As Murray Phillips wheeled his wife Betty's stretcher a short distance across the parking lot, from Langley Memorial Hospital to the Langley Hospice, she thanked him for insisting on the stroll and for giving her one last chance to see the spring flowers blooming and to hear the birds chirping.
Then, she turned to her husband of 46 years, and told him she was not afraid of dying, "but Murray I need your help, I want to live my dying well."
"I was immediately struck by the calmness and honesty of her request. But, I wondered,
how does one do that," Murray shared with the Langley Advance.
Admittedly, he was apprehensive about moving her to hospice. He knew Betty wanted to spend her last days at home. But, less than an hour after arriving at hospice, the Phillips both knew they'd made the right choice by opting for hospice instead of home.
That was in early May, and 24 days later Betty lost her battle with cancer.
"We were able to spend such rich time together," he explained.
"I didn't know how significant hospice would be for us," Murray added. "And I didn't have any idea how devastated I would be. I'm functioning. I'm working and I'm painting. But, there's a huge sense of loss."
Earlier this week, sitting in a rocker in his home-based art studio, a tearful Murray recounted numerous conversations they shared during those days, noting they continued their rituals of singing together, reminiscing, and reading poetry and scripture.
One conversation in particular, which came near the end, stuck with Murray. He'd proposed turning his annual fall art show into a fundraiser for hospice - the organization that had allowed Betty to realize her wish of dying well.
"She wholeheartedly approved," Murray recalled. "They have been so kind and
gracious to us, we need to help so others can experience this kind of care and support."
Still mourning the "insanely painful" loss of his soul mate, this nationally acclaimed Langley artist and former art gallery owner is doing just that.
Murray is mustering all his energy and will - with a lot of help from friends and family - to organize his annual fundraising art show in honour of Betty.
"I had decided we wanted to do [the show in Betty's honour], but I wasn't sure if I could," Murray admitted, reaching down from his chair and sinking his fingers into the thick fur on Luke's neck. The three-year-old German shepherd has become Murray's constant companion.
Murray noted it wasn't until July that he confirmed with his friend and co-host Brian Croft
that they would be able to go ahead with the show, crediting Croft for putting feet under his idea.
The result: This weekend, The West Fine Art Show, dubbed "Remembering Betty," is being held with 25 per cent from the sale of all art being donated to the Langley Hospice Society in Betty's honour.
"Betty was a remarkable person," who helped hundreds of children as a teacher and later as a school counsellor. This event - Murray said - is a small way to pay tribute to what he described as a strong, beautiful, generous, gentle woman with a great sense of humour.
"She was the most loving and caring person I have met," Murray said, noting he has also created a painting in memory of his late wife, one that will be included at the show featuring a fistful of red roses laying on a table next to a waiting vase.
Roses were always Betty's favourite flower, Murray explained, noting there are literally dozens of rose bushes in their garden. He vows to have a different rose painting at each of the future The West shows.
He is continuing an in memoriam tradition he started years ago, by creating and including a daisy paintings in every one of his shows, the daisies honouring his niece who died in a senseless accident in 1991, at age 21.
Art show and sale The three-day show will feature a hand-picked team of 17 Western Canadian artists, including Murray (www.murrayphillipsart.com) and his fellow Langley artist and friend, Croft (www.briancroft.com).
This duo make an odd pair of friends indeed. Murray is the proverbial hippie and mountain man type - who actually heads out into the woods for four months a year to paint nature.
In stark contrast, there's Croft, a former fighter pilot recognized for his detailed, and historically accurate landmark paintings.
The two very different personalities became fast friends almost 19 years ago, when Croft entered Murray's Westwind Gallery in downtown Langley with a few watercolours he hoped to sell.
"He didn't kick me out, and he even put them up on the walls," Croft recounted.
Friends ever since, the duo started The West Fine Art Show together four years ago.
It's held each fall at Indian Springs Land and Cattle Co. at 19339 8th Ave. in Surrey, at the ranch owned by Margaret and Senator Gerry St. Germain - where Murray had a studio for a number of years before buying a home in Murrayville that allowed room for a home studio.
The West opens Friday, Sept. 6 with Red Robinson on hand from 7 to 10 p.m., then Saturday, Sept. 7 the show continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with Shell Busey serving up pancake breakfasts until 11 a.m. And, the event wraps up Sunday, running 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but again donations for hospice are being accepted.
For more information about this weekend's show, people can visit www.westart.ca.
"I really want to see this show succeed and I really want to see hospice succeed," Murray said.
“I want to live my days well - I want to live my dying well,” Murray said. “Part of that involves trying to give back to organizations such as the Langley Hospice Society, that help so many people live their dying well. We invite you to be part of this way of Remembering Betty.”
In past, this show has raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity, and Murray hopes that can happen again, this time in aid of hospice. Eventually planning to become a volunteer for hospice, Murray said he hopes this weekend’s show will be the beginning of a long-term relationship with hospice.
He’s not sure what that will mean, but he and Croft have been contemplating using the template for The West Fine Art Show for more shows in aid of charities, such as hospice.
This weekend’s show will also include performances by Langley’s own Exit 58, as well as local guitarist John Gilliat.
And in addition to Murray Phillips, and Brian Croft being artists at this weekend’s show, the event will also feature the works of Gaye Adams, Craig Benson, June Bloye, Carmel Clare, Brian Coombes, Lalita Hamill, Mark Hobson, Tammy Hunter, Doug Levitt, Esther Sample, Nathan Scott, and Joe Smith.
There will be a wide range of art on display, with a wide range of price tags.
“They’ll be pieces there in the two digits and pieces there in the five digits,” Murray said.
Croft reflects on drive-ins
Vancouver Collection is an original painting by Brian Croft.
He wrote the following:
“For those of us who spent our teen years in the Fifties and Sixties, it was an unforgettable time. The automobile had only recently evolved into an affordable and even essential component of family life. We teenagers were lining up for the first time to take driving lessons and when it all came together and we turned the ignition key on our first solo driving experience, the whole world lay at our feet. Free to roam, free to explore our new world, we quickly discovered, the more stuff you could do in a car, the better; that included eating!
“Of course, this had all been figured out a long time ago and drive-in restaurants had popped up everywhere. A teenager, armed with a new licence, Dad’s borrowed car and a few pals on board needed to look cool and the local A&W was very very high on the “cool-list” of places to be and be seen.
“It is nice to think that Roy Allen might have foreseen all this, in 1919, when he purchased a unique recipe for Root Beer and opened, what may have been, the first drive-in (then called “stand”) in Lodi California. A second stand followed and in 1922 Allan partnered with Frank Wright a former employee a the Lodi stand.
Allan and Wright condensed their last names into A&W and a legend began. A&W, anchored by an unsurpassed Root Beer, was destined for success, growing to more than 2000 restaurants by 1960. In 1956, A&W expanded into Canada, choosing Winnipeg for the first drive-in location to launch a phenomenal drive that created hundreds of Canadian A&W’s.
“Today, A&W restaurants, more popular than ever, thrive with their famous Root Beer and burgers but the drive-in restaurants that were once so familiar have slipped into oblivion. To be sure, the reasons for the demise of the drive-ins were soundly based on economics but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. The A&W drive-in, quite simply heaven to teenagers since the ’50s, is gone.
“The last A&W drive-in “stand” in Canada served its last burger on April 30, 2000 in Langley, B.C. I live in Langley and happened to drive by the last stand just after the closing. Seeing crowds of people there, I went home and got my camera. It was a strangely quiet gathering, no food was being served, people were just milling around. Just about every stall was occupied by a pick-up truck backed in so that the guys could stand on the truck beds and work-away with wrenches, detaching the back-lit menu boards that hung under the center walk-way roof. I even saw a couple of chaps with a hacksaw cutting through the steel pole of the “entry” and “exit” signs on the curbside. The very people that loved the drive-in so much were taking it apart piece by piece in a last desperate attempt to save parts of this iconic story from the demolition bin.
“I shot a roll of slide film that night but I found little inspiration in the poor quality slides that resulted. Many years later I looked at them again and this time found a single slide that anchored this painting, Drive-in Heaven. I scoured the internet for reference material and even contacted the good folks at A&W for information. I then selected the cars to be in the painting with the newest one being a 1968 Ford Mustang GT 500 Shelby and so it was this car that defined the date of the painting as 1968. Next job was to find the menu and prices in 1968 and a lot more detail. Even the A&W roadside logo sign got a lot of attention as the dark brown background, that I painted, is a reversal to today’s white background A&W logos; but thats the way it briefly briefly was in the past.
“The Langley A&W back in the ’60s and ’70s anchored an informal cruising circuit. The kids would cruise up and down Fraser Highway between Dog and Suds and the A&W putting on mile after mile on their dad’s car. Windows were down, elbows over the sills and engines revs were skillfully converted into a screaching cresendo that exceeded the rock and roll music on the new-fangled eight-track tape. If this wasn’t heaven, then finding another car load of school chums at the A&W end of the circuit, certainly was.
“I painted Drive-in Heaven, not really meaning it to be the Langley location but rather as a fond memorial of all the A&W drive-in stands that we simply miss so much. If you find in these paintbrush strokes, a memory or two, if I have put a smile on your face or helped you remember a special someone, then that’s good enough for me.”
@ Copyright 2013