For the second time in recent months, the Adirondacks lost a longstanding member of the regional writers’ community. John Briant of Old Forge, known far and wide for his Adirondack Detective series of books, passed away on May 14. I’m not a religious person, and I can’t say to what extent John was, but if he was devout, he probably looked forward to reuniting with his beloved wife, Margaret, who passed away in June 2012.
If you didn’t know the Briants but you attended book events in the area, they were the loving elderly couple who clung so closely to each other. Each seemed to support the other. Her death last year was a tragedy that many of us feared would be John’s undoing as well.
The world of literature is filled with moving stories of young love lost and the tortured souls of survivors, pining for what once was or might have been. As John spoke to me last year of Margaret’s passing, it became clear that, at least in this instance, age had nothing to do with love’s depth or fervor. He at times wept while describing her hospital stay, her unexpected death, and the deep sense of loss that had since enveloped his life. Had John not mattered to so many people in so many ways, he might well have left us soon after Margaret did―just from grief alone. He had lost, after all, his partner, love, and inspiration.
John soldiered on, painfully aware that life could never be the same. It truly was heartbreaking at times to know he was suffering so. But it was also inspirational to see that great devotion and love had survived. He continued to credit Margaret for the success he had achieved.
My perspective doesn’t come from being a lifelong friend. In fact, I didn’t know John well. We met through a common interest in books and writing. I knew he was one of the highest-profile authors in the region, and I was pretty confident that he had never heard of me.
But I was wrong. We met at a book event in North Creek (Rhythm & Rhymes at the Hudson, sponsored by the Hudson River Trading Company). Early on, Margaret sought me out and introduced herself. After speaking for a few moments, she said John had insisted on meeting me, so I joined him at their table.
Visiting with them was the day’s highlight, for sure, but the ending was just as nice. At the event’s close, we were packing things up when I heard a booming voice: “Mr. Gooley!” I turned to see John in his car, stopped in front of the store. Shouting for all to hear, “It was great to meet you. See you again soon,” he waved and drove off. That he was such a nice man is what made the moment feel so good.
Every subsequent time that we met, I was more and more impressed with how nice the Briants were and how much John cared for his fans. He really seemed to love what he was doing, which no doubt accounted for at least part of his success. That and a powerful bond with Margaret, of whom he wrote shortly after her death: “Yes, I will miss her. She was my friend and partner. May God watch over this inspiring lady, and that she was. I was a most lucky person to know her for thirty-five years.”
It is so sad that they are both gone. I looked forward to seeing John at the main events this summer, but it was not to be. I’m sure others who knew him so much better than I will sense the emptiness.
What little I knew of the Briants was all positive: Margaret was a great lady in many ways, and there’s probably no better word than “gentleman” to describe John. He was kind, smart, thoughtful, and always gracious. They represented the Adirondacks in fine fashion and left us with many nice memories.
We’ll miss them.