One of the funniest, smartest, and kindest of people, Ernest Lockridge, died on November 15, 2020. Lewy Body Dementia had made him feel “like a flower without its petals.” That horrible dementia reached his autonomic system; he died a peaceful death at Kobacker Hospice.
Ernest was born in Bloomington Indiana to Vernice Baker Lockridge and the novelist, Ross Lockridge, Jr. (author of Raintree County). When Ernest was nine years old, his father committed suicide making Ernest the “man of the family.” He protected his three younger siblings from harm, and began his life-long role as a care-giver toward everyone he met. Ernest went to Indiana University and joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, deactivating rather than inflict the brutal hazing he had experienced on the next pledge class. Excelling academically, Ernest was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, received a prestigious Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, and was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship.
Ernest went to Yale for his PhD in English Literature. That required three living languages and Old English as well as a dissertation and knowledge of literature from the Greek classics to the contemporary poets. He completed the program in a record-shattering three years. Two of his graduate student papers were published. Such a rising star he was that Yale (contrary to their normal process) hired him as an Assistant Professor rather than lose him.
Four years after his PhD, Ernest became a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois. It was there that he had time to hone his gifts as a creative writer resulting in his first novel, Hartspring Blows his Mind, a masterpiece of the time, ethos, and complexities of the 1960s. Further, he had laid the groundwork for his next published novels, Prince Elmo’s Fire (a Book of the Month selection) and Flying Elbows.
The Ohio State University’s English Department wanted to initiate a Creative Writing program, one securely tied to great literature. Who could be better to make this happen than Dr. Ernest Lockridge? His creative writing had been acclaimed and his academic credentials were sterling, including the (still in print) literary criticism, Twentieth-Century Interpretations of the Great Gatsby. He accepted the position, and insisted that the program be developed through women and African-American faculty. He took teaching very seriously with great compassion for the struggles and dreams of his students and with great humor about the gilded lives of university faculty. In 1985, he received the most coveted award at OSU---the Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence.
Retirement called. Ernest was just 52---28 years in “full academic drag,” as he put it, when he felt he was “losing his edge.” He hoped for another 28 years for exploring other realms. With his wife, the sociologist, Laurel Richardson, he travelled to England, Ireland, Europe, Russia, Iceland, Lebanon, Australia, road-trips all over the United States and over and over again to Sedona Arizona and St. Pete Beach Florida. Together they wrote a cutting-edge, genre-challenging book, Travels with Ernest: Crossing the Sociological/Literary Divide.
For twenty-years he prepared a weekly Family Dinner, sometimes with fourteen at the round oak table, talking about religion, rough times, and re-runs. For years, he brought the therapy dogs to meet special-needs children. Then, too, there was music, like that alto saxophone saved from his teen-years. He started a jazz band with a very inclusive and diverse set of musicians; they had gigs at taverns and celebrations. Singing was a joy, too. Ernest’s warm bass-baritone voice blended into the choir at the Unitarian-Universalist Church. Joining his wife, he sang Hebrew prayers at Beth Tikvah.
Ernest added visual arts to his retirement agenda. (Copies of some of his paintings are in the Amazon book, Why I Love Ernest.) He joined the Painters Six Plus, entered and won multiple ribbons at juried shows and accepted (after much prodding) the presidency of the Worthington Area Art League. “Still life is a contradiction in terms,” Ernest wrote. “All things are alive. Nature is kinetic. It overflows with living design. By mimesis and imagination, the artist participates organically in this ongoing Creation.”
Ernest’s final series of paintings were of lone sailboats on large canvases. In the last one, a ferocious tornado is plummeting down the full length of the canvas, plunging into the ocean barely missing the dinghy afloat in the rough waters. He named the painting Whirlwind. “You see,” he said, “there is all this uncontrollable danger coming at us---and we are in a fragile sailboat.”
A month after Whirlwind Ernest was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Nine months later he died. As he had hoped, he lived fully and gratefully for 28 years post-retirement.
Ernest is deeply missed by many: His wife of 40 years, Laurel Richardson; his three daughters---Laurel Lockridge Woods (Michael), Ellen Lockridge Phillipps (Ben) and Sarah Lockridge Saade (Andre); his two step-sons---Ben Walum (Tami) and Josh Walum; his eight grandchildren (Shana West, Akiva Walum-Roberts, Natasha Woods, Katya Woods, Maxwell Phillipps, Caroline Phillipps, Alex Saade, and Chris Saade); his siblings (Larry, Jeanne, Ross); his two Papillon dogs (Bashi and Lily); other family members; and so many friends, colleagues, students and fellow writers, musicians, and artists.
Ernest Lockridge’s life was a blessing. May his memory be for a blessing, too. In his honor, you might hum a song, read a psalm, write a poem, walk a dog, donate to a charity (e.g. Kobacker House, Faith Mission, or MidOhio Food Bank.) If you see a house sparrow in flight, wish it a safe journey. Plans for a memorial service have not yet been made.