Nicholas Lee would be delightfully embarrassed to find himself mentioned in my column.
A long-time friend and a fellow Longmont Theatre Company actor, Nicholas was also a regular reader of these weekly words. He always had a compliment and often a thoughtful comment or two on what I’d written, while his quiet smile radiated brilliantly over his Uncle Sam beard.
And yes, unfortunately, the past tense is appropriate. Nicholas passed away on Thursday.
The thing is, like many actors, Nicholas was something of a quiet soul. Having an entire column to himself would likely bring on a blush, a shake of the head, and a self-deprecating chuckle about being hard up for material.
One hates to embarrass a friend. So I’m going to write about someone like him, instead.
Someone like Nicholas would be a gentleman and a gentle man, quietly courteous and welcoming to just about anyone in his path. He’d talk to long-established directors and developmentally disabled audience members with the same respect, warmth, and interest.
Someone like him would cultivate a few eccentricities, such as a decades-old Van Dyke beard and an elocution so carefully measured that it sounded English – the sort of touches that make the world a more colorful and interesting place. But he’d also be able to set them aside at need, such as by shaving every last hair on his head, beard and all, just because a friend wanted him to play a real-life figure known for being spear bald.
And someone would like him, by the way, would be the first to laugh at the resulting reflection in the mirror.
Someone like him would fit comfortably into a hundred different roles in the world you shared – say, a clumsy King Pellinore of Camelot, or a veteran British actor gone to seed, or a sharp-tongued and pushy agent – but would have so many more facets that you only got to glimpse briefly. Like fluency in Russian. Or a church choir he was especially proud of. Or the years and years of teaching that helped shape a delightful personality, firm but understanding, disciplined but sly.
We all know a “someone like him,” I think. The details may differ, but the overall picture is the same. The person who never forced themselves into the spotlight, but became part of the emotional undergirding of the entire group. The one who sometimes made you laugh and sometimes made you think, but who mostly made things work.
And when they’re suddenly not there, you feel it. Something has slipped. A piece of the puzzle has been lost, a line of the drawing is out of place.
You go on. You need to. After all, they’d be horrified to think that they were holding things up. But it isn’t the same.
Though if you’re lucky, they’ve passed on enough of themselves to keep some of that strength present, even in their absence.
They’re wonderful people, all of the someones. We need them. We need to appreciate them while they’re here. To enjoy them while we can. To learn from them while we’re able.
Because all too soon, we’ll be missing them when they’re gone.
Just like my friend Nicholas Lee. Whom, you will note, I carefully did not write about today.
And who, wherever he is, is probably laughing out loud at this reflection as well.