Gary Reilly’s life partner was Sherry Peterson, who supported him for years while he wrote fiction.
Gary passed away in March 2011, leaving behind 20 novels, including The Asphalt Warrior, which comes out in June 2012.
I spent many coffees and lunches with Gary, but there were some questions I never bothered to ask. So Sherry, described as the “love of his life” in Gary’s obituary, was kind enough to answer a few:
Question: How did you and Gary meet?
Sherry: My friend Tim Gallagher introduced me to Gary. I was 20 years old at the time and living with 11 friends plus one of my sisters in a big old house in north Denver. We were all going to college—either the University of Colorado or Regis. We were all active in the anti-war movement and involved in lots of political issues at the time. Gary had just returned from serving in Vietnam in the U.S. Army. Tim wanted to bring Gary over to meet all of us. Tim jokingly told us that we had to be nice to Gary when he brought him to meet us, even though we were all against the war, because Gary was a hero. Tim told us the story of Gary going to Vietnam as a military policeman (MP) so his older brother did not have to go as an infrantryman. Gary always had a great sense of humor. Tim brought him over on Good Friday and when he walked into the house and saw the lily plants a couple of us had gotten for our mothers for Easter. He asked us if someone had died. We laughed and said yes, Jesus. It is funny the things you remember sometimes. I remember that evening in great detail. Probably more than you wanted to know.
Question: How would you describe Gary?
Sherry: Gary was very creative. He was a writer always. In high school he made an animated version of Beowulf and won an award from Eastman Kodak. He enjoyed making short 8mm animated movies when he was in high school and college. He liked to draw. He invented many board games.
Question: How would you describe Gary’s interest in writing stories—was it a consistent interest of his all the time you knew him?
Sherry: He read all the time. And he wrote all the time. He liked to write at night. He was truly a night owl. He often stayed up all night writing. He liked the quiet of the night. He always carried a little notebook with him and kept one next to the bed at night so when he thought of something, had an idea or a dream, he could write it down right away.
Question: I’m wondering if you can describe how he worked at his writing—when he wrote and how he approached it? Would he talk very much about the stories as he was developing them?
Sherry: He would write something, then rewrite it and rewrite it, always trying to get the idea, the words perfect. He worked very, very hard at it. He did not like to talk much about work while he was writing it. He said that talking about what he was writing took the energy out of it.
He was inspired by his favorite authors—Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Jim Harrison. Just before he died he finished reading Swann’s Way (Marcel Proust).
Question: If someone asked you, how would you describe Gary?
Sherry: Gary felt that creating art is the most noble of purposes. He felt that the only thing that can be left behind after death is the art that person created. He believed the world is so much better off for all the art that has been left to us by those who have gone before. He felt an obligation to leave something that would be permanent in this way. He said art is the only thing that is permanent in the world. So you can understand how much having his work published means to him and me.
Gary was a quiet person, a very private person. I think it would have suited him to be a hermit. He always preferred staying home to going out, being alone to being with people. He really enjoyed kids. And he always helped me care for all of our animals. The only times I saw tears in his eyes is when any of our pets was dying. He was always kind to people. He often took an interest in strangers, like the clerks at the grocery store who got to know him.
Thank you, Sherry.