental. It was easy to mistake his precise communication style for a lack of emotion, and it took me a while to understand how passionate he was about the things and people he loved. Slowly I discovered that his loyalty was life-long, once he gave it.

Cary never condescended. He helped wherever he could (and even that could be irritating if you were in a hurry to get somewhere, and the little bookstore you were visiting with him needed some help with their computers.) His priorities bore examination and he lived by them. I wish he could have seen his children grow up.