|Ritsaert ten Cate / 1938-2008 /|
When Ritsaert asked me to be part of the line-up this afternoon, I nodded. Yes I would do it. I thought it would be an open license to praise his talents for friendship, list his virtues.
His generosity (in terms of time and care), his charm and precision, his old-fashioned courtesy, his loyalty and faithfulness - I often wished had I only half of them…
And not to be forgotten his cheerfulness, somewhere between the playful boy and the witty man.
Yet with all the sweet and pleasant there always would be judgment, discerning involved - a clear line between ok and not ok, between authenticity and opportunism.
An innocent example, involving myself. A typical conversation we would have. I would talk about something going on in my work at the university and tell him what I had decided to do. He then would say ‘well. I guess some one will have to do it. It better be you. Could be worse.’ And I then would add ‘you mean could be even worse’. And then he would laugh, this very special laugh of his, with a rolling sound, coming from deep within, eyes twinkling, whole face in movement.
And what a talent to make heavy things light, not to deny the weight, not remove them, no, make them light, bearable, doable.
When, some years ago, I had landed myself into a rather chaotic state of restlessness, and this had been going on for some time, he would listen to my stories once again and say ‘have you tried cooking?’ Cooking a meal yourself every day. Might help. I followed his advice. And it sure did work out fine.
These last months, weeks, days, hours he also did this, for us and for himself, making things light, make them bearable, doable. By being cheerful, precise, caring. He has been leading the way.
Could reassure his doctors: ‘don’t you worry, I have been working on life and death all my life.’
And make wry jokes, like the time we were discussing this occasion, and talked about the music. The canto had been decided upon. And then he said ‘shouldn’t we have a song or two as well, something sentimental, tear-jerking?’
We didn’t think so. ‘Oh well, I was just trying to be helpful’
Many of us have known Ritsaert for many years, - I guess we could make up lists, who was there first and how close? Speaking for myself my claim to fame is the spring of 1968 when I fell in love with the future mother of my daughters at a party in Loenersloot. But I must confess that I then hardly had eyes for a Mr ten Cate running the place. So it doesn’t count I am afraid -
anyhow, many of us have known Ritsaert for many years, been close to him, worked with him, drifted away, the ebb and flood of friendship - yet it is remarkable for how many he has always remained and no doubt always will this very special, lovely man.
For years the two of us would have diner once every six weeks or so. at Bordewijk or Vasso, always at the same table, he would always be the first, sipping his whisky when I came in. When the interval was becoming too long, he would phone my secretary. ‘Could you please arrange an important business appointment?’ And when that wouldn’t work he would try again ‘Has he stopped loving me?’ But once we met, not a word was spilled on my sloppiness.
At one point his work, or rather his plans, brought him to my terrain, higher education. Dasarts was in the making. The beginning of a period of working together. Fine years. Ritsaert once told me we had been in disagreement twice. I don’t remember. What I do remember is the beautiful, intuitive way by which he knew what such a school for young professionals should be, the very personal style of his leadership, and above all the way he challenged the students and at the same time carefully coached and supported them. Beautiful. Great teacher. Proves once again that personal qualities are the secret.
And yes, like all friends, we were a mutual admiration society. But in an odd way. I admire him, this remarkable combination of being unflinching and playful, modest and confident, searching and knowing. Courage and doubts, style and character, the high arts and the simple art of living - and many more of these pairs.
And he in turn would appreciate the way I did care for small things, like writing a business letter or chairing a meeting. I couldn’t do that, he would say. He is my god of big things, I am his hero of small things.
And that defined the way he would bring up weighty topics. Like at the time of his first medical treatments some 12 years ago. I would sit at his bed at the hospital and he would suddenly ask, ‘does one have to be a member of this society for voluntary euthanasia?’
And some time this winter he would suddenly ask, ‘would you be prepared to be the caretaker of my estate?’
And it was immediately clear what it implied.
I hope you’ll forgive my talking about myself. It’s Ritsaert talent for friendship I want to illustrate, and our relationship simply is the material I know best.
This is not a time to draw final lines. To me Ritsaert is like the dearest older brother, and that’s what he will always be. I am afraid his friendship will gain mythological dimensions.
In his beautiful piece on the New York year in Just about now he quotes Faulkner, and I quote his quote:
the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.
On Colleen’s behalf I would like to thank you for coming here today. Your presence means a very great deal to her, and to us all. She thanks all of you, and the many others who couldn’t be here but have sent their thoughts and prayers to help ease this desperately difficult time. There are some people she would like to have mentioned for their devoted support in these last months. Their help made it possible for Ritsaert and Colleen to meet the requirements of this time. In particular she would like to mention Erica Bilder, Catherine Henegan, Juul Beeren, Marijke Hoogenboom, Cecilia Vallejos, Hein Eberson. Thank you all.
In conclusion, dear Colleen, I would like to thank you on behalf of all of Ritsaert’s friends. You have not only cared for him in an admirable way, you have also accepted that he wanted to go when he was ready. For all of us who are in our own ways so very close to him all of that has been a great consolation. We are deeply grateful.
Amsterdam, September 11th, 2008