The news came (as it so often does these days) in a one or two line mention on the internet. This news:
Phil Klass died this morning.
And followed a moment of blankness, a breath caught, a second or two where words simply wouldn't form. Then,
being news from the internet, I checked. Yes, you know, Phil Klass would have smiled about that, I think. I looked to make sure there was another source, an corroboration.
Alas, there was.
So the news filters out slowly, but the memories rush in. I was never an enrolled student of Phil Klass, though I did know him by reputation as a fan, and I made a point of catching him at conventions -- on panels and at parties -- and also volunteered to be on panels with him. In the regard that I listened hard to what he said, and felt that even his jokes were points worth thinking on, I guess I was student -- and am a student -- of Phil Klass.
Of course most conventions put him on the spot as William Tenn, and yes, he deserved that. He had a great time on panels, and managed to enliven and even to instill ordinary panel topics with the certain inspired genius of a born teacher. For that's very much what he was: someone who taught in stories and in person.
My luck had it that Sharon was Executive Director of SFWA in 1999 -- the year he came to the Nebula Awards in Pittsburgh to celebrate being named SFWA's Author Emeritus, so of course we had to go. Phil gave a rousing, funny talk, going into writing and into fannish history both, for he came from the Golden Age, a time when writers (see Isaac Asimov, Hal Clement, Bob Tucker, Alexis Gilliland) often had feet in both fan and pro camps.
... photo by Steve Miller
Seeing that talk was a joy, and even more of joy for us, because Sharon was the official SFWA presence at the table where Phil, his brother Morton, and his wife Fruma sat for the banquet. Talk about luck of the draw! It was very much like sitting to a meal with a mischievous great uncle, indeed, like going to dinner with an entire joyful side of the family one only rarely got to see. Jokes, puns, meaningful looks, artful discussion, and willing inclusion of everyone at the table in the celebration, that's what I remember.
I have, somewhere, more photos of Phil Klass, and will try to dig them out, just as I have more memories of Phil Klass -- of the times we sat side by side at book signings, of the casual conversations, of the feeling that things were better because Phil Klass was in the room. I'll try to find the photos and filter the memories... and share what I can, and yep, no doubt about it, things were better when Phil Klass was in the room.
*note: the photo I've posted was sent to Locus (as you see it) in 1999 but I don't recall if they used it. Morton died in 2001.
... and you can see what other people have had to say, here:
- Phil Klass left us ... and so has William Tenn: scrapbook memories
Comments have been disabled for this post.