Today I attended the funeral of a long-time friend and co-creator. It was beautiful. It was spiritual. It was hard.
I first met Rick at a Children’s Lit Conference at UVU in 2000 while I was working on illustrating my first picture book. Brad Wilcox was the lecturer of a session and the author of the book I was illustrating for Gibbs Smith Publishing. Brad and I had become friends in the process and he asked me to come co-present with him at this conference. After the session was over, Brad told me I should go introduce myself to Rick Walton in the back of the room because he someone who was very prominent, prolific, helpful and experienced in the Children’s Literature community.
|A smattering of Rick's many many books. There were tables and tables full at the funeral services.|
Brad pointed to a man in the back row and I made my way to meet him. As I approached, I looked at the man and said, “Hello, Rick. I’m Julie Olson, a new children’s book illustrator.” The man NEXT to him, with a Beatles haircut, raised his pointer finger and said, “Hello. I’m Rick Walton. Tell me a little more about what you’re working on.”
Ever since that first embarrassing mistake, which Rick never mentioned or even joked about, this pillar of the children’s literature community humbly taught me the ropes and helped me dive right in. I think it was at that same conference, I met Carol Lynch Williams... and not long after, the three of us were in the thick of planning a conference, one we worked on monthly and put on annually for nearly ten years thereafter.
Through all those years and planning sessions and countless meetings, Rick taught me so much about being kind, looking for the good in people, and finding a way to work things out peacefully when opinions differed. Carol and I would sometimes murmur and mutter and growl about this or that concerning the conference planning. But Rick was ever the peacemaker, trying to find a way to work within the university’s regulations AND make it the best possible experience for the attendees.
A year or so into our friendship, I was contacted by a publisher and asked to illustrate one of Rick’s manuscripts. I readily accepted the job as Rick’s manuscript was like all his others…witty, intelligent, absurd and funny. Along the way, I showed him my sketches, which doesn’t usually happen between an author and an illustrator because the publishers don’t want any drama over the art from the author. But Rick being Rick, would never create drama. He was completely positive, kind and actually excited to see the process unfold from my end. A while later, “Herd of Cows, Flock of Sheep” was born into the book world and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to illustrate the creative words of this man.
|Our book on the table with all his others today|
Back in 2014, we authors had a little night to honor Rick, which author Shannon Hale emceed (in her hilarious fashion) in Amy Finnegan’s gorgeous backyard.
|Shannon Hale starting off the evening. (Hey, Carol Lynch Williams and Cheri Earl...Look at this...documented proof that Rick, the idea man, actually did have a dais)|
My comments to Rick weren’t funny or witty, because I definitely am not those things, but I was able to gift him an original painting from that book we created years earlier. Rick was beyond grateful for it and I only wish I had thought to give it to him sooner.
|The original painting of my favorite illustration in Rick's "Heard of Cows, Flock of Sheep" book|
Back in 2007, I put his name on the spine of a book in one of my illustrations in “There’s Always a Way, Annie McRae!” (with Carol’s name on the book right under it) as a small token of my respect and my wish to honor such a great writer and influence in my life. But that, nor words, nor pictures can ever adequately express the influence Rick had on my life and so many others.
And now, many years,
and many friendly visits later...
I am so sad to have to say goodbye to my friend, Rick Walton. He literally and figuratively has held my hand and the hands of many others in this children’s publishing industry. He paid it all forward every day of his life and taught us all to do the same. He wasn’t in competition with any of us. He only wanted to help us each become better.
I want to be better because of Rick. A better writer. A better creator... A better person.
Til we meet again, Rick. Much love. —Julie Olson