Donald Ray Conner, born November 8, 1947,
“shuffled off this mortal coil” June 10, 2013
His C.K. McClatchy High School (June 1965) classmates will remember Don as one of the organizers of past class reunions.
Don was a native Sacramentan whose book business, Don Conner Fine Books, gained him recognition, friends, and customers worldwide. As a respected, proud member of Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Don shared his love of books and vast knowledge generously with all who knew him. His specialty was natural history, but he could easily quote Mark Twain just as well as he could chat about fishing and birds. He will be remembered for his extensive knowledge, caring spirit and loving nature. As cancer took its toll on his body Don’s friends and family were by his side. To hear Don’s own words about his life and his passion for books an interview is available here.
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Don Conner; antique book dealer, collector, appreciator, scholar, gentleman, and giant. I loved his laugh, smile and sense of humor. Don was one of the few dealers you would see that always taught you something new each and every time they spoke to you. If you were open to it, he would sit and talk for hours…walking you through the ins and outs of history, botany, fishing, travel, science, California fact and fiction, every little bit of ephemera he was drawn to and more. Don was a rare bright colored stone on a mundane tan colored beach.
Don was such a pleasant companion. It surprised me he never married for a long period of time but rather engulfed himself into his books, his passion, his love. Don was ambitious, interesting and insatiable when it came to his books and paper. He even went so far as to turn each and every one of the 8 or 9 rooms in his small Curtis Park house into a library filled floor to ceiling with interesting books, magazines, ephemera and information. We are all lucky to be a part of this collection as well as to touch his life later this week. We hope you will spend many hours digging through this rare and delightful mountain of paper this coming week.
On a personal note, this is the most enriching estate sale I have ever had the pleasure to spend time at. I will not be gone one minute from the property. There is no chance of missing me. If it were possible, I would spend a month on the floor reading his notes and pawing over his family photos trying to garner one more minute of his company to keep, if only through his possessions. It is hard not to cry as I type this invitation, as Don was such a dear human being, just imagining the dispersing of his great library, makes his being gone a reality and hard to deny.
I love the smell of a book or book-room. There is no denying the texture and feeling you get when you peel away the pages of an old book worn from others enjoying the same page and lingering on the same word or sentence.
The feeling you get when you sneak a paragraph just before you nod off via candle-light or moonlight, book-light or bright sunshine on a beach. There is no doubt that one can learn and read from a computer, notebook, or phone. The truth is that for some of us who were lucky enough to actually ‘steal’ a book from a parent or neighbor as children…wanting so badly to garner the secrets it held.
There is no true replacement for an actual pulp made book that has a binding and girth we can hold onto; feel and touch…nothing short of it will ever satiate the deep desire within to read just that…a book…plain and simple.
The smell of tens of thousands of old and musty, loved and adored hard bound treasures such as this library holds, is just the most incomprehensible bounty you can ever imagine. This is not a pretentious arrogant man’s book shelf. This is a deep and loving troubled soul’s passion; wrapped up in a perfectly content loner’s life rich enough to last forever.
My one regret is that we have to sell a single one of these books and that we cannot manage to make a monument of his collection instead, allowing folks to check these rare treasures out one at a time, and enjoy them for the rest of eternity. In lieu of that grand task, we will instead liquidate don’s library, albeit his life.
Here’s to you Don Conner, we will all miss your gift of “true presence”.
Jim Lassiter was a BIG man; not just by size and motion, but of heart and emotion. This giant housed a spirit as big as his promise; laughing constantly out-loud, eyes that shone with sincere twinkles and sprinkles of mischief. Jim’s adorable pint-sized choice of the ‘love of his life’ Rene, only emphasized the physical mass he held by accenting him with her delicate features and tiny physical presence. She was the feather to his cap, the shine to his star and the delicate back-bone that held his huge frame in place. Without Rene to nudge and nag him, Jim would stay in the sack and read a book on collectibles and drink cocoa and never show up for a sale. It was with her in mind that he got up early while she went off to work, showed up at the sales to wait long hours in line and played poker with the guys for hours on end waiting for that one or two special items to take home to his sweet, appreciative, adorable, and loving bride.
I can remember an estate we had on 21st street when a dealer from the foothills came to shop with a mere $100 in his pocked (unbeknownst to myself or our crew) then proceeded to gather up thousands of dollars of ephemera thinking he would scapegoat out of having it added up, get by without us looking at each item, or somehow cheat us out of the fair market value of the goods. As I added up this man’s stacks of old menus, post cards, real photographs and sports programs from long ago….he tried everything in his power to mislead and deceive me while I bunched up his choices into groups of dollar amounts to give him the grand total. I was sure the dealer knew what he was up against price-wise but when I managed to give him a total minus his dealer discount the guy got extremely angry, loud and threatening yelling at me while literally hundreds of folks waited in line to get a price.
The sun was setting and we were losing daylight outside where the checkout tables were placed. Folks were getting mosquito bitten and chilled and all were beginning to get impatient as this annoying self-indulging cheater would not quit yelling and complaining about only having $100 on him and wanting the $1,200 total to be adjusted accordingly as he had worked so long and hard to find all that junk and he wanted it cheap because he had waited in line for hours to enter the sale.
Jim was simply amazing. He walked up slowly with his intimidating frame of maybe 6’3″ and at least 300lbs of shadowing presence and in a very low and frightening tone asked me if there was a problem. The jerk complaining and working his way up to a permanent ban from all of our sales looked sideways at Jim and said demurely that there was no problem. He got into his old beaten up truck and left the sale. That was it. Problem solved, yelling stopped, all back to normal. Jim had saved the day….my day and many other’s night. He had, within one fell-swoop shut this con-artist up and made way for the next person to be helped by me. In looking back now I can remember the next four or five shoppers bought nearly every single piece of paper that griper had put back on the table for full price. The family ended up making even MORE money by that guy being told to leave the sale and not return.
Jim was always free on hugs and long on love. He would gingerly give me a long and tight snuggle and then I would bend down behind him to give Rene the remaining squeeze. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed by all the regulars he joked with in line, all the collectors who asked his advice and for sure by his sweet adorable wife who counted on him to have breakfast with, looked forward to years of retirement shopping at sales and fleas beside and fantastized about growing old beside. I am so sad to imagine that physical frailty would prevent her dreams from coming true but I’m sure I share Rene’s sentiment when I say we are glad his suffering has ended.
With love and admiration…Goodbye “Big Jim”
Green Lights Brad Martin
I got the email from Retta Lee, Brad’s aunt this morning. Brad had passed softly in his sleep around 6am today. It was expected. It was welcomed. All involved who loved and cared for him were relieved Brad had finally slipped into another dimension, even Jim, his lover and partner for so many years. The man he lived with and ate with, cooked for and nested next too, the friend who drove him to chemo and took him in for MRIs and cat scans, blood tests and treatments.
Jim is a patient man. His slight features and thinning hair seem to age him when he speaks of his pal and precious partner Brad Martin. He still has the twinkle in his eye looking back to better days when Brad would sneak in with new and exciting treasures from the flea market or a sale to blend into their cabinets already choc full of knick knacks and heirlooms of Grandma Retta Lee’s, easing them in without a mention, thinking Jim would never notice the curios closing in on the room he sat and shared movies in with his lover, trying to read a books while sitting on the sofa. Jim noticed. How could he not. He was the one to dust and care for these extra additions, he was the one to try to maneuver a vacuum hose around and also a feather duster into each lessening crevice without breaking or turning over all those little insignificant additions. How could he not notice?
I went to visit Brad in Sutter Memorial hospital on the fourth floor in the cancer ward last week with Mike. I sobbed and made a scene, read Brad a letter and held his hand, kissed his head and also his red swollen feet. I apologized for not going to lunch together, for not making our trip to Hawaii we had planned, for not being there for him, for feeling badly he was slipping away.
I felt awkward and scared, worried and frightened. The next day I drug my twelve-year-old daughter Sophie along with me. He was with her soon after she was born so long ago. Brad was unconscious and unaware of my weeping and holding on to her hand for dear life, like if my little daughter left me alone with him, my dying friend, I would surely die right along with him. She was my hero that day, although he has been my hero for years on end, enduring such pain and suffering all around him let alone the physical ills he has dealt with for years on end.
When I went to visit Brad at home on Sunday with his Aunt Retta, dragging her down the Delta in the little blue topless roadster, I thought we would have many more days to hold Brad’s hand, kiss his forehead goodbye, laugh at his winks and smirks, blush at his smartass comments and giggle at his rude remarks. I was wrong. That was it. Our last chance to say we loved him. Show him we cared. Give him our blessings for a happy ever after in whatever dimension he was off to and headed towards.
Retta was ready. She sang to him, although he objected and claimed he was too tired. She sang bible songs and prayed for him and bid him farewell. She held onto his railing of the hospice bed made of cold steel and sterilized cushions. She looked directly at him but never saw him, rather his spirit and his angelic halo. Retta knew this was her last chance. I didn’t. Just as well I suppose.
Jim was ready, almost eager to have him go. Caring for someone you love so much when they are dying is no easy chore. Every jerk they make, every noise they utter, every swallow, wink, nod or shudder. You wait, you worry, you ache, and you yearn for closure. You almost certainly feel guilty for wanting your loved one to die, to let go of this life. Yet they last another minute, another hour, sometimes days and days on end, they give that horrible death rattle in their throat that comes with lungs filled with blood or fluids and you think they are going, then they wake with the rally and again they recognize and speak to you, as if out of their grave.
Brad just put his young beautiful Mother Tressa to rest a month or so ago. She died young and unexpected of cancer. That was Retta’s only sister. Their cousin died just prior and soon thereafter Retta lost her loving son Scott to an early death at his own hands. What a waste. It seems almost too much for a woman to handle. I would say it may make her stronger but in looking at her at dinner, in holding her hand in the car on the way back, in glancing at her facial expressions and seeing her heart break right in front of me, I think not. I think instead of making her stronger, I have never seen such strain on any woman, make that any man or woman or child I have ever known. What a handful of grief this fantastic friend has been given. It tears me apart to see it. To be unable to help her deal with it, to not even be able to take even a smidgen of the burden off her shoulders. Prayer I guess, that is our only option. And so I pray for Retta Lee.
Back to Brad; did you know that he ran my shop on the Delta named for Sophie, Sophie Ellen’s Antique Store, right there in Walnut Grove, 13 plus years ago? He hadn’t anything to do with his days and weekends at that time as he was on disability with aids and had long ago been diagnosed with the troubling and harrowing disease and had been told by doctors and caretakers he would die sooner rather than later. He made them all liars. He proved all the doctors and diagnosis’s wrong. He broke the molds and outlived each prognosis. We were all so proud of dear Brad.
I first met Brad when Retta, Tressa and Neil all siblings, contact me at a sale in Sacramento and hired me to do their Mother, Grandma Retta Lee’s estate sale in Walnut Grove. At that time I was ripe with child and ready to give it all a rest from working to stay home and give birth and spend some long earned days off with my one and only baby girl Sophie. We met and I agreed to one last job before I went in to have her. In doing the cleanout and estate for the siblings I met Brad and we immediately became soul mates of sorts. I loved he and his sense of humor and quick wit from the start. He was just cynical enough to prove sincere and just sincere enough to be a cynic. It was a perfect fit of friendship from the start.
Soon thereafter I opened a store next to Alma’s café on the river there in Walnut Grove for him to run. We named it aptly after Sophie. She learned to walk there, became potty trained at that store (after many an accident on the carpet) took her naps in the old nonworking flower fridge box, played with the antiques from buyouts of Isleton Bait and Hardware and other estates we accumulated while open, and basically made many friends from all the Walnut Grove Volunteer Fire Department to the locals and their parents and kids from the small delta town of WG. The times Brad, Sophie and I had at that store will never be compared. I miss those days more now that I think of him with my entire being. What a cheerful atmosphere Brad made it all, just by being there.
In the years to follow Brad worked at many of our estate sales. You may remember him by his ability to speak on any subject, well versed and well read on travel, antiques, cultures, collectibles, various heritage and by all means anything Delta related. He was an avid reader and loved to care for the older widows in town and drive them to their outings of lunches and doctor visits, shopping and even trips away from California as far as China.
Brad never did without and always did as he pleased. He was the only friend I have ever had that lived without any semblance of regret or shame, no sense of revenge or sorrow. He was famous for his ‘Green lights’ send off and had acquired that line from grandma Retta who meant it as all would be good and you would have a safe and cleared trip wherever you went in life. He said it with such ease and nearly ordered you a safe journey with those two simple words whenever he left you. “Green Lights”
For now, I wish our dear friend and Sophie’s first childhood adult friend the same kindness he always wished us. Green Lights Brad Martin. We will miss you always, and hold you dear and close to our hearts. You are in our prayers, and always, will be in our memories. Thanks for the friendship and by all means, see you on the other side.
John Conaty Revisited
A fellow collector, dealer and liquidator of sorts: John Conaty, has left us recently and we would like to share a bit of our memories of him, while at the same time maybe motivating each of you to donate money to his two young sons’ benefit account (info at the bottom).
He was a large man with a swaggering walk, slow and almost lazy, like there was never any hurry in the world worth getting worked up over. No collectible important enough or worth enough money to get himself in a shambles over, no meeting or sale worthy of coming before his good mood or lack of.
He had a way about him that made women stare and wonder, made men want to learn his secrets and copy his traits. He trained many a dealer and assistant here in Sacramento, some carried on to become mid-century modern dealers themselves competing against John for the same clients but somehow never having the same knack, or knowledge that he possessed nor reputation he stood up to.
Some tried to be like him and ended up showing a sad second. Others tried to befriend him only to be snubbed or ignored until he had the time and incentive to get close to them or share his valuable time and knowledge with them and their friends. John had a fairly good grasp on what mattered and was important; Spencer and Roman, and although he was no better than the rest of us single parents at setting his priorities and sticking to them, he loved his boys and would have done anything he could to please them.
If John was guilty of anything, it would be thinking too much and spinning his wheels too often like the rest of us dealers, collectors and hoarders of goods. He often would miss an important apt. with the boys teachers or care takers trying to chase down a lead or grab a certain sought after item for a friend or partner. Like the rest of us, he chased many a wild goose and regretted the times the leads led him nowhere and he would stew in his decision to go to a sale versus spending time with the boys.
My all time favorite John Conaty story was when a fellow I know who collected records went up north to John’s house to buy part of his rare and coveted record collection. As story has it, there, spread out on the floor in the den of his home lay thousands of extremely rare and valuable rock and roll lps in covers that this man had only seen in print or online, never in person. John strode over the tops of the record albums without a care, stepping right on top of each like they were no more valuable than gravel on a walkway. The friend of mine was so in awe of this mountain of a man thinking nothing of the value or money chanced to lose, rather going about his business in a nonchalant manner, smoking a cigarette in one hand while running the other giant paw through his long blond locks.
When we think of John, and I speak for many a liquidator, seller or dealer in town, we will think of a hardy laugh, a squinted smile, and a sly bit of a sneer he would leave you with as he hopped into his old worn out van with his waiting pooch loyally sitting in the front seat hoping for a pet from one of those giant paws. We will remember him pushing gems out of the seat to make room for a passenger, shoving treasures aside to make room for just one more item to sell at his and Dave’s shop. We’ll remember his swagger, his hunched shoulders trying to be shorter than he was, his long Bermuda shorts, making an effort to cover his long gawky legs above his socks and tennis shoes. We’ll think of John and smile as all the memories run into one thought. John Conaty: A father, husband, boyfriend, partner, collector, buyer, seller, trader, listener and laugher and teacher, making us smile with the memory of him.
We’ll miss you
MARK FAHEY OF THE TIME BANDITS REMEMBERS
When Geoff and I were in our second year of Time Bandits we came across two odd metal objects that looked as though they were fresh from the set of a 1930’s Frankinstien film. We both thought of John and decided to give them to him.
John was so truly excited by these things when we gave them to him, he just kept staring at them and saying, “What the hell are they?” He was as perplexed as we were by them, but just happy and delighted to get them. He asked how much we wanted for them, or what we wanted in trade. We said we wanted nothing, as his kindness and help in the past had been plenty. He seemed very surprised, smiled, thanked us, and drove away with the pieces.
Months later John called out of the blue and asked me to meet him at his warehouse in Wilton. I did, It was a hot summer day and he was wanting to move things around and also out. We talked for a while. He had never really opened up too much before but on this day as we walked through the entire place – every room, yard, and loft – he told me the history of so much of the pieces, the Hollywood props, the one of a kind John Keel chairs, the crazy things he cherished, and the things he wished he never would have laid eyes on. He gave me many things that I tried to politely refuse but he insisted. He told me that Geoff and I had been kind to him and reminded him a little of himself years back. I told him that I could only hope someday to have the knowledge and talent he represented. He laughed and told me it was a sickness and that I was already infected for life. When we were leaving John was holding his little dog he had. He said” I really don’t like dogs but this one is different, I really love the little guy.”
Geoff and I had 4 very good years selling only Mid-Century Modern as Time Bandits, but never did we ever forget that the true master collector was out there rummaging through some garage about to find the ultimate piece to make us all gasp with glee!
Geoff and I will always be grateful to John because he treated these two ‘wet behind the ears’ guys with respect, always taking the time to be kind. He will be missed.