Like a comet soaring across the night sky, Grace David generated a light of her own. The Houston Chronicle was prescient when it wrote in 1948 that Grace “may live to be 100 but she will never be old.” Grace spent the last 25 years of her life in Santa Barbara, living to be 90, and she was never old.
Grace David was born near the beginning of the last century in Mason, Texas, a small town in the hill country where her father was a rancher and her grosspapa owned the market. She received a teaching degree from the Texas Women’s University in 1935. Living in Houston, married to drilling-mud pioneer Henry David, Grace raised two children and learned to follow her own artistic path. She became an award-winning photographer and the first woman in the Houston Camera Club. With her unique sense of style, she decorated a multitude of spaces. One of her homes was even featured in House Beautiful magazine.
After her children were grown, Grace ran the Bookman in Houston for her son Dorman, with daughter Diane’s art gallery next door. Through the rare book connection, Grace met and employed the writer and book aficionado Larry McMurtry. As Larry says in his memoir, he “was hired on the spot, and began one of the best friendships of my life.” It is widely acknowledged that McMurtry fashioned his classic character Aurora, in Terms of Endearment, from his observations of Grace and her colorful life. He dedicated the sequel, The Evening Star, to Grace.
In the bookstore or on the street, Grace moved through life with an innate curiosity and elegant gregariousness. It seemed so easy for her to meet people. She would simply approach them, as she did designer Jim Corbett, saying, “I’m Grace David, and I have to know you.” And she knew how to be a friend, steady and loyal, through thick and thin. In her words, life should be about “holding each other’s hands and leading each other through the tough times, and then holding each other’s hands and laughing together as the problems get solved.” Throughout her lifetime, Grace befriended, loved, and charmed many, many people, from presidents to industrialists to astronauts to the guy behind the counter at the grocery store.
When Grace was nearly 60, her marriage was over, and she headed for England, where she lived for 10 years. She studied Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy at Emerson College, lived in London, attended artistic salons, met incredible people, and went to the opera every week. Always on the cutting edge, Grace studied Joseph Pilates’s work in London and later brought her enthusiasm for his floor exercises to her classes at the Montecito Y and Casa Dorinda.
Her travels carried her around the globe—and she discovered that the whole world loved her! Grace never ceased to marvel at the little grand things, like standing at the foot of Africa with her feet in the waters of two oceans.
And when her travels ended, Grace came to Santa Barbara, where she lived close to her granddaughter, Kim Braun, and great-grandson, Alex. Like everywhere Grace had lived, her house in Santa Barbara became a gathering place for interesting and artistic people. Grace loved to shop, for herself and her buddies, and became great friends with shopkeepers all over town. Some of her favorite haunts were Chaucer’s, Imagine and Wendy Foster, Mimosa, La Super-Rica, and the Wine Cask. One day, at Blenders on the Mesa, Grace sat for hours with her shoes off talking to people passing by. I met Grace in 1985 through Jim and Linda’s S.B. Natural Fabric Store, where she bought material for her unusual wall hangings and one-of-a-kind clothing.
Grace was an expansive person of strong opinion and rich sentiment who rarely did things in a small way. You could count on her to be unorthodox and thought-provoking. When asked to share her wisdom at my daughter-in-law’s wedding shower, she said, “Only a fool would want to get married!” Luckily, with the encouragement of her writing teacher, Bill Richardson, and her editor, Sally Warner Arnett, in 2007, Grace compiled her many years of anecdotal writing into a memoir titled (like her business cards) Catch Me While I’m Passing Through. And reading Grace is just about as delightful as being with her.
In her last chapter in Santa Barbara, Grace was assisted by Christiane Schlumberger, who made it possible for her to keep her house, along with a team of friends who helped her daily, including Jill Palmer, Sally Warner Arnett, Linda Mason, Tom Entwistle, Kathleen Martin, Raul Gonzales, Margaret Matson, and myself. She continued to welcome strangers into her heart and approach each day with a “ho ho ho” and a beckoning smile.
Grace left this life sweetly one day. One moment she was here and the next gone. Like a comet that comes through our lives every once in a while, Grace instilled wonder, invited hope, and changed the lives of all who were lucky enough to catch her as she was passing through.
Some words from her friends:
Ann Igoe: “Grace was and still is a big influence in my life. I now laugh a lot more, am nicer to people, believe in strange happenings, love beautiful art objects more deeply, drive faster, spend more money, love the ridiculous, and I certainly met many interesting people through knowing her.”
Don Skipworth: “To be in the scope of Grace’s amazing child-like resilience and energy was like sharing the sun.”
Cadence Green (Grace’s granddaughter and end-of-life caregiver): “She will really be missed. Her spirit was so strong in my house. She truly touched my heart and all of our family and friends here (in Pagosa Springs, Colorado). Her laughter and love and gratefulness were endearing.”
Amelia Dallenbach: “Grace’s book, Catch Me While I’m Passing Through, was a major contribution to the life of everyone who read it.”
Linda Mason: “Grace had a fearless sense of color and her color combinations ALWAYS worked!”
Larry McMurtry: (In Houston) “The architects, the painters, the artists, the wood-carvers, the pot makers, and the weavers all miss Grace David …. as I do.”