Calkins: Dan Spector was Shelby County’s death number 3 — and a whole lot more

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 01, 2020 9:36 PM CT | Published: April 01, 2020 6:32 PM CT
Geoff Calkins
Daily Memphian

Geoff Calkins

Geoff Calkins has been chronicling Memphis and Memphis sports for more than two decades. He is host of "The Geoff Calkins Show" from 9-11 a.m. M-F on 92.9 FM. Calkins has been named the best sports columnist in the country five times by the Associated Press sports editors, but still figures his best columns are about the people who make Memphis what it is.

Dan Spector had a flower in his backyard — a night-blooming cereus — that would bloom one time a year, at night.

“He would get so excited waiting for it to bloom,” said Sara Patterson, who lived right next door to Spector in Cooper-Young. “Then, when it bloomed, he would knock on my door in the middle of the night to get me to come look at it.”

Spector and Patterson would stand in the dark and admire the fragile white flower. It’s a memory Patterson will hold close now that Spector is gone.

Spector, 68, became the third Shelby County victim of COVID-19 when he died Tuesday.

Calkins: My friend tested positive for COVID-19 — but she went all over Memphis first

“When you see it’s three or four people, just the number, you think it isn’t that bad,” said Patterson. “But when it’s somebody you know — your neighbor, your friend — it’s heartbreaking.”

Soon enough, we will all know somebody, of course. A neighbor or a friend. A grandmother or an aunt. A brother or a cousin or a sister-in-law.

Tuesday was the day that President Trump told Americans that 100,000 citizens will die of the coronavirus. There’s only one way to get to 100,000 deaths, and that is one person at a time — every one of them an original. 

Spector was quirky and gifted. He was gruff and he was generous.

“He was a staple in Cooper-Young,” Patterson said. “He was very active in the arts community.”

He was raised in New York — and had a New Yorker’s sensibility — but moved to Memphis in the 1970s to work as a designer at the Wonder Horse factory.

Like a lot of us, he fell in love with Memphis. Embraced the good and bad of the place. He loved the Tigers and his synagogue (Beth Shalom) and politics and newspapers and Midtown and his front porch and his cats and the arts.

“He was a brilliant sculptor and a mold artist,” said H. Scott Prosterman, who met Spector at Beth Shalom. “He was the go-to guy in Memphis for molding, plaster, carvings and statues. He restored the molds on the 19th Century Club.”

“His house was as wild and disheveled as he was,” Patterson said. “He had lots of odd trinkets everywhere. He had benches and buckets and stuffed animals and pieces of plaster. He had all these interesting flowers. It wasn’t like he had a garden, exactly. He was really proud of it.”

And then, two weeks ago, Spector developed a cough.

“It was a Wednesday,” said Rachel Peak, Spector’s sister, who lives in Arizona. “He wrote me in the Facebook group I have with our other brother, who lives in Israel. I told him to stay in.”

The next Monday — March 23rd — Peak called Spector.

“He sounded horrible,” she said. “His cough was unbelievably bad. I said, 'It sounds like you have it.’ He said he had called the number they said to call and they hadn’t called back.”

Peak called her brother again last Tuesday, March 24.

“He said he was in delirium,” she said. “He said he didn’t have the strength to pull a blanket on him.”

Peak never talked to her brother again. Last Wednesday, Spector was admitted to Methodist University Hospital. The next day, Peak was told her brother had been moved to the ICU.

“I never spoke to him,” she said. “I had the nurses go in and tell him that I loved him and that someone was taking care of his cat. He was on a ventilator. Then his kidneys started to fail. Sunday, a doctor called me and asked if I wanted to do a DNR (do-not-resuscitate order). Tuesday, he died.”

Peak sounded a little stunned and a little scared, as she talked about her big brother. Who among us isn’t scared?

Two weeks ago, her brother had a cough. Wednesday, she buried him by Zoom.

“The funeral itself was well-attended, if that’s the right word to describe it,” said Michele Kiel Less, another friend. “There were 50-60 people joining by video. But that’s when the stark reality hit, of what is going on. It was like being in the twilight zone.”

The video was beamed from the gravesite. The mourners sat far away, safe in their homes.

Prosterman — one of the eulogists — said he remembered once thanking Spector for coming to his stepfather’s funeral.

“If you don’t go to other people’s funerals,” Spector responded, “they won’t go to yours.”

But there was Spector’s casket, alone in the cemetery. Just the rabbi, saying the familiar words.

“For Jewish people, one of the most sacred things we do is to throw dirt on the casket,” Less said. “It’s the community saying we love and care for you and will make sure it is covered. Each person has a part in it. And we couldn’t do it. That’s when I kind of broke down.”

It is not the natural way of things, what is happening now. It is not the way we are supposed to live or the way we are supposed to die. Two weeks ago, Spector was healthy and waiting for the NBA to return and his flower to bloom. Wednesday, he was a number — No. 3 in Shelby County — being mourned by video.

“It’s a lot of grief,” said Peak, his little sister. “Does that make sense? It doesn’t feel right to say goodbye this way. I guess I have to get used to it.”


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