Richard Quigley holds living wake to see friends, family one last time
By Marina Malikoff
Santa Cruz Sentinel Correspondent
WATSONVILLE It was a wake, of sorts. The only thing missing was the corpse.
In fact, Richard Quigley, the would-be decedent, was very much alive Saturday and having a blast at his own send-off, despite the pain and exhaustion from lymphoma that has left his physique a mere shadow of his former lanky self.
Though he's lost more than 40 pounds since his terminal diagnosis in August, Quigley's clever sense of humor and devilish wit remain solidly intact.
And, no doubt, he's taking it with him.
"There are two things certain," said the 61-year-old. "One is that no one ever died healthy. And the other is no one has ever got out alive."
When asked about the notion of staging his own wake, Quigley laughed. "When was the last time you showed up at someone's wake and they were there to answer your questions?"
There was no casket or floral arrangement. But for the 200 people who showed up or thundered in on shiny Harleys that lined the long driveway leading to Quigley's T-shirt screening shop there was plenty of rock 'n' roll, a pool table, an all-you-can eat barbecue and a big-screen TV airing highlights of Quigley's mischievous brushes with the law for not wearing a motorcycle helmet.
sWhile the tone was decidedly upbeat and irreverent, the outpouring of respect and love was the theme of the day. From New Zealand to Wisconsin and parts in between, friends and strangers came to pay their respects to the man who has been a fierce foe of the helmet law, a passionate defender of the Constitution and a father figure to teens finding their way.
"I had no idea I had this many friends," Quigley said, tearfully, perched on a barstool as guests formed a single-file line that at times stretched 15 feet. "It's mind-blowing."
When a uniformed Watsonville police officer showed up, the group grew silent. That is, until Quigley, a self-described U.S. Freedom Fighter, stood up to shake his hand.
"He's a passionate individual and believes strongly in what he believes," Cpl. Mike Ridgeway said. When asked how he came to know Quigley, Ridgeway said, "I issued him a couple of tickets."
Wearing a black knit scull cap with red flames, Phil Reynolds rode his Harley from Campbell to meet Quigley with whom he'd exchanged e-mail messages in person.
"This is my helmet today in honor of Quigley," Reynolds said, proudly pointing to his head. "He's a modern-day Thomas Jefferson."
A young woman handed him a single white rose. Many thanked him for his indefatigable battle against the helmet laws.
"Quigley is a dying breed," said KSCO radio host Nick Bulaich. "Not too many people take time to research the law."
As he approached Quigley, Bulaich removed his straw hat to reveal a "Quigley approved helmet" a tiny Dixie cup with a string chinstrap. Quigley also had a good chuckle at the newly minted T-shirt Bulaich wore: The Quigley Factor WWQD Translation: What Would Quigley Do.
"I wish I could do half the stuff he's done," said 16-year-old T.J. Pope, Quigley's fresh-faced grandson who lives in Arizona. The two met for the first time when Quigley reunited with his family near Tucson shortly after learning he was dying. "I thought he was a cool dude right off the bat."
Though he doesn't have a motorcycle, since meeting his grandfather, things have changed for Pope.
"I'm gonna get me one now," he said. And will he wear a helmet?
"I'm going to do just what he does," Pope said.
After the line dwindled, Quigley walked to the back of the outdoor tented area, crossed his legs and puffed a cigar while guests passed around the open microphone.
Walt Steuben, a career bureaucrat who is chief of licensing and operations for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, drove from Sacramento to pay his respects to the man he first came to know in 1991 and has talked to on the phone countless times since.
"I've shredded a lot of Richard's documents over the years," Steuben said, eliciting a roar of laughter from the crowd. "You're a wonderful, wonderful guy. I look forward to your calls and I will look forward to them until my last day on earth. I'm going to miss you terribly, Richard."
Steuben later said Quigley has had a tremendous impact not only on the legal interpretation of the helmet law, but also on people in general.
"He's compassionate and passionate," Steuben said. "People need to be more like Richard, especially government officials. We need more people like him to keep government on track."
And then the microphone was handed to Quigley, who took a poignant pause.
"Never has one man been so honored," Quigley said, choking back his emotion.