“I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again”
— “Bob Dylan’s Dream” (Bob Dylan)
At a graveside service for Gary Ford on June 22, it quickly became apparent that Gary Ford represented many things to so many different people. There was a compelling military rights salute and a flag presentation. For some reason, I didn’t know that Gary Ford was in the Service. Ford was an understated man, economical in his speech and had a pleasant demeanor, so it was even more striking that he joined the Marines, the aggressive forces who famously lead the charge. Gary Ford didn’t discuss his time in Service probably because I never asked. Family members placed some golf balls over the grave, and that was something else I didn’t know, that Gary had been a brilliant and passionate golfer. He also worked for the forestry service and fought forest fires.
I did know that Gary Ford was an accomplished pianist, though he typically was shy about performing or discussing his impressive repertoire of jazz standards.
My acquaintance with Gary Ford began when I first came to Pocatello to teach English at Idaho State University, and stopped by Ford Music to buy some strings. Gary Ford quietly asked me what kind of guitar I had. I told him it was an old Martin and he remarked, “John Hansen and Lou Johnson will definitely want to see your vintage instrument.” That night, there was a knock on the door and there they were, John Hansen and Lou Johnson, who would become established guitarists in Idaho — John Hansen as a bluegrass flat picker reminiscent of Doc Watson and Clarence White, and Lou Johnson as a celebrated classical guitarist and composer.
The Beatles had just broken up, but their music endured, and every guitarist had to play Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” to demonstrate basic skills. John and Lou had the familiar Bach-inspired song down cold, and I struggled through the piece. Thinking back years later, a visit to a store to buy light gauge strings for an acoustic guitar led to a friendship that lasts to this day.
Ford Music soon became more than a store but a meeting place providing a nexus to other musicians, including Steve Eaton, who became a gifted Idaho songwriter. Ford Music was simply a special place, like Rick’s bar in Casablanca. If you played anything, you went to Ford Music. On Christmas Eve, one could find a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the back. Lou’s young daughter, Heidi, and Gary’s son, Zach, could be seen running through the store, a moment Heidi fondly recounted at the post service party at The Yellowstone.
I can’t say Gary Ford and I were close. We didn’t exchange Christmas cards or talk regularly on the phone, and I never hiked with Gary and friends from Driggs, Idaho, “21 miles across the side of the Grand Teton ending at Jenny Lake.” Despite that, whenever we met, I always had the feeling I had known Gary Ford all my life.
I was always happy to meet Gary and his companion, Karolyn Larson, to catch up on the latest news and who was playing where.
At the post memorial service, one fellow — a golfer — remarked that the usual standard eulogies one hears at a memorial service are often exaggerated, but in Gary Ford’s case, they were actually true. He was a kind, compassionate, quiet man with a strong sense of service, community and friendship.
Michael Corrigan of Pocatello is a San Francisco native and a retired Idaho State University English and speech communication instructor. He studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute and has authored seven books, many about the Irish American experience.