by Erin Mooney
David Odom was the best human being and friend I have ever known. If you did not know David (although I don’t believe there are many of you out there who didn’t), I can’t promise that I will be able to find the words to convey what a selfless, giving, loving, and amazing man he was — and, I believe, still is, wherever he may be. David passed away Friday morning, May 5, at Cottage Hospital. He’d found out only a few weeks ago that he had cancer, and had learned only a couple of days before he died how advanced and aggressive it was. It was unbelievably quick.
I will forever be thankful that I was able to spend his last several days and nights with him, and that so many friends came to visit. David was overwhelmed with joy by that. The day before he passed, there was a group of people in the hallway waiting to see him. (When I came into the room, he said I had a backstage pass to stay.) He loved feeling loved. To say he was a “people person” would be like saying Jesus had a few followers. Yes, I just compared David Odom to Jesus Christ — I do believe David would have appreciated that, given his offbeat sense of humor and anti-organized-religion position. When the chaplain came to visit him and started to talk about God, David said, “Actually, I’m waiting for the wood nymphs and færies.” He thought, or at least hoped, that was what was waiting for him.
David was a taxi driver in this town for more than 25 years, but did much more than just drive a taxi. Every person who rode in his cab realized, or should have, that they were in the presence of a guardian angel. All he cared about was helping people, and if that meant driving people home who had no money, then that’s what he did, willingly and happily. Bartenders and taxi drivers would call David when they had someone incoherent, passed out, or otherwise “indisposed,” because they knew he would get the person home, no questions asked, no judgments made, no money needed. He felt especially compelled to be there for a woman who somehow ended up alone at two in the morning outside a bar. He felt that his passengers were his charge for the time he was with them, and he was there, in every possible way, to keep them safe.
David did not have a judgmental bone in his body. I shared a momentary concern with him a few days before he passed, that I hoped a bunch of “drunk and out of it” people didn’t show up at the hospital. David said, “They’re all good people; it doesn’t matter.” These are the people he loved and helped for so many years. He saw the good in everyone. He listened to people who were crying or angry or alone or scared or drunk every night of his life. His friendly, funny, and comforting nature always had a calming effect that just made you feel good. I’m sure he had that effect on most everyone who got into his cab. David had a lifelong love of music — any music. He owned thousands upon thousands of CDs, and for every single one, he could tell you the record label, who played what instrument, when it was produced — you name it. Jazz was his first love — all kinds, all instruments, vocalists, classic, modern, avant garde. And about that avant garde, anyone who spent any amount of time in David’s cab knew what to expect when he’d say, “You wanna hear something a little different?” as he reached for his CD case. Just when you thought, “Okay, this guy’s a jazz guy,” he’d pull out his boxed set of The Monkees. He loved Tom Waits and the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Glenn Miller, Eugene Chadbourne and Judy Garland, Vandergraff Generator and the Rascals.
I lived with David for several years, and every day before he went to work, he’d collect all the CDs he thought he’d like to listen to that night, but more importantly, that he wanted to share with his “people.” David just appreciated and respected the creative process, and his eclectic taste in movies was equal to that of his music. He particularly loved Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould and the documentary Crumb. Then again, he also ranked Robocop and the comedy Top Secret among his favorites.
David’s compassion knew no bounds. I spoke with him a few days before he went into the hospital — he knew he was sick, but had no idea he had lung cancer or what his prognosis was — and he started to cry. I told him it was okay to be scared and reassured him that so many people loved him. He interrupted me to say, “I’m so upset about the state of the world, and how many people are dying in Iraq. I don’t know what to do.” The word selfless does not begin to describe David Odom. His genuine and sometimes overly consuming activism and compassion for the world around him, and desire to make everything right, were some of the greatest inspirations I have ever known.
David was voted The Independent’s Best Taxi Driver a few years back, and was honored as a Local Hero after that. He was so proud of his Local Hero status; he sent the article to his parents and told everyone, including all the nurses in the hospital. It wasn’t bragging — he was just proud to have helped so many people. The day before he died, David told me that he was sorry he wouldn’t be around to help more people. What an amazing man. I am honored to have had the time with him that I did, and I am absolutely a better person for it.
I could write volumes on the compassion, intelligence, creativity, warmth, and all-around lovable quirkiness of this man, as could many other people who loved him. These are the few words that I can write now, from my life with David. David is survived by his parents, daughter Amber, sister Kathy, and two nieces — and, of course, by the hundreds more who will think of him, miss him, and continue to love him.
An outdoor memorial and benefit/tribute concert is in the works. Please email Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.