Yesterday while in the middle of a mammoth clean-up, I came across an invitation to the farewell lunch in Sydney that his mates at The Australian were having for its former literary editor James Hall ('Jim in person but never in print') on the occasion of his retirement.
This invitation was two years old, but something had made me keep it -- possibly the lovely little drawing of a small dog alone on a stage, watching the curtain come down. I assumed this was a reference to the haunting and quite brilliant essay Jim wrote a few years ago while on holidays in Italy, about a stray dog that had adopted him and was following him around. Looking at the invitation, I recalled the essay clearly, and wondered whether he'd gone travelling again since he retired.
So it was quite a shock, a few hours later, to open The Australian and see that he had died of a heart attack in the middle of a tennis match. He was only 71. I wrote book reviews for him for several years and he was, like most other literary editors I've known, a pleasure to work for and with: thoughtful about his commissions, open to suggestion, tolerant of my occasional errors and screw-ups and apologetic about his own.
The obituary yesterday mentioned that at the very moment his heart attacked him, he was in the process of hitting a, if not the, winning stroke in the tennis match. I hope this wasn't poetic license; it does seem like a good way to go. And I hope he meets up with that Italian hound again, somewhere in the life to come.