Helen came from somewhere else. Or so it has seemed to many.
That ever-opened heart. That artist for the people. That visionary Luddite pixilator. That lover of language after my own heart, lover of words, as well as of moving images.
Last Friday, dragging through the apocalyptic sadness of their house on North Rampart, Becky and I smiled again at the tidiness of Helen's always personalized filing and storing systems. I have to believe the "slob control" strategy we employed at home when she and Jake were much younger had lasting, beneficial effect. (Ask me about that after.)
At fifteen, every day in her Durham, England, comprehensive school, swatting for O-Levels, she wore the required schoolgirl uniform: grey skirt, grey sweater. I would pick her up after school and we would stop at a bake shop for our favorite English pastry, two caramel slices--for tea. You know Helen did tea parties!
Did she come from somewhere else? Was she too good for the all-too-real world that far too early robbed us -- and her -- of that extraordinary idealism, her gift to all of us?
Helen was very human. No one knows this better than Paul, who had the best of her.
But she was so different, so loving, so enjoying and enjoyable, so unafraid, so authentic that it could take careful watching over time to realize that she was not an airhead, and not an act. Years ago, a young professor of hers at Harvard told us that she had grown to love and respect Helen (of course), but that it had taken two whole weeks of knowing her before she concluded that Helen was for real--in fact, far more the real thing than most of us.
A slow bloomer, she kept intrepidly to the timing of her own trajectory into womanhood. Now everyone recognizes her strength and that confident smile, the daybreak in it and the light that seemed from elsewhere.
To me, she has grown more beautiful every year, through marriage, through creative, handmade work "against the machine", and through motherhood--my Helen as well as yours, my beauty.
Where did she come from? I've loved and watched her for thirty years. She came from her extraordinary mother, in whom I got lucky myself -- and from her kindred-spirit grandfather, Pop, memorialized in the film, "Mouseholes."
And she came to us through this church, more than a century ago led by her great-great-grandfather, a poet as well as a pastor. Helen came through its Sunday school, its catechism class, its community of hopeful dedication to the life-repairing, life-constructing values seeded in the language of its familiar hymns and bible stories.
The teachings of the faith in which Helen grew from childhood fell on well-prepared, fertile soil. And her amazing liberalism grew in response to a gospel of empowered humanitarianism.
What happened to her last week is a daunting, ghastly mystery, impenetrable to our needful search for meaning. But she believed in heaven. And if anyone ever deserved the heaven of traditional belief it was she.
Her life, touching so many others, beautifully illustrates the need to really get the connection between two particular biblical texts, however you take or don't take the Bible. The first, John 3:16, tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his Son that whosoever believes in him will inherit eternal life.
This is but a half-way station on the path of the faithful, like Helen. The second passage, following it, John 3:21, tells us that it is those who actually "do the Truth" who come to the "Light." No mention here of those who simply believe the Truth. There was so much light in Helen, in all her doing -- our girl, our beauty -- "anywhere."
January 10, 2007
I met Helen a couple of times at the Ann Arbor film festival. It was always a treat to hang out with her. She was a genuine, generous person and a brilliant filmmaker. We hit it off because of our shared taste for calypso music - I had a calypso-themed film in the festival and Paul at the time was playing with Piggy, a band which billed itself as "The #1 Calypso band of the Maritime Provinces".
What a shock to learn of her death. It's tragic and mind-boggling. Please let Paul know I'll be thinking of him.
This is Eve Troeh in New Orleans, a friend of Helen's.
Kittee came over today and we recorded the last voice
message she left for Kittee and Dazee as an mp3.
Thank you for managing this site! It means so much to have a community place to share memories and information on Helen.
My name's Fausto - I was a friend of Helen's from CalArts in the 90's. Since then we'd kept periodic contact and I was happy & honored to do the sound for her "Madame Winger Makes a Film" short a few years back....and until i left oakland this summer, postcards and artwork from her decorated my walls.
I live in western China now, and have just gotten ths news that's left me among the many, suddenly deeply-wounded by this event. This is wrong, tragic,fucked up. This news is likely among the worst things i've ever heard... Because i've honestly thought of those two all these years as iconic perfect examples of the sweet,earnest, creative goodness possible in this world. nothing short of a pair of walking rainbows to me..... hearing from and seeing their post-Kartina photos was an incredible inspiration ....genuine spirit, man. Could anything keep these guys down? Now what is this? Who is this evil bastard who thought nothing of breaking hundreds of hearts in an instant like this? for what? for a wallet the world's been robbed of so much. I just can't believe this..
So, because I'm so far away, i don't have access to many of the bits of media that I would otherwise be able to easily contribute, nor can i attend any of the memorial gatherings planned, sadly but I do have this: it's a short little segment from a live mix collage radio show I did in 1998 that featured Helen just telling little stories about her grandfather 'Pop'. it's only a couple and a half minutes long, but it's all I have here. It's dear little piece that captures the innocent, colorful sweetness of Helen circa 1994-95 or so.download the mp3 here
i will send anything else I am able to muster.
thank you for doing this.
Attached is a framegrab of Helen briefly on camera in a video documentary (ORPHAN IST) made during the Orphan Film Symposium in Columbia, March 2006. Helen attended the 4-day event and of course charmed everyone and made many new friends and fans, myself included. On the final night we screened some of Helen's new prints of her water-damaged, salvaged Super 8 home movies, which she introduced.
download the mp3 here
The audio file is downloadable, so you should feel free to use it as you find appropriate.
Also, the ORPHAN IST video is viewable at Google Video, though Helen's presence is extremely brief. It does however give a great sense of the North American network of likeminded film artists she was so integral to. (For the record the piece was made by 3 University of South Carolina students: Lauren Heath, Mike Johns, and Erin Curtis. It's title is a play on Gustav Deutsch's found footage work FILM IST., which he showed at the symposium. It also plays on the neologism "orphanista", which has been adopted by passionate advocates for orphan films as a term of endearment and comradeship.)
I hope to locate the mini-DV tape that has the outtakes, where I presume we'll find several minutes of Helen talking about orphan films.
By complete coincidence, I am visiting Columbia on Wednesday. If my plane's on time, I will be able to make it to the funeral, which is in the neighborhood where I lived and worked until July 2006. Kevin and Becky Lewis were my colleagues for 9 years at USC.
I'm now in NYC, very near Jason Furman's place, where the gathering is today. Will try to make it.
Thank you again.
I wrote a song about Helen. LINK to song
And here's my blog entry about it
letter to the editor of The State, Columbia SC
It was with shock and grief that I read the news about Helen Hill in your Jan. 5th edition "Columbia native dies in shooting: Independent filmmaker killed in New Orleans home."
Helen Hill was one of the most wonderful people I've ever known: warm, loving, selfless, talented, sweet-natured, generous. Although she was unassuming and soft-spoken, Helen had a charisma that endeared her to everyone. Her art and films are special works, ones which I hope Columbians and others will be able to see.
Your article told about Helen, her husband Paul, and baby coming to live temporarily in Columbia after evacuating their New Orleans home during Hurricane Katrina. Because she was in town during those months, many of us got to meet her for the first time. Serendipitously, Helen was in Columbia at the time of USC's Orphan Film Symposium (March 2006). Shortly before the event, she showed me some of her amazing animation as well as home movies she recorded of her family. Helen had rescued her films from her flooded New Orleans home and begun to salvage them.
Not all of the material could be saved. But she, in her creative, life-affirming way, made something special out of remnants of her work. She was beginning to have the water-damaged films restored and also incorporating the look of the damaged film stock into her animation. Those who saw her speak about and show these precious fragments at the final screening of the Orphan Film Symposium were moved. We had been lucky to have filmmaker Helen Hill in our midst for the four days of screenings and talks about the preservation, study and creative use of archival films. She made many fans during the festival, some Columbians and many from across the country.
Among those smitten with Helen and her work were the film archivists who created the Center for Home Movies. They worked with her to organize a special New Orleans version of their annual Home Movie Day, where people bring out their old family films and project them in celebration of the power of home movies to connect us. An image taken from one of Helen's damaged films was selected for the national preservation awareness campaign. The Center also began to collaborate with her to raise funds to preserve and restore her films.
As soon as the horrific news of Helen Hill's death was reported, I heard from dozens of people all over the country. They shared stories of their magical encounters with her. Most had only recently met her during the Columbia event. But all agree she was a rare and inspirational figure.
I share this with you in hopes that your readers will know that a beautiful soul lived among us, born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. Helen Hill still inspires me, through her films and through the way she lovingly lived her too-short life.
Hi Paul, its me Jaime...
Don't know if you remember me from the N.O. moment way back in the early 90's. I was one of your biggest music fans and still know the words to "Floating in an Airplane". I remember that you knew much more about the Palestinian situation than I did and that I always loved being around you two; I suppose I thought I was a bit too dark to get to close to you both or that I had little to contribute, but i regret not having gotten closer.
I'm not sure I can say anything to make you feel better, I hope that I won't write anything here to make you feel worse. I do know that in all my life, I've never met better people than you and Helen, and that is no exaggeration. I haven't kept track of you guys all these years, but I'm not surprised that you both have turned out to be such wonderful components of the human sphere. I hope you are well and recovering, the world will miss Helen deeply, but I am glad that you and your daughter are still here. I doubt there is anything you probably need from me, but you would only need to ask. Best wishes.
Dearest friends of Helen,
I have just heard of this awful news and wanted to send my condolences - though words of course can't speak at all in any way justified about this awful tragedy.
I can't imagine how awful this must be for Paul and their daughter. I remember Helen as always a bright and shining spark that proceeded and remained behind wherever she went. She had such a beautiful and full of life smile and laugh that it's almost impossible to believe they have been extinguished so soon.
My dearest, deepest sympathies to Paul and her family for such a monumental loss,
Karen Yaz Rose
I was talking to my brother in Toronto this morning and he told me that the terrible story of Helen's death has received much attention on the national news. Canadians are sad, and she is being mourned nationally. I wanted to let you know this, in case you didn't already. Here is a link to some stories on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).
I send you all much love in this sad, sad time.
xo Winsome Brown
I have a lot of pictures of helen on my computer. I am going to try to send them to you in batches. The first few of these are one of the first times paul and helen and dazee and i got together. the last two pics are from my bday several years ago, and the sweet cake helen make me that says "coo kittee."
link to first photo in set
I also made a short journal entry at www.kittee.livejournal.com
I met Helen and Paul this past fall, through our childrens' Music Together classes. A few weeks after the classes started, Francis started to attend school with our children (Will, age 3 and Kate, age 7 months). As the unofficial "photographer" for Abeona House (our school) and a frequent volunteer, I had many opportunities to spend time with Franny and to photograph him. Two weeks ago, I took photographs of the kids during their "Winter Formal" as part of a fundraiser for the school. Afterwards, my husband (also named Paul) and I ran into Helen and Francis at Oak Street Cafe, and shared a table and conversation. While we were there, the Oak Street pianist played a few pieces directly for the kids and Helen and Francis went closer to the piano to watch. I took pictures of them in this moment. I am attaching two from this set, as well as some of Francis from earlier in the day, to this email for the wonderful memorial webpage that you have set up.
link to first photo in set
A CD with all of these photographs, including the full set from the Winter Formal, several with Francis and his classmates, and of the memorial on the front steps of the Rampart Street home, was left in a package within the flowers and cards. There are several prints of these photographs included. I hope that they have found the family safely.
I had only officially known Helen and Paul since the fall. Yet Helen had always looked so familiar to me. I've recently discovered that Helen's first cousin, Annie, was the spouse of my husband Paul's first cousin, Julie Eastin. We were to attend Julie and Annie's commitment ceremony in Vermont late in the summer of 2000; had we been able to attend, we would have met Helen and Paul then. As it was, we watched Annie and Julie's ceremony video and actually helped organize some of the pictures... which is why Helen looked so familiar. She wore wonderful stripped tights to the wedding and I remember her in the pictures. My in-laws remembered Helen as well and they were the ones to put together the connection. There is no doubt that Helen's spirit and wide smile are so infectious that they are memorable even by those who haven't even met her!
I have put some of these memories and photographs on our family's weblog: www.coldspaghetti.blogspot.com . I hope this is alright with the family.
The horrors inflicted on the Hill and Gailiunas families and everyone who knew them are ringing through New Orleans like shockwaves. It was the first time we have talked, very very seriously, about abandoning our work and leaving the city. I know many other families have been doing the same. Paul, Helen, and Francis exemplify why we chose to stay -- because we found so many other parents dedicated to rebuilding a strong community in New Orleans. They inspire both Paul and I to continue to work.
Thank you for your work on the website. Please feel free to contact me for anything.
Holly Scheib and Paul Wisneskey
I cannot say any more, except to make this request: will you please add my message below and a poem by Helen to the memory website? I have also attached the same to this email.
With thanks and deep sorrow,
Helen was a perfectly true light in this world. She exuded a buoyant joy, yet she knew the fragility of the human heart. In the next world, where she is now, Helen will continue to shine. We will feel her ever glowing warmth, and she will hear our songs for her.
This is a poem she wrote in college.
her empty glass bottle body
must be very careful,
must watch for sudden drop offs
in its path, must keep its
hollow hands deep in pockets
her thinning shell of a body
must never walk barefoot,
never sleep on a bare floor,
must never fill its self with nails,
needles, razors or hot liquids
her stained glass lips and eyes
are useless, she is colorblind
and must not sing high notes,
must not look to far in the distance,
must not move her mouth too much
Published in The Rag: Feminist Journal of Politics and Culture
Radcliffe College, May 1991
I'm a friend of Helen and Paul's, and I've written a small post about her and her passing at my blog. I don't know if it'll strike you as appropriate or of any interest, but if it does, I'd appreciate it if you'd add it to the other memorials you have linked.philnugentexperience.blogspot.com
I'll always remember how kind and loving Helen was with everyone, all the time.
I know the love she shared with people will exist with us all, forever.
I'd like to share these few photographs I have of Helen.
Thanks so much,
link to first photo from Stephen
Paul, if there's anyone on the planet I've ever known nicer than you -- and it's hard to believe that's possible -- it was Helen. Her smile and friendly voice---even just a cheery "hello!" in the dining hall---were always enough to remind me of the light at the end of whatever tunnel I was in, even when I didn't want to be reminded. My tears, hugs, and prayers are with you.
Thank you for organizing this... it's been very important to me over the last several days to be able to reconnect in a small way with others who care about Paul and who loved Helen, especially since I won't be able to attend the memorial service in Columbia or Jason's open house in NYC. I've followed the Paul and Helen show fairly closely from afar (if that makes any sense) since college, since the two of them embodied in a totally different way the holy trinity that has also motivated much of my life with Tom in these years: social justice, public health, and independent film (plus the more recently added fourth element that either seems to bring otherwise like-minded people closer, or drive them apart: kids). I am so grateful to be able to see here how this amazing family has developed, and so concerned that Paul be able to continue on with all of the good stuff, even in Helen's absence. A warm virtual embrace to all, and thanks again for standing together. Julie
I have contacted LIFT (The Liason of Independent Filmmakers) here in Toronto about a gathering in her memory as I know Helen touched the lives of so many here. We should have details shortly and I imagine this will happen in the coming weeks, I will post as soon as I have that info. If anyone else is planning a Toronto or Ontario event, please share that information too. I have no doubt she would have felt so humbled by the attention but would have been sure to turn all of these occasions into ones that help others ? to fight the bad and just keep on creating more good. Please let?s keep creating more good.
from Jim's website: please see the videos page for his videos
On the day I met Helen and Paul, we had just made the long train trip from Montreal to Halifax and I was trying to decide between showering and eating before my book launch — I figured it might be hard to find vegan food in a new city and I didn’t have time for both. Paul, who’d picked us up, ushered us into a cosy kitchen to meet Helen. She offered me some stew, and regretfully — both because I was hungry and because I always felt bad rejecting people’s hospitality — I told her that I was hard to feed: I was vegan.
“We’re vegan too!” Helen exclaimed.
This was a lovely introduction to the delightful paradox of Helen and Paul. They looked and acted like folksy people from a simpler era, but were profoundly political. Not just in what they ate, but where they chose to live: they moved from their poor neighbourhood in Halifax where I met them to poorer neighbourhoods in New Orleans.
I visited them twice in New Orleans, which was a city that seemed as charming and magical as the couple themselves. The first time we were so in love with how they lived I asked Susan to walk through their bright yellow house with a camera.
The last time I visited it was around Hallowe’en, and they explained to me that some of the kids were so poor they trick or treated without a costume. So they’d bought plastic masquerade masks as well as candy. “And what are you, young man?” I remember Paul asking one kid who didn’t have a costume. The kid mumbled that he was just a boy. Paul handed him a mask and said, “Well, now you’re Super Just-A-Boy!” The kid put it on and went away happy.
The neighbourhood was pretty dangerous, though. They knew it. Paul told me that people had been shot nearby, and being a doctor he couldn’t be blind to the violence. It seemed to me that what Paul and Helen did was expect the best from people, give them the benefit of the doubt, and most times their goodwill and love was echoed back to them. But not all the time.
I’d emailed them after Katrina to see if they were all right. I got a postcard in response, saying that they and their 1 year old Francis Pop had left one day before the storm, and that they were now thinking of going back to New Orleans. “Are we crazy?” Paul asked.
They did move back, and a few days ago, someone came into their house at night and shot them both. Helen died, and Paul and Francis Pop survived.
Helen and Paul willfully and consciously lived in a dangerous neighbourhood, in a neighbourhood where they stood out as the only white family. Part of me wishes they hadn’t, of course, but part of me admires them greatly. To challenge race and poverty injustices they bravely put themselves in harm’s way, and if people can honour soldiers or cops for being willing to die for their beliefs I certainly can honour Helen.
i met helen, paul and rosie when they stayed overnight at my place on portland street in toronto about 8 years ago through sandy who was my roommate at the time. they both made a really strong impression on me as super nice and exceptionally friendly individuals and it is awful that this sort of thing would happen to them of all people. i wish strength and courage to paul and francis, and they should know that they always will receive my hospitality should they ever pass through toronto again.
The Plow Boys met Paul and Helen when came to Columbia to stay with Helen's parents until it was safe to retuen to New Orleans. Paul found out about Bill's plan to host a Katrine Relief Fundraiser. Not only did he make the largest donation of the night, he was able to enlist portions of the Plow Boys and Petrillo Relents to create the Red Dots. It was a one time preformance to an almost empty room, but they rocked the house.
Helen and Francis were not with Paul that night but later joined us for our numerous get togethers and wedding. They have been missed at these events since their return to Louisanna. Both brought laughter and joy to all of us here in SC. We were sad to see them leave. If we can open our doors to Paul and Francis again it would be an privlage.
I picked up the paper in Columbia, South Carolina today to see a picture of the family who at briefly attended classes at the Little Gym here with their son Francis. Our daughter Jodie was going at the same time. I had never seen more loving, affectionate parents. I am fellow physician and spoke to Paul about his medical career; it was apparent that he is one of the rare doctors who truly has received and responded to the "Calling" of medicine. I did not get to speak with Helen as much, but I was struck by her luminosity and evident generosity of spirit as well as her energetic enthusiasm in the class. People who truly live and practice their ideals are rare and irreplaceable. I pray for Paul and Francis and Paul and Helen's families that time will heal their grief and that they will be sheperded through this darkness as they have sheperded so many others. God bless you.
I met Helen, Paul, and Francis in March of 2006, while they were living in exile in Columbia, SC. I was a graduate student at the time, studying moving image archiving and preservation, and had recently received a grant to research the recovery of film, video, and sound materials damaged during Katrina. Through a filmmaker friend, I learned of the damage Helen?s animated films and home movies suffered. When I contacted her and asked if she would like to be a case study for my masters thesis, she enthusiastically agreed.
Helen graciously invited me into her home, and I spent two days there with her, learning about her work, the family?s post-Katrina struggle, and her DIY film recovery techniques. I was instantly in awe of her incredible determination. Helen's films were in such an awful state – covered with mold and dirt – that the film lab she sent them to for cleaning rejected them, returning them with a note that read, "Dear Helen, We?re sorry that your films are beyond restoration. Regards." She posted this note on the wall in their basement – her recovery lab – and thankfully never believed a word of it.
After the first few traumatic months following their relocation, Helen finally decided she would do something about those films herself. With a will more powerful than any moving image archivist, she did some research, and was able to set up a film cleaning operation there in the basement. At the time of my visit, Helen has cleaned many of the Super 8mm home movies, and was experimenting with cleaning the experimental 16mm films. The results were fascinating, motivating, and incredibly valuable to the moving image community. I wrote quite extensively about her salvage efforts in my thesis (which can be found at http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/program/student_work/index.shtml under "Thesis"). I also gave a presentation at the 2006 American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans, during which I spoke about Helen's recovery work. A transcript of the talk and lots of pictures can be found at: http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/research/disaster/06ala-talks/talk_vanmalssen.shtml
During my time in their home, I felt so welcome. Helen and Paul shared their stories with me, we played with the baby together, and I had the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful home cooked meal with them. On the second night, we set up what I believe was the only projector they managed to save from the house, and I had a private screening of Helen?s films. They were so playful, refreshing, full of life, heartfelt...so very much a reflection of Helen herself. I was truly humbled by Helen and Paul – the two most genuinely warm people I have ever met. Their love of life and of each other was inspiring.
Later that same week, Helen and I both attended the Orphans Film Symposium at the University of South Carolina. On the last night, she moved all 200+ attendees when she screened some of the home movies that had been recovered from her flooded home.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have met Helen. As an accidental preservationist, she impressed me with her resolve and dedication, and with the amazing results that she achieved with so very little. I plan to continue spreading her film recovery story to preservationists around the world who also might not have access to expensive equipment and resources. Her work will have lasting impact on our profession. As a wife, mother, and human being, she was just simply amazing. There are very few people in this world as magical as Helen. She touched everyone she met, and none of us will ever forget her.Link to the first of the photos that accompanies this
Last year about this time Helen called me to ask about doing some restorative oprtical printing on some film that had been damaged in the flooding from the Katrina storm. The material was selections of 16mm and s8mm that she thought best exemplified New Orleans as a town, a neighborhood and a phenomena. The sequences had mold and water damage that gave each frame an ideosyncratic quality akin to that of hand-processing or hand-scratching. Much of it was damaged beyond repair but the images that resisted degredation had the simplicity and charming easiness of a home-movie. When I do optical work for other filmmakers, I always feel that I'm looking through the eye of the maker - seeing the world as they see it. In doing the optical work for Helen, her love of people and place is clear. I feel as though I was able to see the neighborhood, the friends, the house, Paul, Francis and the pet pig - through her eyes. We had planned to do more work together - I am honored to have done the little work I did for such a talented artist and I find it deeply, deeply heartbreaking that I will no longer have the chance.
Until we meet again,
I can't believe I am having to do this. Helen was my mentor, touchstone, guidance in high school. I always wanted to grow up to be just like her, full of enthusiasm and love for the world around her. My heart breaks for Becky and Kevin and the rest of her family. I will always treasure our walks home Helen, and your love.
My husband Adam and I used to attend Food Not Bombs Events in Halifax. Paul and Helen would (have)recognize(d) our faces but we did not hang around them like some of you did. For this reason, it may seem weird that I am writing on the blog, but we have been completely flabbergasted all day (we now live in Ottawa) at this shocking news. The as a couple were the beacon of all that is good in talented young people--people that use their intellect and talents to better humanity. We do not know anyone else that even knew of them.We are here in mid-thirties suburbia, with our own little two year old son and have spoken of nothing else all day. And this from people who did not even know them as well as some of you do.
These were people living authentically, singing in bands (Piggy I remember), providing for the needy, and anyone who wanted to come and eat, helping sick people. They were amazing and we always admired them. They were creative and real and true.
We feel terrible for Paul and for little Francis and all families involved. This is a terrible blow to all.Adam and Rose
I am one of so many who knew you just a bit but plenty enough to know what a beautiful person you were and what an unfathomable loss this is. Helen ... and Paul and Francis ... there is a world of people crying for this tragedy right now. In Halifax, it rains and rains.
This is a photo of Helen in 2001 at the 4th Annual Splice This! Film
Festival in Toronto, where she launched "Recipe For Disaster", her
Since the festival started, she was an inspiring member of the Splice This family as a filmmaker, programmer and supporter. She will be dearly missed.
I hope you can include this photo on your website in honour of her enthusiasm for and dedication to independent filmmaking.
Thanks so much for setting up this wonderful tribute to Helen. I've known Helen since middle school and am so thankful for the time I got to spend with her, Paul, and Francis when they were "exiled in Columbia" last year. A friend of mine now owns the house Helen's father grew up in and every year she has a big Easter Egg Hunt. Helen and Paul brought Francis to his grandfather's house for his very first Easter Egg Hunt. They had a great time.
Helen (and Paul!) was a bright, bright shining light in this world...it's clear from all that I've read from her friends over the last two days that that light will never go out.
I knew Helen Hill?s films long before I ever knew her in person. I met her in the flesh in 1998 at the Ottawa Animation festival. I believe that her hair was streaked with blue at the time. She was so ebullient and filled with unalloyed joy, it seemed unnatural. Of course it wasn?t. The hair probably was. She immediately invited me to Halifax to meet all the other animation filmmakers doing amazing work out there. That I know Halifax filmmaking at all is because of Helen?s generosity.
It took almost two years of convincing, but finally Helen agreed to submit a film to me at the National Film Board of Canada. She had just finished Mouseholes, which is my most favourite Helen Hill film, and sent me a beautiful storyboard for a 3-minute film called Radio Song. Not only was it filled with the eccentric quirkiness and strangely beautiful drawings of all her other films, but it was in reading the storyboard that I became aware of the other key quality in all her films, that was so hidden in plain sight in Mouseholes. Helen?s films were full of love and affection for her subjects. Radio Song was just like that. It was a film about loving Canada, which Helen did in the way that only someone who chooses a place to live can. I think she really loved being a Canadian, and she most certainly loved being a Haligonian. It must have been the same with New Orleans for Helen.
I regret that Radio Song will never be made now, that I never had the chance to finish a film with Helen, but mostly that there will be no more of Helen?s brilliant, eccentric, insightful and affectionate films for the world to savour ever again. And that her particular light and spirit, which could energize an entire community, is so senselessly gone. My deepest condolences go out to her innumerable friends, her family, her husband Paul, and her son.
Producer, National Film Board of Canada
5 January 2007
I honestly thought that since the Toronto Globe and Mail's cover photo was of Helen and Paul it must be a good story - a story about great people doing amazing things in New Orleans. Maybe they received some humanitarian award for their good deeds? Maybe they ran into a burning building to save a chicken and a piglet? Just seeing their picture put me in a good mood automatically. Then I read the headline.
I remember Paul's first day at medical school. I worked in the health sciences library at Dalhousie then. He came in and introduced himself to everyone. We all thought, "What a strange thing to do, but what a nice guy." The second time we met he talked to me like I was an old friend. We met and talked often at the school and around Halifax, and he always told me about his girlfriend and how she was the best person in the world. Then one day she was there and I found out he wasn't exaggerating. Two people could not be more kind-hearted and friendly. And every object, action and event in their lives made sense - except for this.
My heartfelt sympathies go out to Paul, their son, and Helen's family and friends. But I also feel sorry for all those people who Helen would have befriended, helped, and cared for in the future ? those who will never know.
Cape Breton University
Sydney, Nova Scotia
It is an unqualified truth that both Helen and Paul were among the most selfless, warm-hearted people I have ever met. The loss of any human life is tragic, but for this to befall a family so committed to the betterment of society, and so thoroughly opposed to violence of any kind, is just heartbreaking.
I never met Helen Hill but the publication she created 'Recipes for Disaster' has had a direct influence on my film making and I
know has inspired many people here in the UK. All our thoughts are with her family and those that knew her well.
I went to Dalhousie University where I met Paul and Helen. We shared a few mutual friends. I was shocked to see their faces in the Toronto Star today and deeply saddened when I read what had happened. It's been a long time since I last saw Paul and Helen. I looked everywhere for my Piggy tape but I couldn't find it. I used to go hear Piggy play when I was in Hali. To this day I still sing that Floating in an Airplane song. I wanted it to be my wedding song... I remember Paul and Helen as two of the most generous spirited, warm and bubbly people I've ever met. I'm going to keep looking for that Piggy tape....
My thoughts and heart are with Paul and little Francis...
(Paul might remember me as the girl with the big red curly hair)
Helen and Paul were a huge part of the reason why I loved my adopted hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were sunshine and blue skies and laughter every time I saw them. I feel honoured and privileged to have known both of them. The last time I saw Helen, she had beloved baby Francis Pop still inside of her, and she looked radiant and joyful.
I am so very very sad. I didn't know either of them very well, just as people in my community who always managed to make whatever they were involved with that much better, who made the world seem GOOD.
Here are some scans of a neat little zine Helen made years ago. The odd thing is, I haven't seen this zine in years, it was tucked away in a box of letters and photos and other zines. Just yesterday afternoon, maybe three hours before I got the terrible terrible news, I found it and thought "I should hold onto this." This, in an afternoon of tossing cards and letters from dear friends on the recycling pile. It just made me happy to hold it, and I thought that's reason enough to tuck it away with the very special creations and letters I am saving. It's hard to see in the scan, but that's a real film cell taped to the cover. It's of two people with cotton candy hair and beards. When I heard the news and stopped my initial outburst of tears, I thought of the zine and went to look at it again. The front cover says "hold up to a light" and so I did, and I couldn't help but smile when I saw the absurd image. That's Helen, gently forcing light and joy into your life even when you least expect it.
I am also going to send a copy of an interview my friend Heather Harkins did in her fabulous zine Tally - I hope Heather won't mind. It's with Helen and Paul, way back in the day, even before the wonderful film "Tunnel of Love" was complete. Reading it, I can just hear their voices talking, excited, enthusiastic, engaged fully with each other and with Heather.
The last thing I'd like to share is a story of my own interview with Helen. I was a journalism student about 10 years ago. I had asked Helen if I could interview her for an assignment, and she kindly agreed to come over to my apartment so we could talk. That on its own was so thoughtful; I had so many assignments and things to worry about and she just made the whole day that much easier on me. I invited her up to my room and she presented me with apples. She brought me apples. Helen's kindness knew no end. She would help anyone at anytime. She was love, she and Paulie, as I heard her call him, were the real thing, stronger than anything.
I'm so, so, so sorry and so very sad.
Tara Lee Wittchen
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
She was always Helen - our teenage years:
I was going through pictures to find things to share. There is almost no time in my photographed life that Helen has not been my friend. Every pile in my jumbled box revealed her laughing, mostly with Paul, dressed in some outrageous thing that didn't look outrageous on her. She was such a genuine person that nothing she did seemed artifice. And she was always Helen, all that time, she was the effervescent person you knew. My life has been blessed with her happy worldly-innocence for more than 25 years.
I remember when she first came back from England, her voice transformed. It was the funniest thing. She loved those folks so much that it stayed in her voice. I couldn't even understand her at first, her mild southern accent mixed with something very strange, but beautiful. It mellowed over the years, but never left.
I remember our purple fish society. We ran all over Columbia with a bottle of purple ink, touching inked fingers together, drawing little Christian fish on landmarks around the city that seemed like they needed them.
One day we biked to the railroad tracks along the river and hung-out with folks that were homeless, that were doing heroin, and joined them flattening pennies under trains to pass the time.
She was obsessed with these guys in our high school in "Sovereign", a Christian speed metal band, who sang their messages against suicide and darkness in the style of a band called "Slayer". She treated me to my only night of slam dancing following her to their concert. There was darkness, deafening music, and a strange sense of brotherly love as we smashed into one another while someone threw nerf footballs.
She was my comrade in school. We passed notes about Blake and existentialism under the disapproving eyes of Mrs. Kaminski who posted a sign above her AP English class that read, "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here".
We were at Governor's School for The Arts at Furman where we laughed at the irony of hosting a group of teenagers with "artistic potential" on a Southern Baptist campus where a cheerleading camp and pastor's convention were happening simultaneously.
There was the Waystation, our name for a house on Green Street, where members of "Lay Quiet Awhile", a band we loved, lived. We would hangout there when life got crazy. And my life did get crazy for a while and Helen wrote me poems, painted me pictures, quoted e.e. cummings at me in notes covered in marvelous doodles, and took me to the mountains to visit "The Farm" in her efforts to heal me.
I think some people think she was naive, a permanent child who needed protection, but that isn't true. She kept her innocence, protected it in some magical bubble, but always knew the dark. She willingly danced at the edge of it, shining her pure light, her vision, her soul into places where there was evil. Please don't talk about revenge, about killing the soul-sick monster that killed her. Talk like that spits in the face of Helen's life.
I don't understand this ending. I don't understand what has happened, but I think it is up to those of us who are left to hear Helen's life loud and clear and not give-in to hatred. My prayer is that her death might bring peace somehow to the city that she loved, to the world she brightened with her vision. I don't think that God works that way, I think God's message is constant like Helen, but sometimes people have to be shocked into action. Helen didn't. She just acted.
-Airlie Sattler Rose - - airlie [at] mindspring [dot] com
To Ms Hill's family.
I send my deepest condolences. We showed one of Helen's films, Bohemian Town, here in Victoria last November, as part of the Atlantic Filmmaker's Co-op's 30th Anniversary program. It is a great film, so sweet. I met Helen very briefly at a film conference years ago. We are so sorry to hear of this tragedy. We wish you strength to carry on.
Like the medium with which she was so impassioned, Helen Hill embodied—and radiated—light. She was a luminous spirit with a melodious voice and an unquenchable smile. I came to know her at Phil Hoffman’s film farm in the summer of 1999. She handed out ‘Camping is Fun’ patches to everyone, and we sewed them onto our clothes. We fondly referred to her as ‘Mrs. Rodgers’ amongst ourselves. As radiant as she was, her eyes shone even brighter when speaking of her husband, Paul. Her affection for him was so profound when she said, “I love him. I love my husband,” I can feel it today as I did then. Helen’s creative work is infused with down-home charm and a ‘real folk’ sensibility. Semester after semester, her film, ‘Mouseholes’ and her cookbooklet of hand-made film techniques, ‘Recipes for Disaster’ have enchanted my students.
I will always remember Helen Hill as a beautifully unique being who walked this earth in a state of irrepressibly good humor down to the bone.
Ken Paul Rosenthal
January 5, 2006
helen was an amazing wonderful person, and she made a big difference in my life in halifax. i remember so strongly her disbelief that anyone could be bored - there is so much work to do in the world, so much fun to be had, so much art to be made! i loved her and am so sad that i had not seen her in many years. i treasure her as my animated film instructor - those classes were one of the few lights in the dark years of medical school (as you know they can be). paul, my heart is with you and francis. i am in vancouver now, so if you need a place to stay here, or feel up to a visit if and when you come, please call me or email me. call me or email me anyway if you want - i would love to talk to you.
love and peace and big hard hugs,
My family (Kevin, Coryelle-10, Jack-8, and myself-Cory) live two doors down from Helen's mother, Becky. We met Helen, Paul, and Francis after evacuating from Katrina. They were always walking Francis everywhere no matter the weather. Francis seemed to always take his socks off and loved being outside....just like my two kids. We were lucky enough to attend his one year old b-day party. We were also fortuante enough to meet Paul's Mom who is also a breath of fresh air and a breast cancer survivor like myself!!
During my yard sale last year, Helen shopped numerous times buying children's toys, art projects, and a "Hubba Bubba" mug for Paul. I tried giving her the the items from her multiple shopping trips to our yard but she would never accept:) She later showed me one of her art projects that was made from our old treasures. She took the head from a "Blues Clues" stuffed dog and attached it to a "Groovy Girls" mermaid:) It was so much fun....just like Helen!!!
Helen and Paul brought such a breath of fresh air to our neighborhood. Her refreshing, vivacious, eclectic, child-like enegy was thoroughly enjoyed and will be greatly missed.
Helen, your spirit among the stars will help brighten the darkness in our hearts. We'll miss you and your smiling face!
"Three Pondy's and an Upton"
Cory Upton and Kevin, Coryelle, and Jack Pondy
Thank you so much for setting up this site, and so quickly. There are so many people who are shocked and deeply saddened and this gives us all a place to go, grieve and share.
I was one of the many blessed by Helen and Paul's time in Halifax in the late 90's. I didn't live in their neighbourhood and there surely are many others who knew them better than I did, but Helen and Paul had a way of touching everyone who they came into contact with. They had a profound sphere of influence, resonating joy and generousity and a sense of wanting to make the world a better place for as many people as they possibly could.
When Helen was expecting Francis I can remember someone here commenting on how very fortunate that child would be to be born into a life with such beautiful and generous parents as Helen and Paul. If you could choose your parents, the thought went, then your first choice in the entire world would to be raised by them!
It is so sad and tragic and difficult to comprehend that Helen is now gone. I feel so deeply for Paul, Francis and Helen's parents and family.
I thought I'd include a Halifax photo from the archives of the Atlantic Earth Festival, taken in Halifax around 1997. It is of the now legendary calypso orchestra of Atlantic Canada, Piggy, of course fronted by Paul. They played at so many festivals and benefits and were so much fun. As far as I remember they never took any money for playing, so typical of Paul and Helen. Helen would often design playful and hilarious costumes and stage props for Piggy shows. As you can see here - even though she is technically not in this photo, her stamp is all over it!
With both profound sadness and joyful memories,
Halifax, Nova Scotia
hello from montreal;
I just wanted to tell of the time on Sept 11th, 2001 in New York City and I was living in a squat that was falling down and no phone calls from family or friends were comin in - it was just silence and fear and i picked up the phone to see if it was working - i just needed to hear a voice - and i dialed my work voicemail and there was one message - and it was Helen and I got tears of joy on my face and her message said "...oh Spike it just looks crazy up there in New York City, why don't you just get on the bus - you just get on the bus - and get down here to New Orleans. There's lots of pianos for you to tune down here. We love you and hope you're safe..."
Hi, here in New Orleans T-shirts were made in Helen's honor, and as I understand many are being brought up to S. Carolina this week. They are available in New Orleans at Fun Rockin' on Decatur St. I think the price is $18.
I have attached the image hoping that it could be downloaded for those who would like to make their own iron on shirts etc.
I think Helen would appreciate the DIY aspect.
You can buy the iron on paper for your printer at most stores that sell printer papers and office supplies.
Please note- in order to print an iron on, this image must be reversed first, (and the size is slightly reduced in this attachment.)
If you think it would be easier, I could go ahead and flip the image and email that as well.
Thanks so much,
(p.s.-- the quote and the chickens are from her film "Scratch and Crow", the shirt was designed primarily by sweet Thomas Little in collaboration with Mo Lapin and myself.)
Hello all --
I thought you might like to know that Suday night, on WTUL, Tulane's radio station, the evening program "20th Century Classics" was dedicated to Helen and another artist recently killed in New Orleans, Dinneral Shavers -- the music played shared the theme of Dreams. The playlist can be seen at:
This news breaks my heart. I have never met Helen Hill, but I have met Paul under amazing circumstances. Dr. Galiunas delivered our first child, Sage, at the Dr. Everitt Chalmers hospital in Fredericton in 1999. Dr. Paul's bedside manner and amazing support made this birth experience extremely positive. I remember when he left the delivery room, he said "Malzotov". Sorry about the spelling, if it is wrong. My daughter, 7-years-old, is an exceptional child in school, in figure skating, etc. I often wonder if her gifts in life come from being "malzotoved". (Again with the spelling, I know). The day after Sage was born, Dr. Galiunas returned to Halifax to the Camp Hill hospital where my grandmother was in Restoritive care. He went to see her, gave her a hug, and told her that her first great-grand-daughter was born. For this reason, my extended family has a warm place in their hearts for Dr. Galiunas.
To all Helen's family and friends, my heart goes out to you.
I caught up with Helen, Paul and Francis in the French Quarter just barely a month ago. I was on the journey that I am still upon, that of looking for my next place in the world. I was passing through as part of my cross-country job searching trip, and I was curious to see how New Orleans and these dear friends there were doing in the wake of Katrina.
They drove in to meet me in the midst of a traffic jam typical to the bustling French Quarter. Helen and Paul were?Helen and Paul. Anyone reading this who knows them will affirm that there is no adequate way to describe the shower of positive energy that these two individuals radiate around them. Right away Helen greeted me with an indescribably delicious mint chocolate brownie she had brought. Yummy.
Helen was particularly excited to introduce me to their beautiful son Francis since we hadn?t yet met. She was also curious to hear about the progress of Tevah and Jonah as she knew that I had just been down in Texas visiting with my sister Airlie and her family. She and Paul talked about how they couldn?t wait until they could get their two families together again. Who would have thought that they would be getting together again so soon and under such horrific circumstances? It disgusts me.
We soon wrestled free of the traffic as we headed into the neighborhoods most affected by the floods for a look around. While they had been there many times before, Helen and Paul were eager to explore the area, looking for signs of renewal.
Helen was excited to see so many new RVs coming in, which were clear signs that the neighborhood was finally turning a corner.
Helen was keen to point out some of the lines on the windows and walls where the water level had remained at high levels for so long. In many areas of the 9th Ward, it wasn?t possible to see such lines at all because the water had stagnated over the roofs. While explaining the devastation, Helen and Paul (with prodding) mixed in anecdotes about their own epic trials and tribulations. In their proprietary light, sing-songy rhythm, they told me about Paul saving their cats, their refugee existence after the storm, dealing with their flooded house, the challenges that Paul had faced with his private clinic, and the wonderful work that he was doing in a clinic that served the underprivileged.
Truly internalizing the gravity of the challenges they had been living through was made more difficult by the fact that they told their stories in a completely upbeat manner, like describing a delicious bowl of ice cream.
The other reason it was hard to take it all in was because a pain was building in my head that was becoming difficult to ignore. I had felt a ring of discomfort when I first arrived into town, but I had hoped that a belly full of Coop?s pasta would set everything straight. No such luck, and the tide of pain continued to slowly rise.
Meanwhile, the ever-effervescent couple bubbled around me with their hopes for a renewed city. Helen was particularly keen to show me the colorful houses that had been built by Habitat for Humanity which had been built to house musicians who had lost their way in the storm.
It was partly because of Helen?s fervor for this one true bright spot in the New Orleans landscape that I decided to take their picture there. I felt that the bright colors of the houses were in some ways indicative of, and connected to the enthusiasm that Helen and Paul were bringing to the city.
I needed to get down the road that night but knew that I would not be going anywhere if I could not push back the incessant pain. As the sun set, we stopped for aspirin at their home that was the future sight of the tragedy that would unfold.
Seeing the two cats who had survived through two weeks in their flooded home gave me a sense of awe. They seemed so relaxed and content for what they had gone through. Then there was the room for Francis, full of toys, full of the beginnings of education. Animal pictures. When we entered the kitchen, I met Rosie the pig for the first time. I was taken aback because I sure didn?t expect her to be that big. Helen was my tour guide through the house, embellishing the story of each room while explaining how they had set up a temporary life for themselves. And talking of a brighter future.
I was weak with discomfort when Helen handed me the aspirin. I barely steadied myself to make it back out and to the car where Paul and Francis were waiting. They drove me back to my car and we took this picture right before parting company just a month ago:
Stupidly, I tried to drive out of town, but realized it would be dangerous for me to be on a highway in the state I was in, perpetually looking for a possible place to puke, so I pulled over to the side of the road in the outskirts of the French Quarter and did what I could to sleep until Helen?s aspirin could work its magic. Blissfully, when I ?came to? perhaps an hour later, the brunt of the pain had subsided and I was able to finally leave town.
Now in my mind the aura of peace that I felt at that time--like coming back to life-- is now combined with a slow motion replay of Helen handing me the aspirin in their house with a big Helen grin on her face and her hope that a child?s aspirin would do the job. It is a moment that still feels strong, transcendental, timeless. That aspirin is one simple gift that I will always cherish when I think of Helen.
It is shocking to even contemplate the passing of such a peaceful angel of optimism. When they took her, it was not just a life: they dimmed a shining beacon of hope for New Orleans and everywhere beyond it. I consider it selfish to call her my friend, because I see Helen as being more a friend to the world than just for me. The world is a less-happy place without her and I will miss her dearly.
Paul, thank God you are still here with us, because it would have been more than the world could bear if we had lost you both. Thanks to Helen, we have come to know you here in Columbia and for that introduction I can say that we are grateful. You are two unusually brightly shining stars and for me offered the hope that two people in life can find their truly perfect match no matter how much they dance to their own drumbeat. The two of you formed a union of two people more perfect for each other than the world rarely sees. The pain, injustice and sheer outrage I feel from Helen being taken from you can only be mollified by the knowledge that you were so fortunate to have had as much time together on earth as you did. How you will cope with her passing is more than I can contemplate.
No one blames you for what happened. You are a hero for saving Francis and doing everything you could to protect your family in the face of evil.
We all inadequately try to find the best way to describe the unusual sense of joy that the two of you have imparted on the rest of us, making us feel like the world is a happier place than we once thought it could be. I don?t want to lose that. Paul, please be strong. We need you and Francis to somehow rejuvenate the purity, the fun and the joy that has been robbed from us all. You will be in my thoughts as you find your new path in life.
Please let me know if there is any way that I can help, even if it is just an aspirin.
for formatted text with photos, please download the PDF file
I first met helen and paul 5 years ago. I was 18 years old and traveling by myself for the first time in my life. They let me stay at their house over mardi gras weekend. They were the kindest people I have yet to meet. several weeks later she taught a class about cameraless animation that I was lucky enough to take. She taught the class out of her and paul's house and for the first time in my life I learned how filmmaking was within my reach. Here I am 23 years old and I have produced several shorts and am working on another and I can't help but thing the first person to have ever put the ideal in my head that I could be a filmmaker is now tragically murdered.
There are people in the world that you may not be close to (and I had not seen her in 5 years, the last time I visited New Orleans she was out of town). But it makes you so happy they exist and other people are close to them because they are such warm and compassionate people they make you feel that the world can't be such a bad place. This is why I was so moved when I heard about this tragedy.
I would love to put together a screening of her films here in chicago. My friends runs Lumpen Magazine http://www.lumpen.com/ and own a gallery. It would be a great place to screen her pieces. do you know of anywhere I can get DVD copies of them? I don't think anyone knows of her here it would be lovely to let her art live on and I would love to help make this happen.
Thank you for putting together a website for her and I would love to be able to write paul too or if you could foward this messege to him.
I just want to say thank you for putting this site up. It's helped me in my process of grieving-- helped me feel less alone, find other folks in the NYC area who are torn up about this tragedy, and find articles about Helen and Paul in newsmedia across the continent, which (I know this is screwed up) make me feel less crazy for believing that we really lost one of the most important families in the country on Thursday.
I also just want to let you know that I heard a nice piece about Helen on NPR, done by a mutual friend in New Orleans. The link is http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/programs/2007/01/06/new_orleans_loss.html
Paul used to play guitar in the nude
Helen was pure
And together they were magic
The most perfect love and true
Creativity to burn
Helen's smile lights the whole world.
I wish I had known you better and more.
I love life, but I would have given mine for you.
So you could be here with Pop and Paul.
The world will never be the same.
We will never be the same.
We will miss you
through your work, your son, your husband
the greatness that can only be Helen Hill.
Peace and Love,
I?ll never forget Helen?s voice. In fact, I heard it before I met her. Back in Halifax around 1995, my girlfriend had told me of a fellow animator she?d met and who wanted to do projects with her. One day we came home and there was a message from this woman who had ANIMATION written all over her voice! I thought, this Helen sounds incredible and couldn?t wait to meet her. When the time came, I was bowled over by her and Paul. They both screamed of life, crazy Carolinian-Canadian-Lithuanian barnyard life. I could count on one hand the memories I have of them when they weren?t laughing and still have enough fingers left over to make hokey peace symbol, the kind of gesture Helen and Paul would rightfully demand of us in the darkest of times.
love to all,
New York City
For the Loving Memory of Helen Hill
I imagine walking down the street
and noticing this woman walk by
and thinking to myself,
"What an interesting looking character,"
then smiling and moving on.
I imagine noticing her everywhere
I go from then on,
like in a cafe
where I sit at a table near to her
in her line of vision,
casting innocent glances in her direction.
I imagine she would notice
because she's not the kind to overlook
a stranger's innocent glance.
I imagine her smiling at me,
and asking some penetrating question
only a dear friend would ask
because she's not the kind for idle chatter.
I imagine I would answer her question because
I imagine it is hard to deny her.
I imagine from then on
I would not be able to pass her
without at least a
I imagine I would eventually meet her husband,
(because she would never settle for anything less
than true love),
and I would not be jealous
because she is not the kind to inspire jealousy
in even the most wanting of hearts.
I imagine every time she spoke
I would remember some word,
some term or phrase,
and it would stay with me for days.
Then when we spoke again
I would bring it up
and tell her my thoughts on it because
I imagine she would have cared.
I imagine her laugh made others laugh,
that her food was delicious,
that her home was the perfect mix
of beauty and decay.
I imagine her convictions were strong,
that she cried sometimes,
that when she doubted herself she did so deeply
but that's what made her go on.
I imagine she woke up every morning
with a list of too many things to do
and added to it,
that she went to bed every night
and slept soundly.
I imagine she snored
because no one is so perfect.
I imagine her eyes sublime
behind those small, smudged glasses.
I imagine her smile resolute
against impeccable odds.
I imagine her mind a cotton candy machine
and her words sugar pink.
But most of all
I imagine her love overwhelming.
And her love.
I imagine her love.
There are tears in my eyes as I write this. I arrived back in Columbia the day after Helen's funeral...
Why her? Why Helen?
Hamba Kahle, Siesie
thank you to the lovely friends that put together the structure to make my memories of helen shared.
i have not seen or contacted helen or paul since we all moved away from halifax. i periodically knew of their whereabouts and wellness from hannah jickling. she assured me that you all were ok after the hurricane. i always meant to write but never made time. i spoke with hannah this morning and she told me the tragic news.
just three weeks ago, i was in costa rica, sitting in a city park, people watching . i was feeling down about the world. witnessing the ignorance and wealth of north americans travelling in central america was really disheartening. then i saw some kids with cotton candy.
i told my friend all about helen and her cotton candy machine and UFO (unidentified food organization) and what amazing people she and paul were and are. i told her about the art and music that surounded them and our family of friends in halifax. i told her about helen's new years resolution to write a postcard everyday for the whole year in 1999 (?) and how i copied her on my trip. i thought about how my attitude towards social change was inspired by helen and paul and how i wanted to make free food happen in my new home in the kootenays. then i felt better.
helen made the world a better place. now that she is gone though, it will still continue to be a better place because of her actions that we will remember, and the way this has affected and will continue to affect our actions and attitudes.
i am sending all the love i can out to helen's communities, friends and families. take care,
i am terribly sorry to hear the news about helen, and my thoughts are with paul and francis pop and all of helen's friends and family.
i wrote a small tribute to helen on my blog, and posted some footage we shot of her and her pet pig rosie while i was down staying with them a couple years ago. i sent helen and paul a copy of this footage a few months ago, but i'd be happy to send another copy if you'd like.
you can check it out here: urbanhonking.com/actionitems/2007/01/helen_hill_1.html
thanks for setting up this site, and i am very very sorry. please let paul know that if there is anything i can do to help i would be more than happy.
I was way down on the phone tree, apparently, so I only heard relatively recently. I just wanted to write to add my thoughts and sympathies to the torrent of others that I'm sure has found you in this dark time.
I never knew Helen except as the cheerful spirit forever hovering around you and Elijah, but it was always perfectly clear just from the way you regarded her that she was central to all the wonderful goings-on emanating from your corner of the world. Beyond that, my memories are dim now. I remember when you were considering focusing on eliminating malaria, and I will always remember your acoustic version of "You Love to Fail."
As unbelievably sad as things are, I hope you and Francis Pop will take very good care of each other, and have enviably rich and joyful lives ahead of you still. And though it may be of little comfort now, as nothing could be, I suspect you will.
All my best, Paul.
I have a lot of memories of Helen Hill. The first time I felt I met her was when I saw Madame Winger at the MadCat Women?s Film Festival in the backyard of a bar in San Francisco. It was projected onto a white, billowing sheet and it was immediately evident that whoever made the film was an original. I noticed in the credits she was in New Orleans.
Oh, yes. She was an unbelievable original. When I moved to New Orleans I met her and Paul in person as part of the New Orleans film community. You don?t forget meeting Paul & Helen. Wonderful, radiant, happy and giving people. The kind of people that make you believe in fairies. She came to my birthday party in 2005 and brought me a Venus Fly Trap as a present.
Every Thursday I worked at La Spiga Bakery?s booth at the Farmer?s Market in Mid-City. I used to look forward to seeing her smiling face. Soon she started coming with Francis and I got to see two smiling faces. She would buy a bag of croutons for Rosie. Rosie loved those croutons. Sometimes she would buy a treat for herself. She told me Paul was a vegan and that when they got married she promised him that she would be a vegan at least six days a week for him, so she had to save it until Sunday. I always felt bad having to charge her. Helen was the type of person you would want to give her whatever it is you have.
I took her animation class through the New Orleans Film Collective. I was excited to see some more of her work. She was so creative and encouraging. The type of teacher that would call you up to make sure you did your homework and ask if you needed any help. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina interrupted our last classes. We all scattered.
Dawn and I evacuated to Baton Rouge. Paul stayed with us when he came to rescue his cats. He went down to New Orleans with Dawn because we had press passes and could get past the National Guards. He got our cats, too. One bit him really bad, but he didn?t let on how bad it was until much later. Apparently he had to go to the hospital and get several stitches. He just didn?t want to worry anyone. Helen was calling constantly to make sure everything was going okay. She was very concerned.
Dawn and I were home for the holidays this year. We saw Helen and Paul New Year?s Day outside their Marigny home with Francis. They were shooting their New Year?s film with their Super 8. I hadn?t seen Francis walking and talking, yet. He easily said our names. He is so clever. The most beautiful family ever looked happy and excited as always.
Francis comes from amazing DNA. The loss of Helen in the world seems so wrong. She had so much to give.
Much love Paul and Francis. Her spirit will carry on in you, me and everyone else she ever met.
read at Helen Hill's memorial service
This is a task I had hoped never to be called upon to do, at least not until I was 97. Helen?s and my friendship truly started in 7th grade, 24 years ago, when I passed her a note in class asking "Will you be my best friend, yes or no?" with a box by each option. Thankfully she checked "Yes." From then on we were inseparable. We had so much fun together, being each other?s support through adolescence, where having each other as friends meant everything.
Helen could make me laugh like no other. Once we laughed so hard that I fell out of bed in the middle of the night, waking up her entire family. This led to a ban on sleepovers at her house for quite some time. A few months later we did the same at my house, and after waking my parents 3 times due to our laughter, Helen was banned from sleepovers at my house as well.
We loved listening to the Beatles, walking in the rain each wearing one boot (full of water) and otherwise barefoot singing "We all live in a Yellow Submarine" at the top of our lungs. We shared an army coat which we decorated with peace signs. We had community apples from which each person took one bite (and from which I got mono my senior year).
Helen loved the farm, the North Carolina home of her aunt Annie Ager.
Helen also loved the State Fair, which always came in October. We went annually, making a bee-line to the photo booth, saving our quarters to take lots of silly photos with the background half orange, half blue, (our signature background.) We squeezed in 2, 3 or 4 of us, and then we carefully cut up the photos so each person could have one.
When Helen was in England for her 10th grade year, I was in Israel. We wrote letters, she sending me wool gathered from a fence near where she lived in Durham, me sending cotton from a field near my kibbutz.
When we returned, we decided to join the Dreher High School varsity softball team, because we met the criteria of being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We were the token academics on the team, playing a total of 2 innings in 2 years, a feat of which we were absurdly proud.
Helen became the first female president of the Key Club, a service organization at Dreher. We broke the all-time record of collecting cans for the needy when we went door to door in our neighborhood with a wagon. At a Key Club convention in Myrtle Beach, Helen insisted on swimming in the Atlantic in February, and smoking a cigar as part of the Key Club Presidential tradition.
Helen achieved her childhood dream of studying animation both at Harvard and then more fully in graduate school at Cal Arts. After that, I was honored to be Helen's maid of honor at her and Paul's wedding in Columbia in 1995. I was recently reminded that she and I had planned to marry each other. We had practiced marching down the imaginary aisle together numerous times in our teens to the tune of "here comes the bride" played by my musical watch.
Although we lived in different cities, throughout the years, Helen was a wonderful friend to me. When I was single and hoping to find a partner, Helen offered to arrange "date week" for me, in which she'd have a series of nice, eligible partners for me to meet. I'm sure she promised this to many friends--because she always felt that everyone deserved to be loved the way she and Paul loved each other. And although I never took her up on it, the offer always made me feel better.
I visited Helen and Paul in every city in which they lived, and every time I was struck by how perfect they were together. When Francis Pop joined the family, they couldn't have been happier.
In May 2005, Helen served as my maid of honor in Chicago, when Ben and I wed. For our wedding, she wrote letters in secret to each guest and family member inviting them to send back a postcard in which they shared a memory of us, or a photograph, or their wishes for us as a newly married couple. She put it together in a book of quilts that I had admired on a previous trip to New Orleans, and it became our most cherished present. I know that we were not the only lucky friends to benefit from Helen's creativity and selfless donation of her time.
I am having trouble believing that her beautiful life was cut short. Helen who has always been there for me, and for many others. I know that I am not the only person who called her "best friend" - the beauty of Helen's big heart is that there was room in it for all of us. We loved her so, and I hope we can honor her life by taking her example:
I had to pull over when I heard about Helen and Paul on NPR this morning. Even though I haven?t seen Helen since we were kids growing up in Columbia, must have been at least 22 years ago, memories came flooding back of how much fun I had with Helen, how real she was, and based on the testimony on NPR, how much of the same positive impact she must have had on everyone she met. I listened to the mp3 of her phone message from Jan. 3rd, it was just like being 13 again. I loved Airlie?s message. I?m just happy to have these memories of Helen, and glad to be part of the extended family of those whose lives she touched. I will really miss her.
Thank you very much for posting the email fotos of Helen on the Memorial website.
The site is wonderful, Darlene (my wife) and i do not have television or internet at home, we are able to access the website at the Quickdraw Animation Society where i work, and where Helen and i taught some courses together.
Darlene and i have spent hours gazing into the Memorial site for Helen and are awestruck at all the information provided and the work so many people have helped contribute to create this memorial for all to see.
We wish you much bright and animated light!
link to first photo from Richard
I can't remember a time when I didn't know Helen. As long as my memory has existed?.that is how long we have been friends.
In 2nd grade, someone had a book entitled How to Become a Wizard. Helen, Cissy Fowler and I knew that it was entirely possible to achieve Wizardry (is that a word?) if we did everything the book said to do. So we would slide the book across the floor to each other every time we watched a filmstrip and the room was dark. We would read our instructions and then sneak to the bathroom to carry out whatever act was required of us. Usually a cartwheel with eyes closed, hopping on one foot with one shoe off?.stuff like that. One time I was in the bathroom becoming a wizard and wouldn't you know that we had a fire drill? I was terrified that I would get into trouble, so I stayed in the bathroom and hid while the whole school evacuated. Helen knew that I was in there and I can't remember what all went on when the teacher realized I was missing, but I think she got great pleasure from knowing I was in the bathroom doing cartwheels. We all became wizards and then moved on to 3rd grade when we became Brownie Scouts. I have very vivid memories of the Brownie Father-Daughter Dance, and pictures of Kevin and Helen cutting a rug. I believe Helen was "Chicken Little" in the play that we put on; (don't you love that she got her start as a Chicken early on!) I can still see her in her red tights, standing in front of our refrigerator box painted to be the play backdrop.
I especially remember our 4th and 5th grade years, when Helen and I we were absolutely inseparable. We had wonderfully tacky 70's bikes, which we would ride everywhere. And I mean everywhere! Life was different back then and kids could just hop on their bikes and go; the parents never worried because there wasn't much to worry about. We weren't supposed to go under the bridge and walk across the pipe on the creek, so of course we did, and it was always great fun. If our shoes got wet, we had no trouble thinking up a good story as to why. Helen and I were soulmates back then, because we were the two girls who were not girly. I wouldn't really say we were tomboys, but she had Jake, and I had 2 brothers, so we wanted to do all the stuff they could do. Helen adored Jake and so did all of her friends. I was particularly fond of him for not telling on us when we were smoking cigarettes in the bushes at her house when we were 9 or 10. We weren't inhaling because of course we didn't know how, but we especially loved the flipping and the tapping of ashes, feeling like cool grownups. They were Marlboro Reds, and as you can imagine, that was enough for two 9 year olds to never want to smoke again! Helen and I spent a good bit of time at her grandparents' house. She had a special relationship with Mimi and Pop. It was rare among our friends to find someone who was as close to his or her grandparents as I was to mine, and I loved that Helen was as enthralled with and adoring of her grandparents as I was with mine. 4th grade was also the year we took Ballroom Dancing ( picture 10 year olds waltzing and two-stepping if you will?totally ridiculous but really a lot of fun). Helen, Zach Snead and I always rode together and my favorite memory was the Costume Dance, where Helen dressed up a clown, I was Little Orphan Annie and Zach was Elton John. Helen and I laughed at his big green sunglasses until we practically cried. They were three times the size of his whole head. I can't wait to share my stories of our childhood with Francis Pop one day. Don't tell anyone, but I will even take him to the forbidden creek and let him get his shoes wet.
5th grade. Helen and I changed schools and were thankful to still be together. Our teacher was Penelope Rawl and we both loved her because her class was wonderfully creative and different. Ms. Rawl brought in a filmmaker, I think his name was Stan, who taught and guided us in making OUR VERY OWN ANIMATED FILMS. We soaked this up like sponges! It was the coolest thing we had ever done in school. Helen and I were beside ourselves. We drew on blank film with Sharpie markers and we also taped large pieces of paper to the floor, on which we created our characters out of chalk, aluminum foil, yarn, whatever we wanted! Mr. Film Guy (Stan?) would help us photograph frame by frame as we manipulated our characters ever so slightly so that the film would have continuity. Then we got to record a soundtrack for our respective movies, and that was the icing on the cake! To this day, that experience remains the best I ever had in any school. It did not surprise me in the least when Helen decided to make a career of it. I love knowing that it all started with a class project. And I love that I was there to share the joy of it all.
Middle School and High School brought bigger, different worlds, and Helen and I grew into different circles of friends. Though we drifted apart, we remained friends and knew that we would always know each other. In our adult years, we didn't correspond much, but we kept up with each other through Christmas visits. Every year when she and Paul were in Columbia for the holidays, I relished the sound of her voice on our answering machine inviting us to Becky and Kevin's for a get together with friends old and new. It was always my favorite party. I can still see her huge smile one of those nights, offering me a cookie and saying "They're VEGAN!" with that delightful mixture of Southern-British-Canadian accent and that delicious giggle she always had. I will never forget meeting Paul for the very first time; I called my mother immediately and said "He is JUST LIKE Helen! They are perfect for each other!" and we were all so happy for both of them. That same night, Helen set up her equipment and showed me the Scratch and Crow movie, and I was delighted. Later came the Lucky Pig postcard of Helen and Paul and Rosie, and I remember thinking "they are so fun, so unique and so happy!" That is the way that I will always remember Helen. Always sharing her joy. Always, always smiling, and always true to herself, her beliefs, and her friends.
To write this means that I have accepted a tragedy that took away one of my most cherished childhood friends, a living memory of all that was good and simple in this world. I wrote to a high school friend after Helen's death, "I have resolved to be more Helen-esque in 2007 and the years to come. Imagine if 20 people, or even just a few, have resolved to do the same, what a better place this world will be." I am overwhelmed when I read the memories on the website; overwhelmed at the impact that Helen had on her friends, colleagues, her neighborhoods, and on the world. What an amazing human being she was, and what an incredible life!
Helen's spirit will live on and on?. touching people, changing lives, and making the world a better place for all of us. I am unsure of why bad things happen in this world, but I do know one thing for sure. Helen knew it. Her friends know it. Becky and Kevin, Jake, Brett & Wyatt know it. Paul and Francis Pop will always know it. What I know, and what we all know, is this???that LOVE IS STRONGER THAN DEATH.
The first time I ever saw Helen and Paul, they were running around with respirators on.
It was the end of October, or maybe the beginning of November, just a couple months after Katrina.
I'd come down from Connecticut, as I had the two previous years, to show my books at the NOLA Book Fair.
Usually I stayed at my friend Kit's B&B in Carrollton. But this year everything was different. She had to "run," as she put it, with her family from K. Then again, after taking refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast at a relative's place, from Rita.
Her house on Fontainebleau had taken three feet of water in the basement apartment, and wind damage had torn off her roof hatch and ripped off a big tree branch that had seared off her utility meters on the way down. There was no electricity, no gas, no potable water, no phone working. Her cat Mew had somehow survived it all. Kit was staying with her family at a cousin's in Metarie. Her daughter's house in Lakeview was a total wreck.
Despite all that, Kit found me a place to stay, at Caroline's boyfriend Gordon's house on Lowerline, not far off St. Charles Avenue. His place had suffered no damage whatsoever, and all the utilities were working.
During my stay I'd go over to Fontainebleau whenever I could to help Kit out. During one of those times, after working on her place, Kit said she was going over to help some friends clear out their house in Midcity. She asked if I wanted to come along.
Seeing New Orleans through the eyes of the media and being there were two completely different realities. Now I could see?and smell?for myself the incredible damage to the city's infrastructure, but also to its heart and soul. Yet in the midst of this overwhelming tragedy, people were getting busy, trying to clean up the mess and start over. In this they were mostly on their own, though sometimes they had the help of grassroots groups springing up like Common Ground, or from church or other charitable organizations. This dedication in the midst of disaster was profoundly inspiring.
I hesitated when Kit asked me to come along to Midcity. It was getting late in the day, I'd just been helping her out, and sort of wanted to get out on my own a little. But then I realized I was here to help more than anything, and if 79 year old Kit could summon the energy to go on after all she'd been through, then I could too. So I got directions and rode a bike I'd borrowed from her over to the neighborhood.
That's where I met Helen and Paul. They immediately proved to be the epitome of profoundly inspiring.
The floor of their one story house was about eight feet up from the sidewalk, but they'd taken three feet or more of water, as was apparent from the black lines on their walls. All around outside, in every direction, were piles of debris accumulating on the sidewalks and spilling off into the streets. The city had recently announced that it would begin picking up all this stuff sometime in the uncertain future.
All this was almost too much for me. But when I went into the house with Kit, there were Helen and Paul in their respirators. They weren't one bit depressed as they sorted through their belongings to see what could be salvaged, which wasn't much. In fact they seemed to be in high spirits, especially Helen. She got excited when she found the least thing that hadn't been ruined, like a big Tupperware type container whose tight lid had kept the floodwaters from spoiling baby Francis' (he was elsewhere) clothes within.
This crazy optimism and excitement was highly contagious, and I soon caught it. While Helen went through their things in the house, I went with Paul to clear out stuff they'd put in an old one car wooden garage in the backyard. The idea had been to go through it later to see what could be salvaged, and later was now.
Before we started though, Paul, ever the good doctor, asked if I had any condition that might make it hard for me to carry out this task. I told him about a chronic lower back condition, so he gently asked a few more questions. I was touched, surprised he was so caring of a stranger, but assured him I was up to the job.
I figured a dust mask would be enough protection, since I'd just be going in and out of the garage, not hanging out in there for long. So I snapped one on and Paul and I got to it.
Unfortunately almost everything ended up out on the sidewalk, including reels of Helen's precious film. And the further we got into the garage, the worse the air got. Noxious accumulations of repulsive left over floodwater were pooled in some of the unsalvageables and had to be dealt with carefully, necessitating longer stays in the garage.
Nevertheless, we'd gotten most of the stuff out of the garage before I noticed that I was getting a headache and starting to feel nauseous. When I told Paul about that he advised me to stop working. What he was kind enough not to say, but Kit was honest enough to, was that I was a damn fool for not having put a respirator on.
Already feeling queasy, I made my goodbyes to Helen and Paul, and they beamed at me, as high spirited as ever, in their effusive thanks. But I was a little disappointed in myself, felt I'd let them down because of my bravado, while they had lost so much and were still carrying on.
I went over to my borrowed bike to pedal off into the sunset. But before I did I took another look around the neighborhood, debris and destruction in every direction as far as I could see, trying not to imagine what I'd been breathing in the garage, what was floating in the air all over Midcity and the rest of New Orleans and the whole entire ravaged Gulf Coast.
I started to feel better as I pedaled onwards, but those bad feelings, along with the headache and nausea, didn't totally go away until well into the next day.
Stronger and more lasting were the good feelings people like Helen and Paul, Kit and her family, folks from Common Ground, People's Hurricane Relief, the NOLA Book Fair gang, and so many more inspired and impressed upon me.
Because of them I came back to New Orleans in August of last year to be part of everything that was happening. I saw Paul and Helen a number of times while I was there, at Kit's house, the Book Fair, a showing of experimental films at Barristers Gallery. And I got to meet their beautiful son Francis, who, I told Paul, shares my grandfather's first name.
Family ties called me back to New England after only three months in the Crescent City. It wasn't until a week after her murder and Paul's near mortal wounding that I learned the horrible news.
In a world where there are so many needless tragic deaths every day, it's hard to single out one for special attention. But having known Helen and Paul, having met them at their Midcity home in their respirators that fall day two months after Katrina, it's impossible to forget how much they've meant to so many.
I'll be coming back to New Orleans one of these days. And when I do, and until then, I'll be remembering Helen and Paul and Francis - and y'all.
Hello,kathleen from New Orleans here. Reading this site I think of connections. How Helen and Paul made them with everyone, how many of us at the funeral were looking around at people we 'recognized' but didn't know. I am hoping this at least brings many of us together as true friends, filling in the circle, meeting new-ish people we know to be wonderful; as they were in Helen's heart. I also see lost old friends whom I loved dearly, but lost - Jaime, jamie, and jeff... I hope they contact me to share our new lives and our lost love memories (phoenicarus [at] earthlink.net --though soon to be @cox.com) I also see parallels. I am home at my parents house. My mother has a calendar just to keep track of who she has written notes (post cards/letters) to each day. I am blown away by her and reminded of her strength and quiet support we also had in Helen. I see more things in the world I didn't quite notice going on around me. I hear more people mentioning Helen and their desire to live a better life, a happier life, to be more honest with themselves and suportive of others in her memory. I pray that they will remember this and act on it for years to come. At least until it is habit.
Much love to all of you. Visit.
I have a friend here in Vancouver who didn't know Helen intimately but knew her enough to see what a gem whe was. She recently told me that she feels like the only way she can compel herself to make any sense of this tragedy is to make an effort to be more kind to everyone in her everyday life... This is wonderful.
A note from Regina Longo at UC Santa Barbara. More evidence of the
depth of Helen's impact on world.
Thanks for sending this news. I just spent 2 hours presenting on Helen and her work in my grad seminar "History, memory and media." We began the first class of the quarter by watching Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke-- and when I mentioned to the prof what had happened and that this tragedy was frighteningly timely, as was the death of the drummer of the Hot 8-- featured in Lee's film she insisted that I present on it during the following class mtg..I played the audio recording of Helen from the Orphans website as we talked about the notion of testimony and "Listening to silence" (the main thrust of this class is traumatic memory ands its cinematographic representation and I chose to recognize the silence as the absence of imagery (her films) at that moment, rather than the absence of her voice...I am glad that you could be there, rather I know you would not have been elsewhere...
Helen was my friend in high school. Her happiness was so infectious. There was a short time when our routes for walking home coincided and we talked and laughed and those are the memories of her that are coming back to me now... She was one of those people who redeemed the rest of humanity by her very existence.
"According to an ancient tradition, God preserves humanity despite its many transgressions because at any one period there exist 10 just individuals who, without being aware of their role, redeem mankind."
Helen Hill was just such a person. We are all lessened by the loss of her.
[quote from Henry Kissenger at President Ford's Funeral]
I did not know Helen, nor did I know her husband, although he looks familiar to me, perhaps from his foot clinic at the Suppers for the Homeless at St. Andrew?s in Halifax. I noticed their story last year, of having to leave New Orleans because of Katrina, and was touched to learn they had moved back. Their smiling faces had a good vibe which made me notice.
I was shocked to see the news of Helen?s death and Paul?s injuries, and am saddened beyond what makes sense, considering I didn?t know either of them. But the more I learn about this remarkable couple and their extraordinary life, the more I understand my sadness.
I write to offer my condolences to all of you who were clearly among the fortunate to have had Helen and Paul in your lives, and write as one of many Canadians who mourn with you.
Helen was a dear friend of mine and a fellow filmmaker who was very supportive of my work and very inspiring to me creatively. I met you at least once when you were visiting I think....Unfortunately I am out of the country and can't make it to the funeral nor can I make a zine for the service. But I just wanted to share with you a quick story or two that you can perhaps pass on. In addition to being incredibly inspiring and supportive of my work as a filmmaker, both she and Paul helped me as a parent. They came to visit me in the hospital the day after I gave birth and kindly brought me an oyster po boy from Mandina's, at my request of course since they're vegetarians. When my daughter Eliza was 1 month old, Helen came over and filmed Eliza to help me remember that state of her young life. Helen and Paul babysit for Eliza frequently and came to her birthday parties, at which Paul would play music and sing along....
Ok, I'm sure you are getting inundated with emails. I just had a chance to check my email first time since Friday. I'm assuming Paul's contact info will be sent through the email list too....Thanks so much for taking this on.
Thank you so much for setting up the web site for Helen and her family.
I grew up in New Orleans and my husband and I have a house that is being repaired at 2929/31 St. Claude Avenue which can't be far from Paul and Helen. I don't know either one of them personally, but your web site made me wish I had and I felt compelled to write Paul and Mrs. Lewis letters of condolence. Thank you for linking your website to the newspapers. I felt the Globe and Mail, while most judgemental in some respects, was also the most informative. For example, it was great to learn about the New Orleans Troublemakers aspect of Paul's life.
I left New Orleans in 1980 to go to Bryn Mawr. I'm writing this from Doha, Qatar, where I'm an epidemiologist in the medical faculty of Weill Cornell Medical College. I've been living in the Middle East since 1992. I've lived in West Phillie's ghetto (not the UPENN section but further west and much poorer), and Algiers Point in New Orleans, worked in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, worked at the VA in New Orleans so I know the work that Helen and Paul were doing.
After college I stayed up north in Philadelphia before coming to New Orleans for one year in 1986 and then going back up to Amherst for three years. Next, I took a job with Johns Hopkins' tuberculosis prophylaxis program in Port-au-Prince. The coup d'etat of 1991 sent me back to New Orleans where I worked for the VA for about a year before I got a job with King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh. There I met Bill and we had our first daughter, Michael, in 1994 and our second, Isis, in 2000. We moved to Doha in January, 2005 for safety reasons but also because the life is easier in Qatar especially for women. There are far fewer restrictions for women.
Like Helen and Paul, I've been working to bring New Orleans back. I was resolute in my efforts to get my property back on the market. If my property had been rented then maybe the next door one would have been rented and the neighbourhood itself would have been livelier and this terrible, terrible thing wouldn't have happened to Helen and to her family and friends and to the City of New Orleans where they both worked so hard and contributed so much. When I bought the property in September, 2004 they were talking about running a streetcar line down St. Claude Avenue! I'm so, so, sorry that we all couldn't work faster and harder to push back that chaos that killed Helen. I'm so sad to imagine that Paul will be leaving New Orleans as the papers say and raising Francis in Canada. They were making the place better.
I'm sitting here at my computer thousands of miles away and wiping tears off of my face. Since 1986, when I lived on Opelousas Avenue in Algiers Point while attending Tulane's School of Public Health I've been noticing that things were getting worse. However, having said that there have been rays of hope. New Orleans was one of the only cities in the country that didn't have a race riot following the acquittal of Rodney King's attackers. Another good story is the one of my experience working for the VA in 1992.
I was administering the Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing Program. We couldn't find enough homeless people in New Orleans to support on VASH. The criteria for support was that you had to be homeless for 2 weeks (without a roof over your head) and nearly all of the applicants couldn't qualify (until my dear friend Butch started helping them complete the forms correctly) because after a week to 10 days all of them would make a friend and be invited to crash on someone's floor or at least in someone's garage making them ineligible for the program.
But now, what has happened? And it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Why is this? It is because there aren't enough people like Paul and Helen? So many of the people like them flee to stable areas like Seattle, Washington or Amherst, Massachusetts or the North Shore, Louisiana or Doha, Qatar rather than fighting in the trenches as they were doing. I thank Paul for working with the underclass who didn't deserve such a hard life that they end up killing each other and us.
I hope the Harvard Alumnae association has reached out to Paul. There are Harvard alum in New Orleans. I hope Harvard will establish a scholarship in Helen's honour. Perhaps to support someone who is growing up in the underdeveloped state of Louisiana. It is not only our underclass who are dangerous in New Orleans but it is also the complacent people who don't fight to make the public schools better. It is also the wealthy who pay miniscule amounts of property taxes thanks to corruption.
Why did we have to lose such a soldier of the good fight? In the end, will the fight lose Paul and Francis too? How many people have we lost in the death of Helen? Paul and Helen were doing the right thing despite what the dear Globe and Mail implies. The G&M, like my father, would say that "This is how idealism" ends. NO! This is how idealism is best served. Not through the blood of our boys and girls in Iraq but through the National Guard's presence in New Orleans. YES! bring in the National Guard in greater numbers. YES! The Department of Justice should take over the New Orleans police force. We can honor Helen in the same way we honor every fallen US Serviceman. She fell in the course of making the country stronger and more secure.
Amy L. Sandridge
I am so sad to hear about what happened. My newspaper never felt so heavy as it did on Saturday morning. I knew of Paul and Helen because I am from Halifax. A biggy fan of Piggy, I have danced alongside of Helen more than once. Although I didn't know them well I knew that Paul and Helen were pretty magical people and made a huge and extremely positive impact on Halifax. I was so excited to see a picture of Francis and Paul and Helen on my friend Lyndalls fridge this past summer. I have thought of them often while here in Toronto. I want to send my love and support to everyone who was touched by Helen. I promise to find my own way to honour her spirit as I'm sure that you all will too.
Helen stopped by our office at the Ottawa International Animation Festival around 2000. I think she was on her way to New Orleans or coming back briefly. Either way, she paid us a visit with pet pig in tow. My wife, Kelly, is a huge pig lover. She remembers this as the happiest moment ever at the office. In fact, we've kept this photo nearby ever since. A classic example of Helen's unique, infectious spirit.
chris robinson/kelly neall
ottawa international animation festival
I've always had a thing for angels and the belief that there is this unseen thing that surrounds all of us, that guides us along our way. I don't mean some winged creature or anything cornball like that, but just something, something earthy. For example, I've been working on this book Fathers of Night for a couple of years. The coincidences that I've encountered while writing this book have sometimes left me stunned, speechless... there were so many that I started to see them as more than coincidence.... that they were markers, signs, guides that told me I was on the road I was supposed to be on.
I have met two real angels in my life. One was Helen Hill, an American animator who lived in Halifax for a few years. The other was her husband, Paul Gailiunas a doctor and part time musician (he headlined the Halifax band Piggy that produced an infectious cd in the late 1990s called Don't Stop the Calypso). You could not meet two more joyful people. Helen stood out for two reasons. First, she had a pet pig. I always found that to be funny. Kelly (my wife) loves pigs and was always envious of Helen and Paul for taking a pig into their Halifax pad. Helen even made a point of stopping at our office in 2000 or 2001 (i think she was on her way to the states, can't remember) to bring the pig by. Kelly has a nice shot of the three of us with piggy by her desk. "That was my favourite day in the office ever," says Kelly.
The other vivid memory is Helen's film, Mouseholes. I took for competition in 2000. The selection raised a few eyebrows. Sure, it wasn't the most technically polished film, but Helen has made this raw, real and moving tribute to her grandfather (who had just passed away). It was one of the most down to earth, moving and humane animation films I've come across. Like Helen, it was absolutely genuine. She didnt care about polish, she just had something to say and said it. It remains one of my favourite Canadian animation films (she made it in halifax) and one of the few animation films that makes me cry (in a good way).
After the New Orleans flood, I was very worried about Helen and Paul and tracked them down to make sure they were okay. Helen eventually replied to say they were fine and had gotten out of town before the flood. She asked if I still had a beta copy of Mouseholes. Apparently, their home had been damaged by the flood and they'd lost a lot of stuff. Fortunately, I still had the tape. In fact, I believe I still have it cause I was waiting for Helen to get settled again before sending it off.
Time passed. Life moved on. I got another email from Helen saying they were going back to New Orleans. They wanted to get their life underway again and, typically, Paul wanted to go back and help the many who needed help. Helen was excited too. She got funding to make a new film. All was well.
One of my most vivid memories of Paul and Helen came at Ottawa 2000 or 2002 (can't totally recall). I remember talking with them at the Chez Ani at Ottawa 2000 or 2002 and I was stunned at how innocent, how just utterly joyous these two were. It alarmed me. I was cynical about it and thought maybe they were a bit freaky. But in truth, I guess it scared me. Their joy was absolutely genuine. IT wasn't some faux stance. These two clearly loved life and each other. I guess it scared me because it takes a real commitment to be like that in this world...to just let go of all the doubt and anger and embrace, believe and love life. That takes a lot more courage than cloaking yourself in cynicism and hatred --as so many of us are prone to do.
Helen was murdered on January 4th, 2007. Paul was wounded. Francis, their son, was unharmed. I'm writing this cause I need to find words, I need to uncover the brief memories, I need to understand why these two people were punished for being good. I have no idea what unfolded. I just have this image of a bloodied, stunned Paul on his knees, cradling their young son as police arrived. Did someone break in? Did someone knock at their door? It's just so incomprehensible to me. Apparently, Helen's murder is one of a string of murders happening in New Orleans this week. This one is particularly painful because of who these people were.... how egoless, how generous, how good they were. They were giving so much to New Orleans to help those in need, those who could not help themselves.
This tragedy simply reinforces my own cynicism towards the world. It makes it easier too. That way I can just brush off this incomprehensible act as typical of the world we live in. But, at the same time, however brief our contact, Helen touched me through that one film and memories of her will always make me smile. I'll think of her bursting energy, smile without end, Helen and Paul dancing Chez Ani. I'll think of the pig.
If anyone can overcome this act of hell, it's Paul. And he won't be alone. Yes, there are friends and family...but Helen will be there too. In life or death, I know that Helen Hill remains an angel among us. That much I believe.
What horrible news.
The last time I saw Helen was at the 42nd Ann Arbor Film Festival. I had a film in competition and she was one of the judges. We had a wonderful time at the filmmakers party afterwards talking about CalArts, film and life in general.
I was/am incredibly impressed with the amount of films she had made and her commitment to independent animation. A real talent has been taken from us.
Like the medium with which she was so impassioned, Helen Hill embodied?and radiated?light. She was a luminous spirit with a melodious voice and an unquenchable smile. I came to know her at Phil Hoffman's film farm in the summer of 1999. She handed out 'Camping is Fun' patches to everyone, and we sewed them onto our clothes. We fondly referred to her as 'Mrs. Rodgers' amongst ourselves. As radiant as she was, her eyes shone even brighter when speaking of her husband, Paul. Her affection for him was so profound when she said, "I love him. I love my husband," I can feel it today as I did then. Helen's creative work is infused with down-home charm and a 'real folk' sensibility. Semester after semester, her film, 'Mouseholes' and her cookbooklet of hand-made film techniques, 'Recipes for Disaster' have enchanted my students.
I will always remember Helen Hill as a beautifully unique being who walked this earth in a state of irrepressibly good humor down to the bone.
Ken Paul Rosenthal
January 5, 2006
I feel cheated, I only met her once, at the Orphans Film Symposium in March. I bascially just said hello, and loved that she used her creativity to take the footage she had shot and been ravaged by Katrina and utilized it to create these vibrant imagess. She had one of the most wonderful qualities you can find in a person, Passion; It showed in every facet of her life.
As a friend of Helen's father's, I had the great privilege to know her, Paul and Poppy.
We, the Maine branch of the family, will never stop missing Helen terribly. Her father is devastated. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
Maya Sage Forsyth
Tara Lee Witchen
Lee Anne Gillan
And a few people I did not know
67 ish from memory
Helen babysat for my brother and me when we were young. As we sat and remembered all the good times we had with Helen, I couldn't help but see the great tragedy in her early death. I am sure she was a wonderful mother and wife and friend as she was a wonderful caretaker for me. Her artistic spirit was obvious to us even when we were kids. She always used to draw on the legal pads that sat in our house. My childhood neighbor remembered the beautiful tree that she drew with the intricate details on each of the leaves. She said the image is burned in her mind. Every time she babysat, we made her play the "The Entertainer" on the piano over and over. My favorite memory of Helen is the excitement she felt at looking through my parents' old records. You could see it in her eyes and in the smile on her face. We would play them and sing and dance our hours away. So, Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie-when I hear it, I will always think of Helen. What a thoughtful, gifted, spirited soul. I am so thankful to have been able to have a small glimpse of the light she showed to so many.
Memories of Helen--- one of my daughter Airlie's best friends--
Helen always made me feel like I was in the presence of parts of Tinkerbell, Mary Poppins & Peter Pan all in one person----she emanated a magical ethereal, delicate, tender feeling of warmth and joy?a feeling so comfortable and desirable as to make me instinctively feel like I?d forever like to sustain that very feeling ?the very essence of Helen. On a superficial level knowing Helen through the yrs. it was as if her speech, demeanor and outlook on life was frozen in time?from her earliest teenage yrs. to her becoming a wife and then a mother.. it remained the same. I was stunned to be made aware recently of all the accomplishments she had made during her short life. How could she have done all that? How could she have maintained her aura of simplicity & love & been such a complicated, accomplished intellectual? It has to be magic?it does not seem real. I will miss her but I will always feel like she is still here. No one can take her place.
... I've never met Helen, Paul, or Francis, but I read about their tragedy earlier this evening, and I'm sitting here on my couch, in my living room, in Ottawa, Canada, with my wife and baby sleeping on the other side of the wall, and I'm crying my eyes out.
It sounds as though those of you who knew Helen were lucky for it. I only hope that you can now help Paul and Francis push through what must be their terrible sadness, and that you, her family and friends, might band together to do good and make Helen's death less senseless than it seems right now.
Please know that a stranger is thinking of all of you tonight.
Helen was my cousin. She and Jake always came up to our farm in western North Carolina to get away from those hot summer days of Columbia SC. Since we were much younger than Helen and Jake, we always looked forward to them coming and I remember the elation we always felt when we found out she was here or coming soon! She always found time it seems to hang out with a whole entourage of kids younger than herself and give us all a really good time. She could really make a 12 year-old feel important. When she came to the farm to live for the summer while she was in college she worked in the garden and introduced us to all her Harvard friends and let us watch movies with all these older people. I remember sitting down with Helen making a flip book and how excited she got when we got done!
I remember hearing of the earthquake in LA through the lens of Helen's recollection of it, and I remember watching her movies in her parents house in Columbia when we were visiting. What I really remember though was the love of Helen and Paul and their wedding. It was a most inspiring wedding for a young impressionable young man to attend. Love was very apparent the fun they generated for all of us attendees was contagious. I remember that weekend with a clear sense of happiness.
The last few times we've run into Helen and Paul were at weddings and right after Katrina. Now a grown man, my wife and I run a grass-based cattle, pig, and sheep operation. Due to the nature of our business, we always had great discussions about the role we humans play on this earth and our relationships to the our animal friends. Naturally coming down on the question a little differently, the discussions were conducted with great respect and appreciation for each other's ideas and suggestions. I remember taking them around the farm and showing all the animals to Helen and Paul and Helen saying with that southern accent, "Jamie, the are so cute! How can you eat them?" with that great big smile on her face.
Upon hearing of Helen's death, I have had a hard time understanding and processing the reality of losing such a wonderful person. I have not been able to wrap my arms around it and feel at peace about the circumstances. I find Jake's words encouraging to me. Having Helen in my life always brought a smile and a good story to tell. Let her inspiration and creative approach to life march on. I, for one, will try to live my life a little more "Helenesque."
She was as lovely as all the reports are saying. I met her when she came to Toronto for Images with Helen Bredon (was she in Halifax?) years ago, and did a hand painted animation workshop with her. She was the one who made me think that film had a heart after all. This is too fucking sad.
dear hill family:
i just saw the nightline story on ms hill and dr paul..
I wish I could help... it is tragic when these senseless crimes take place.
sorry to hear about your loss!
I first met Helen at the Atlantic Filmmakers' Cooperative, in Halifax. I had moved up there a month or two before her, and was busy with some projects at the cooperative.
I remember going to the "Friday Night Films" run as a fund raiser for the coop, and seeing the coolest looking couple coming in (Helen & Paul). I did not know at the time that they were not cool in any traditional sense of the word, but the warmest most heart-opening people I had met.
I was thrilled and surprised that Helen was also an experimental filmmaker, wore vintage dresses, and was vegetarian. How many of us were there?? I felt I had been waiting to be her friend all my life, and finally she was here! Something in that thought, irrational as it was, made me instantly love her and also take it for granted that she would always be in my life.
I hoped to help with her classes she taught, and sometimes did. I attended her vegan brunches, and she and I would cook soup for the "Free Food Festival." At a big music festival that piggy was playing in, we made a super-8 film and projected it with my awesome now broken cartridge projector that could do its own very super special effects! Also, we did an anti-smoking protest at one of these 'cigarette funded' music shows ...it was the most fun I had ever had!
I remember the sweet way she would explain to me that Nola (her kitty) didn't really like to be touched or pet. I remember the sunlight in her kitchen as I looked around at her tea cups, a wedding picture of her & Paul on a bicycle with flowers in their hair, and all her knick knacks. I made a cloth book for her & Paul's anniversary that I was very proud of. I still make her recipe of the salsa they would serve at their brunches.
We always had easy, lovely, positive fun together! I remember visiting my boyfriend's family in North Carolina, and she and Paul were in South Carolina, so we met up at South of the Border in the dark cold night, to drive around the closed down rides and listen to the new recorded Piggy songs, I think its the first time I heard Emma Goldman. I remember walking in the big fireworks store listening to muzak and talking with Helen.
When I moved from Halifax, she introduced me to Elli Lee, who was working on a film I helped animate on. What a wonderful experience that was! When I moved to New York city, she introduced me to more people... I met a lot of very wonderful people through her. Once, she and Paul were flying through JFK, and I went out to meet them at the airport gate for the couple hours they had to spend between flights. I was always impressed with their knowledge of what was and was not vegan at places like Dunkin Donuts and Tim Hortans.
But, the most heart endearing memories I have of Helen, were a lot of talks we had on the phone during a difficult period in my life. She gave me a gift rarely given between people, and it saved me a great deal of time and pain. And it taught me the preciousness and beauty of that strength so central to Helen, to see the good in another. I was so so happy when I had the opportunity to comfort her, even a little bit, I felt I was somehow repaying a kindness that was in my heart, sacred and gladly owed forever.
She also reminded me of something I had long since left behind as a relic of childish dreams - the beatitudes and St Francis. In Helen, and Paul, I witnessed first hand and in my own participation, the true joy in service and living a truly creative & simple compassionate honest life. From Helen's speaking about St Francis, I became curious and read a great deal on him and his life and named my first child after the saint. Also, they were so happy and good to each other - to witness two people love each other so easily and happily made all the things that stand in the way of that just fall away in my own belief of what is possible. Since Helen's death I have tried many times to sit and write my memories, but so many of them were buried inside by the way things just went on in life. They, and all the emotions from that very happy and challenging time, have been unearthed in me, like a storm since her murder. It has been very difficult to put anything down on paper at all. There was so much I could have done to appreciate her more and be a better friend in the last few years.
I was so happy she became a mother - I was planning on visitting with my boys once a year once I was back in the US. I was so happy to share some of this experience I loved with her, and also to hear her unique and sound advice on child-raising and feeding issues...which has pretty much been my life over the past 4 1/2 years!
For the first time in my life, since art school, I have enough money to pay the rent & eat and a little bit of time to work on my own art work again. I'm working on my first film since last I saw Helen, because I have to do something positive right now, and though I've been far away in different ways, I really loved her.
Whatever I can do for Paul and Francis, I will.
blessings to everyone
with Peace & Love,
I thought I'd share this over-long story for the record becasue although my relationship with Helen took place over about half a dozen emails and 2 packages in the post nearly 5 years ago, it means a lot to me.
I never met Helen but without knowing it she had quite a major influence on the flim community here in the North East of England.
I saw her book on a website (this all happened in 2002) and wrote an email to ask to buy a copy. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK and she wrote to say she used to live in Durham (a city nearby) and should I be able to find a recording of the "colpitts band" I could have the book for free. Aparently she had lost a treasured recording belonging to her parents and really wanted to atone and find another. I scratched my head and I thought "How on earth am I going to find a recording of some local band from the 80s?" I dont even know Durham very well, I hadn't been living in the North East of England very long myself.
Well, I asked around, friends who'd lived here longer etc. and eventually somebody said that although they had never heard of the band, there was a pub in durham called the Colpitts and it seemed likely that that was where they had played. So I got on the phone and called the pub. The woman who answered was very nice and explained that although she didn't know who the Colpitts band were musicians always came on a monday night. In fact she was expecting them in a couple of hours. They had been playing every Monday for as long as anyone could remember. So with my friends Flora, Christo and Suzy we went to Durham on the train armed with a minidisc recorder and a camera to take pictures of our adventure. It really is a great memory for me becasue it was so spontaneous and there was a lovely feeling of freedom that night. It felt good to be sent on a random mission into the unknown instigated by a mystery woman from New Orleans. We got off the train and asked for directions to the pub, luckily it wasn't far and we found ourselves squeezing into the very very tiny back room of a beautiful traditional pub where Samuel Smiths beer (very tasty) was on sale for £1 a pint (very cheap) and there was an open fire smolodering away. We felt quite out of place for a little while because the rest of the people there looked like part of the furniture and those of us without instruments were in the minority. But in between songs I managed to aproach on of the players and tell my story and ask permission to put the recorder on the mantlepiece and they put us right at our ease and were charmed. In fact I learnt that the Colpitts monday folk session is legendary and i got the impression that maybe they're always being recorded by "tourists" like us. He was apologetic becasue the line up wasn't as full as usual.
Anyway it was a fantastic evening I will always remember and we drank many times to Helen Hill.
I was still nervous whether the recording was the right band, reasonable enough quality etc, and bugged becasue a nice part late in the evening, when the musicians greeted Helen down the mic, was lost for some reason. But when we sent it she sent an email to confirm it was what she had been after and by post a great package with Funny New Orlean Coffee, batter mix, a VHS of her beautiful work, postcards, a lovely letter and of course the book. We were all really touched.
The book was a really important thing for us here where the community is (i should say was) not exactly brimming with experimental-handmade-filmmakers, we soon followed the advice in the back of the book "why not start your own film bee" and started our film club, took the name Film Bee, gave away film and showed "Mrs Winger..." to those who took it. Now we have a communally owned lab with bits and bobs of equipment and we go and teach film techniques in all kinds of places and help one another out on our own films. We have built a cinema (The Star and Shadow) where great things are begining to happen too. But that isn't the important part, the important thing is that Helen just brought a real positivity to our lives and was a wonderful stranger to have known. I am very sad to hear of her death. I regret i am not one for corresspondence, but I was always convinced that I would have the opportunity to tell her my side and the rest of the story face to face over a cup of tea, perhaps here, in the cinema she had a part in inspiring. And I always relished the thought because I just knew she would be an absolute joy to be in the company of.
All my love goes to you, whose loss is truly heartbreaking,
Mat Fleming, Newcastle, UK
I never knew you that well, but I knew enough after one afternoon spent with you, rustling through old film strips, to know that you were one of the human examples I wanted to follow forever.
You were so peaceful, sincere, loving, funny and kind, with such a big wide smile and such overflowing energy that you directed outwards always at everyone around you. It was a pleasure to be around you, learn from you and wonder about how good the world could really be if someone like you seemed so at home in it.
You and Paul were so in love, in the way that people were supposed to be in love. Not because of one thing or another thing, but because of everything. I never knew two people to have such a quality of love for each other, and I may never again. Two individual golden hearts that found each other by shining through. Paul, I'm so sorry.
When I discovered after it was too late that you and Paul had had a little son, I was filled with joy and sadness of equal measure. Joy because two years with a wonderful, beautiful Mama like you is more than a lifetime of special love, and sadness because it really was only a lifetime. I know little Francis will be just fine Helen, better than fine. How could he not be fine with a Heleny and a Pauly, even if someday they have to go away. Everything goes away. But not really.
Oh Helen, you were my experimental film teacher at NSCAD, and I loved you. One day in class you asked if anyone could come over and look after Rosie the pig for a day while you were gone. I volunteered, and you and Paul showed me how to hold her and carry her down the stairs so she would feel safe. You showed me where the food was and how to put on the leash for a walk. I was excited and nervous, worried that Rosie wouldn't really like a stranger coming over to take care of her, but I did. And when I carried her down the stairs she wiped her little nose on my t-shirt, and that little snout-stain never washed out.
I loved that t-shirt and so I kept wearing it. Every time I washed it I would wonder if the little smear on the sleeve would be gone this time. It never was. I didn't mind, I even liked it. It reminded me of Rosie and you and Paul. I wondered if there was some kind of permanence built into the nose of a pig that no one had ever researched. I wondered if it was a sign.
A few months later when I was walking by your house on my way to school like I often did, I noticed the little scrubby bush that seemed every year to try to grow it's way out from underneath your front steps, only to be cut down to the ground each winter and try again next summer. The bush was big, bushier than it had ever been, but I thought to myself, "There's no future for that poor little bush." On my way home, the streets were cordoned off, and the house had burned down.
In the same way that these memories are important to me, you will always be an important part of my life, even though I never got to tell you. I never really knew you, I could never say I really know anyone, but it was enough knowing there was someone like you, taking care of us all. Being good for good's sake. Being perfect and wonderful forever.
Love, your student and friend,
I learned of what happened to Helen and her family a full month after it happened, and ever since I have been trying to collect my thoughts coherently enough to share here. She had not been part of my daily life for many years, but I loved her dearly - like anyone did who was privileged to know her. I met Helen when she was 15 and studying passionately for her O-levels, while spending a year in Durham, England with her parents. We all lived in the same college, up on a hill in that cold, beautiful city.
I dipped into a twenty-year-old journal today, in search of Helen stories that I might not recall. And out dropped a flower that she gave me 20 years ago. I no longer remember why she gave it, but Helen didn't need a reason to give someone a flower. For one bittersweet moment I felt like I was receiving that gift all over again.
Since hearing this unfathomable news, I keep remembering one particular conversation with Helen, over 20 years ago. I had just returned from my first trip to Germany, and I sat in her family's living room, in their suite in Trevelyan College, telling of my travels. While I was relating my impressions of visiting a concentration camp, a terrible realization dawned on 15-year-old Helen's face. "Wait - this happened in this century?" she gasped incredulously. "Oh my goodness!"
Of course Helen knew about the Holocaust, but she had imagined that it must have happened a very long time ago. When she was faced with the reality of it being an evil that had occurred within the reach of human memory, she was more than appalled; she looked as though her circuits had jammed. Her face was frozen in an expression that seemed to say, "That does not compute."
I think that image keeps passing through my head in part because what has happened to Helen is a horror, an evil that does not compute. But there's another reason, too. I believe Helen's circuits jammed when she contemplated the Holocaust because Helen was probably the most truly good person I have ever known. To someone who didn't know her, that may sound like an empty platitude. But anyone who knew her knows exactly what I mean. There was not a trace of anything in Helen that was not good, and genuine, and open, and joyous. The kind of darkness that creates a thing like the Holocaust has no place in her reality.
What happened to Helen has no place in her reality.
"Oh my goodness!" I can still hear her saying it - to so many things in life that took her breath away. She said it in a way that was so un-teenaged. Somewhere between giddy little girl and eccentric old dear. And it was oddly accurate, since she was so full of goodness.
But Helen's goodness was not dull or predictable. As others on this site have pointed out, she was full of mischief. Another of my favorite mental photographs is Helen in rolled-up overalls, with a long sprig of grass protruding from her mouth, striding barefoot into the college bar that year. She and Becky and Kevin had decided to make a certain fellow-Columbian put his money where his mouth was on a seemingly insincere promise to come up for some home-cooking. Becky took charge of the stove, I stood by waiting to pull the juke box plug on Helen's command, and Helen bubbled over with giggles playing scout - so that at just the right moment when the young swain was about to woo some would-be paramour, the music stopped, Helen threw open the door and stood proudly barefoot and sucking on her piece of straw while her Mama cried out, "Here's yer grits!" Helen rushed forward with a checkered table cloth and laid it out in the middle of the English college bar, then helped Becky and Kevin dish up the vittles, allowing herself a rare evening study break to delight in the absurd wackiness of it all...
And I recall one evening when the four of us went to dinner at lovely little spot in Paris called L'Etoile Verte. We teased Helen for not drinking wine - Kevin in particular, because in Paris the mineral water that Helen insisted upon was more expensive than wine. Helen was having none of it. And I foggily remember walking back under the Arc de Triomphe, the three of us distinctly tipsy as we meandered dancingly round and round the thing, and Helen was delighted - because finally we were all as giddy as she was.
One of the reasons I went for the old journal today was to see if I could find any forgotten Helenisms. After a year living in each other laps, I saw Helen much less frequently in the years that followed; yet every time I saw her, I was left with several things she'd said that I wanted to remember. Her outlook was so unfalteringly positive that I always left her inspired and delighted, sure that I would remember her deliciously quotable observations. But it seems I did a poor job of journaling them. I'm left only with the memory of the inspiration. All my journal tells me is that Helen appeared again, bringing her unique brand of joy and sunshine with her, and that I was so grateful for her.
It is unfathomable that a life so full of joy could end in such a way. But Helen's presence cannot be taken from the world as abruptly as her life was. I haven't seen her in a decade, but I still think of her more often than she would ever imagine. I close my eyes now and see her giving hot chocolate to strangers on the streets of Cambridge, because they looked cold. I see her inspiring a room full of very serious British profs in academic robes to break down and do silly animal impressions because it was her birthday. I see her in a grey school uniform wriggling in discomfort at the suggestion that she was pretty. I see her giggling with her beloved Miriam, who amazingly glowed with the same beautiful light, leaving me to marvel that there could be two such people. I see her in the Colpitt's pub, which I was so grateful to see described so wonderfully in someone else's contribution. And I see her wide-eyed and exclaiming "Oh my goodness!" to so many things.
I see that, perhaps, more than I see anything else in recent days. I see it, and I hear it, because it was truly remarkable, Helen's goodness. Helen's goodness had to be seen to be believed.
I am so glad to see, from reading the memories here, how many, many people got to see, and believe, her goodness.
Los Angeles, CA
I'm so sorry to learn of Helen's murder. The last time I saw Helen & Paul was in 1991 or 1992. I was working in the Bow & Arrow Press at Harvard. We had a fun time designing & printing the calling card for their imminent new address in New Orleans. Helen had such a insatiably joyful spirit. She loved looking through all the old type blocks & was so happy when she found this image of the kids & record player. Here's what the calling card looked like: