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“Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do
They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I've got no further use for these
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride”

Richard Thompson: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, last verse


My brother, Charles, died at home on Wednesday morning around 3 am from leukemia. He spend his last few days at home, in the company of his wife and son, in hospice care, but had spent much of the last year in one hospital or another. He was 74 years old.

Charles, when he was a teenager, bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle in parts, and rebuilt it. My mom would come home and open the oven, only to find one of her pans being used to oil a chain or some parts. He finished the bike and then began to learn to ride, which was not an unusual learning experience in the ‘50’s. As I recall, the first time he rode it, he dropped it making a turn. There was no damage done to him or the bike. I can sympathize, because when I got my motorcycle in May 2007, I managed to drop it when coming to a stop after riding around the block. Very embarrassing, but no damage to me except for my pride, and little damage to the bike.

Charles rode motorcycles most of his life. When he was in Ethiopia while in the Army, he had a MotoGuzzi bike and rode that around the country. I know that he rode that Harley across the country at one point. More recently, he had some BMW’s, first a classic bike from the ‘60’s or early ‘70’s and then later a late ‘70’s R90 or R100/5 bike, which he rode until he got diagnosed with leukemia in the spring of 2008.

I often rode with him, meeting him at a restaurant, usually in or near Laurel, which is about half-way between where he lived and where I live. We would then often go for a little, or not so little ride. I called our rides the Ward Brothers Motorcycle Club, but we never got jackets or anything. I guess it’s too late now.

He maintained his interest in bikes until close to the end. At one point, I was taking my laptop to his hospital room to show him movies, including, as he requested, “The World’s Fastest Indian” I also got some films from the “Long Way Around” and “Long Way Down” series of adventure motorcycle journeys. He enjoyed those when he had hopes of riding again. I guess I knew he was giving up when last week he said he didn’t have an interest in motorcycles. He had apparently given up on the idea of getting well enough to ride again.

Charles was always the adventurous one in the family. When we were kids in Arizona, he managed, while in high school, to get trapped in some of the old mines in the area around Bisbee. Seems he and a couple of others kids decided to explore, but managed to lose their lights somehow. Since there were vertical shafts in the mines and it would be easy and fatal to fall in one, they were basically unable to move until they were rescued. It made the national media at one point. Later, he learned to fly an airplane and was an active pilot, flying a Luscombe. He was also an active sky diver, and, even when he had stopped doing those activities, he participated in bicycle rides across Maryland, even fairly recently.

Although he had some problems in academia, he was one of the most intelligent people I ever met and he loved to discuss and debate issues of all types. He, at one point, joined the Toastmasters and was active in that group. He worked as a computer programmer for the Social Security Administration until he retired a couple of years ago. He also invented things, including a device to shoot coins into the baskets at toll booths.

When he had a major incident which first put him in the hospital, he told his wife that he had had a wonderful life, and I think he had. He got to do a lot of things he wanted to do and provide for himself and his family.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and his son, Greg, who is now an attorney in Miami. He and Joan had a daughter, Susan, who, tragically, died in Charles’ arms in early 2007. Susan was learning to ride a motorcycle, and had a Suzuki 650 bike. I can imagine Charles and Susan riding their bikes, perhaps accompanied by those angels on Ariels in leather and chrome.

May he enjoy the ride forever.
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