Jay Meehan: Remembering Gary Kimball, a Park City mainstay and historian
The individual parts fit together like Legos. Not only was a grand equilibrium achieved when the loosely-bound flock gathered at one of Park City’s most revered sanctuaries to both ritualize and celebrate the life and times of one of its own but also by bringing back arguably its most beloved cleric to once again lead them through the ancient traditions with grace and humor.
By matching the passing of local writer, historian, and curmudgeon Gary Kimball with old St. Mary’s Catholic Church (a congregation to which Gary never belonged) and its now-retired longtime parish priest Father Pat Carley, a community without boundaries or borders and as quirky as both Gary and Father Pat combined packed the joint.
The memories of an older Park City were so thick you had to wade through them. Filling all available space, they ebbed and flowed, creating their own tide. They even dripped from your chin. They probably should have handed out lobster bibs. At the least, napkins.
Gary and Pat both presented looks that were direct and unwavering back then. Honest faces with twinkles behind the eyes that may have betrayed a mischievousness of sorts. Of course, neither flaunted an aversion to “a cold one” now and then so that may well have provided fertile soil for the sparkle. They were highly idiosyncratic, these two.
The year 1970 had yet to gain traction since my arrival in town and I’m pretty sure looking back that Gary Kimball recognized me as nothing more than another one of those California expat bohemian ski bums that had been overrunning his comfort zone for going on a decade.
Memory doesn’t serve up the name of the watering-hole-in-question but I can assure you it wasn’t the Alamo or Cozy. No, looking back, it flaunts the vibe of a neutral playing field. As I would learn later once he came out to me as a “writer,” Gary’s various tenures on the community’s various barstools related more to “research” than “thirst.”
At least that’s what he was selling and I was buying. Over the years, I would come to attach a similar level of veracity to most all of Gary’s anecdotal histories, especially when it came to legendary exploits and the characters who pulled them off. Being from “way out west where the states are square,” as author Thomas Wolfe put it, Gary Kimball became a character in his own write.
By the time we caught sight of Father Pat, he had no doubt taken up residence on a soccer pitch, a rugby sideline, or the Down Under Saloon. Having immediately turned the Irish social calendar on its head, however, it may well have been one of his early St. Patrick’s Day shindigs upstairs at the Elks Lodge on Main Street.
Gary and I, your see, had somewhat fallen from the faithful by then and, no doubt, had missed Pat’s first Mass at St. Mary’s. Once the family moved to Heber, however, and I caught one of his gigs at St. Lawrence, you couldn’t keep me away. Like George Burns, it was his shtick that brought me back Sunday after Sunday.
I had become a fan! Not necessarily of the theology, but of the messenger. Father Pat’s timing, you see, was impeccable. Still is, for that matter. Eat your heart out Shelly Berman, Mort Sahl, Elaine May. Whenever I alluded to such being the case, however, that fleeting Carley glare would follow on its heels. As it turned out, I couldn’t get enough of either of them.
With Gary, it was first, the “piecing out” of his anecdotal histories in Lodestar Magazine (now Park City Magazine) that would initially set the hook. Actually, maybe his barstool yarns arrived at the wire in a photo finish. These, of course, would later morph into full-fledged books, which are available in brown paper wrappers (just kidding) from Dolly’s Bookstore or the nearby Park City Museum.
Over time, I would catch up to Gary at book festivals, book signings, or bars. Once Father Pat became parish priest of St. John the Worker down in the valley, our paths usually only crossed at St. Patrick’s Day parades or the “Siamsa” musical entertainments that followed.
Thanks to Gary’s wife Jane and children Janice and James for putting it all together and to Father Pat for revisiting the flock. That pair not only beats a full house but also knows how to headline a show.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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