A columnist wore a map of Ireland on his face | Books


KAREN E. DAVIS Belgrade News

I have known various members of the Helmville Geary family for decades. Irish to the core, they carry the map of Ireland on their faces and in their hearts.

This Helmville tribe is a mixture of County Cork and County Limerick, the Fogartys and the Gearys. This original ancestor was a miner, who came to this country in the 1850s, before heading to what would become the Treasure State.

Dick Geary, a fourth-generation Helmville rancher spent years as a columnist for the Missoulian. His great-grandfather Mike founded the Geary Brothers Ranch, a ranch that Dick loved all his life and ran for a few years.

He first started writing columns for weekly newspapers in his corner of the country – the Silver State Post, the Phillipsburg Mail and the Blackfoot Valley Dispatch.

Geary, 74, died last year and his family and friends collected the 368 columns into a self-published 625-page, two-pound book big enough to be the weight the back of your truck needs in a snowstorm in Montana.

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Sparse words, a voice all his own and a deep understanding of the breeding heritage he was born into and fully embraced make Geary’s chronicles a joy to read.

Eventually he was “discovered” by the Missoulian and wrote a weekly column for the newspaper for nearly six years.

It’s a page-after-page volume of ruminations on haymaking in Helmville in the 1940s, ranch cats, the Lawrence Welk Hour, calving, Irish families, beaver runs, fence mending, blizzards and vans. Then more pages on his time with the Peace Corps in Brazil as an agricultural extension worker. Then more simple pages of Dick Geary “Reflections”.

And yes, on page 486 he quietly jokes about himself as a Renaissance man along with all the “other” famous Montana writers.

How did this column come about?

According to Kim Briggeman, a retired veteran Missoulian reporter, the Missoulian subscribed to all the local weeklies and “I saw his column in the Silver State Post. Our dads knew each other, went to high school together at Deer Lodge.

“I had no idea what his writing was, and I met him at the Helmville Rodeo. Even then, he wasn’t happy with his writing. He was reluctant to put himself forward. I went to our editor, Sherry Devlin, and said ‘that’s a good hometown column.’ “

And that was the start of a love affair between Missoula and Dick Geary and Helmville.

“Richard Geary…And That’s All I Know: The Collected Chronicles of Dick Geary 2013-2020” is on sale at Amazon for $15.

This book is carried by Missoula’s Fact and Fiction, and her sister Joyce has sold – so far – 500 copies in her own Missoula home. As of this writing, his family had had no luck getting it transported by Bozeman’s Country Bookshelf or Vargo’s.

In his factual way, Geary managed to expose his heart. These columns are Dick and the Ranching Everyday, not John Wayne-in-a-sunset’s view of western life.

Briggeman added, “Everything he’s written is nice. Not a word you hear a lot when you talk about the work of columnists.”

His sister Elaine once told me he was a “real” cowboy. Not the romantic version of the Marlboro Man movie that some young men have working on a ranch – until they have to calve in a blizzard, or mend a fence in a blizzard, or find a way to getting another season from a press that saw its best days over 20 years ago, or riding a horse that isn’t interested in having you on board.

He was the cowboy who would have fit in perfectly on a ranch a century ago.

“We’ve received so many positive comments,” Briggeman continued. “To read him is to know him. His face came out of the Wild West. That Irish flicker aside.” It was a tribute to his talent that Missoula, who doesn’t exactly bias farming, ate Geary’s columns.

He was also brave enough to personally tackle a taboo subject on so many levels – sexual abuse by the local priest. It was in a June 6, 2015 Missoulian column where he wrote that he was sexually abused as a little boy by Anaconda native Reverend Leonard Spraycar.

Spraycar died in 1984. He was one of dozens of priests in the Diocese of the West against whom the diocese would eventually settle legal cases, including Geary’s. Of the dozens of priests listed on a diocesan website as sex offenders, five served in the parish of Helmville. It makes you wonder if the Church has any for Helmville.

He noted wryly in his column (“Priest”, page 501) that the diocesan settlement for abuse was enough for a used car.

He also wrote about another heartache – working for the Grant Creek Ranch, owned by Denny Washington. His family tells me he loved this job more than any other he had in his life, but he got in the way of a few other employees and lost the beloved job (page 585).

Here is what amazon.com to say about the book:

“Dick Geary was a man of many facets: rancher, paratrooper, Peace Corps volunteer, agricultural extension worker in Brazil, trained audiologist, recovered alcoholic, misanthrope, cynical, and yet, in a way, a confident believer. “

An Amazon review by reader Bruce Bair, who was in the Peace Corps with Geary, states: “This book is like the ranch it was raised on, bigger than its parts. The voice is unmatched. Dusty, acerbic , scholar on many subjects (when he moved away from animal husbandry, mostly practical, disgusted with the state of humanity, kind and patient with all animals, master of bathos.

“I will make a plea at the end of this to editors and publishers, to journalists and to ordinary readers. Don’t miss this book. It’s an American classic if there ever was one. It could be read like the definitive ranch novel, the definitive ranch story, a study of the ranch’s interpersonal dynamics, monumental bitch weather, etc. Dick took every ranch shot I’ve ever read and made of literature.

Dick, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Speaking of the Peace Corps – Geary was a rancher from Helmville who was fluent in Portuguese due to his time in Brazil. He almost died in Brazil too. One of the weeklies he was writing for realized he hadn’t had a column from him for weeks and called his family. It turns out he was mortally ill, had all his money stolen, and was on the verge of death. His sister Joyce phoned the US Embassy for an emergency visa. Friends in Missoula created a GoFundMe page and raised thousands of dollars to bring him home. All in a few days.

In case you didn’t realize how “unique” Geary and his family are, he has another brother in Missoula who recently moved a local badger into his house. He lived under his stove until he was ready to move on.

His sister Elaine once told me that she thinks all her brother wants out of life is “just…to matter.” I’ve been watching this family for decades and I think he just wanted his dad to love him.

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