Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lawrence 'Larry' McGarrell, Former President of Elizabeth Music University

This afternoon (December 29, 2012) there was an announcement within the premises of Sophia University of the death of Fr. Lawrence McGarrell, S.J., (better known as Larry McGarrell) former President and Chancellor of Elizabeth Music University in Hiroshima and an alumnus of Sophia University, Faculty of Theology.  Hearing that he was terminally ill, I had gone from Tokyo to see him in Hiroshima on December 23rd and visited the hospital twice on December 24th and had the privilege of speaking with him.  He was very feeble and unable to speak in sentences, but he was very alert and able to utter a word or two.  He seemed serene and resigned (perhaps the fruit of his years in Zen practice?). 

Larry was born in April 1947 (in Indiana, USA) and ordained a priest by Pope John Paul II in Nagasaki, Japan, in February 1981.  Joining the Society of Jesus in New England Province, USA, he lived the life of a Jesuit for a little over 47 years, about 40 of which he spent in Japan, having transferred to the Japanese Province in 1985.  He had been teaching on and off at Elizabeth Music University since April 1978, and became an Associate Professor in 1986 and full Professor in 1995.  He became a Member of the Elizabeth University Administrative Board in 1994 and Dean of the Music Faculty in 1998.  He served as the President for five years between April 2000 and March  2005, and as the Chancellor for six years between April 2005 and May 2011.   In April 2011, he was honored as Professor Emeritus.

I am personally indebted to Larry in many ways, especially early on when I had just arrived in Japan and he was a sempai "senior" by a few months.   We were together studying Japanese at the Kamakura Jesuit Language School--now defunct--together with a number of Dominicans, Divine Word Missionaries, Burgos Kai members, nuns, and Lay persons.   As I joined at least two months later than others in my class, I had a lot of catching up to do and had to get accustomed to the Japanese ways.  That is where Larry played the 'elder brother' role--very kindly, graciously, and generously.  We have been perhaps through most of the streets and hills around Kamakura, walking and talking about philosophy, religions, mysticism, music, and so on.  He was always a wonderful companion, very knowledgeable about many matters--especially concerning Japan and Japanese language.

It is my recollection that he constantly strove to be like a Japanse--adopting Japanese ways of eating, drinking, dressing, etc.  He was deeply interested in learning Zen and Tea Ceremony, and at every meal he used to have the sour umeboshi 'plum pickles,' drink green tea (which I found tasteless, and used to drink with sugar and milk--until Larry told me that was not the Japanese way of doing things!), and enjoyed the dark-green crispy leaves of  nori 'sea weed'.   What struck even the Japanese was his inordinate attachment to natto 'fermented beans'--sticky beans in a glue-like paste with an odor that can beat even the most stinky French cheese.   While there are Japanese who can't stand natto, Larry was committed to eating it every morning with great delight.  He always sat in the seiza 'straight back' posture and preferred a tatami 'Japanese mat' to a chair.  Larry was also very ascetical and self-controlled in his eating and drinking habits.  He hardly ever touched alcohol and almost never ate a full stomach.   One wonders how such an ideally behaved person can die so young...

Larry, of course, was a professional musician, playing the piano perhaps from a young age.  In Kamakura, he used to practice several hours, and later on studied music in different music schools, and did get some advanced degree in music.  Unfortunately, he was called upon to serve as an administrator even before he completed his doctorate, and he too liked doing extracurricular activities such as giving retreats and serving as a spiritual advisor.   He taught music at Elizabeth University for many years and also served as the President and Chancellor.   He continued his administrative job even after his health began to decline, and it was only last year that he was relieved of his post.  He used to sing often  in this season of Christmas his favorite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy."

Larry had a remarkable talent for telling funny stories, changing his voice to that of the characters.  He was also adept at mimicking different accents.  Linguistically, he was very fluent in both spoken and written Japanese and had a working knowledge of French and a smattering of German.  He didn't seem to show much interest in abstract philosophies or arguments, but leaned towards practices and experiences. Presumably, given his administrative and spiritual commitments, he could not get too deeply involved in unrelated sciences and philosophies.   As a human being, though, Larry was a very lovable and loving person, always willing and eager to help others and always patient and non-judgmental in listening to others like Momo.

Wake: 6:00 PM, on Dec. 30, 2012, at the Catholic Cathedral, Hiroshima.
Funeral:  10:00 AM on Dec. 31, 2012, at the Catholic Cathedral, Hiroshima