Local legend leaves lasting impression


“Once I owned a few cattle myself, all descendants of a spotted heifer named Easter. One dry spring, they all died from grazing on shinnery brush except one dogied yearling steer. He unwisely stood by a barbed-wire fence when a thunderstorm broke the drought, and died of lightning. It was such misfortune that kindled my desperate ambition to leave the land and become a science fiction writer.”
— Jack Williamson, in a 1975 essay published
in “Roosevelt County History and Heritage.”

• • •

Jack Williamson was born with a thirst for knowledge and a rich imagination.
“Wednesdays, I remember, were red-letter days,” he wrote of his boyhood in “Roosevelt County History and Heritage.”

“I or my brother Jim would ride six miles for the mail, so that our mother could read us the next installment of the serials in the old ‘Saturday Evening Post.’”
Williamson, whose family homesteaded 35 miles south of Portales in the winter of 1915, came to New Mexico from Texas in a covered wagon. The trip took 17 days as they herded their milk cows, who frequently stopped to graze on the side of the road.

Boyhood trips to Portales, he wrote in the history book, were a great adventure, as he stayed overnight and experienced electric lights for the first time. On one of those visits to the city, he remembered “climbing the water tower to get a look at the city from above, and being called down by some angry municipal official.”
Williamson never developed his father’s passion for the farmer’s life, choosing instead a path that led him to become one of the most prolific writers of our time, publishing more than 50 novels and dozens of other short stories and magazine articles.

He died on Friday at his home. He was 98.

His passing brought worldwide attention, even warranting an obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Ray Bradbury, another renowned science-fiction writer, told the Times that Williamson “shaped my life” as a writing coach and teacher. “He did a series of novels which affected me as a young writer with dreams. I met him at 19, and he became my best friend and teacher. … He was very quiet and unassuming and respected my dream and let me be awful for a long time until I got to be good,” Bradbury told the Times.

The Times reported Williamson helped legitimize science fiction “as a field worthy of academic attention.” Arthur C. Clarke, author of “2001: A Space Odyssey” considered Williamson “on a plane with two other American giants, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein,” the Times reported. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.’s Web site — www.sfwa.org — is memorializing Williamson today.

Jack Williamson would not have wanted all the attention brought on by his death and would probably be surprised by the interest. Family members said they had to persuade him to allow the memorial service that is scheduled for 2 p.m. today in the Ballroom of the Campus Union Building at ENMU. He saw nothing special about himself; he was just a curious Roosevelt County farm boy, delighted at the opportunity to make a living as a writer.

The rest of us saw an inspiration whose curiosity and imagination will live on for centuries through his words.

Thanks, Jack, for helping us see possibilities in our own lives.