Death is vacillation.
Sure, it’s a lot of other things: finale, beginning, victory, defeat and a host of ideas, some too dreadful to name. It distracts and motivates, steals and rewards. Mainly, though, it’s a wash of reflection and regret pulling the mind back and forth.
One minute you’re fine, the next you’re lost in thought. One second you’re laughing, the next you’re staring pensively.
The death of 38-year-old William Chesser on April 23 threw many Mobilians into an emotional seesaw. William was a creative and gregarious sort, a man whose will and vision was enough to carve out a singular spot in his community before he succumbed to a heart attack in his Midtown home. Just three years ago, the talented hairdresser opened Chesser Art & Hair on Cathedral Square and the eclectic little shop became a cornerstone of downtown’s latest artistic renaissance.
During any downtown event, whether Arts Alive, a LoDa artwalk or maybe a happening at the nearby Arts Council offices, William’s nook-known to most as simply "Chesser Gallery"-was a requisite stop at some point in the agenda. The art was always intriguing, the hospitality warm, and the mixture of people invigorating.
It was all an extension of the proprietor. William was a tireless advocate for new talent, for those who might be shut outside the mainstream or might not move in the right cliques. As an unabashedly gay man, he was dreadfully aware of the cold shoulder, of the disapproving glances or whispers behind the back, and he sought to bridge those affronts whenever possible.
None of it would have been possible without the wellspring of warmth from William’s soul. He loved life and those with whom he chose to share it, and it was evident in the generous and genuine attitudes he exhibited. I can’t recall catching him with a cloudy countenance or exhibiting the backstabbing and political maneuvering that can seem all too common some times. He relished life too much for such.
It’s been hard to escape this loss for Mobile, its arts realm and the downtown community. It’s also hard to elude on a personal level as my mind wanders to things I shared with William. He moved to Mobile from Red Level, a rural south Alabama town that not many beyond Covington County know is there. My father’s family stems from the same hamlet, and a graveyard behind a primitive Baptist church near there is littered with my ancestors. William was laid to rest near Pigeon Creek, a rivulet where generations of my forbears swam seeking quick relief from the relentless heat, ever mindful of the water moccasins that could dart from banks and shoot across the tea-colored waters.
Also, William and I shared a love for my Better Half, a woman whose kindness and love for others was recognized and revered as much by Mr. Chesser as by me. It was she, in fact, who broke the news of his death to me and she who has been moved to tears while gazing over scrapbooks, perusing pictures of William from long-ago parties and weekends.
To date, a few memorials have been planned. One, an official requiem slated for the evening of Tuesday, May 9 at All Saints Episcopal Church (corner of Ann and Government Streets) is an event that will have transpired by the time this column hits the racks.
An observation is planned for the Arts Alive festival to be held on the afternoon Saturday, May 13 in Cathedral Square. Chesser Gallery will also be open for the event with "The Transparent Body," a show curated by Rachel Wright.
A longer memorial is in the works with a tentative date of June 1 being set. The locale being bandied about for that affair is L’Estrade, the former comedy club behind Spot of Tea in downtown Mobile. The organizers are touting it as something "William-esque," vibrant with a touch of irreverence and a stated aversion to the maudlin.
Chesser Gallery remains open as William’s compadre Vikki Turner Finch has lined up resources and solicited aid to sustain this living testament to Chesser’s determination and his kinship with a place and people he so dearly loved.
It’s doubtful as much hair will be touched there in the future, but its certain hearts will continue to be.