but nowadays that position slipped to the lowest one in town”
~song lyrics by Dexter Oliver
Author and friend Dexter Oliver emailed me this morning and said he happened to come across a notice on the internet about his old friend and writing mentor, Neil Carmony, who had died two months ago. No obit or way to contact any relatives (he had a sister and she had kids). Nothing in the Tucson newspapers — which Dexter thought was rude since Neil was a native son who made good with his books.
Dexter said it wasn’t the first time he looked up a friend or acquaintance he hadn’t heard from for awhile and found a death notice. And then there have been those that have seemed to have vanished. I’ve had the same thing happen this past year, and I bet you have, too. Has the relationship just faded? Or has the person died? We never know.
Dexter said he always thought of a person’s life like a book with a beginning, middle, and end — and an obit is the last period of the last line. Which is why he’s already written his own. But Neil didn’t write his own and his family didn’t write one for him. Dexter pointed out that lots of people can’t or won’t write them for some reason. True, they’re hard to write if they’re going to be more than just bare-bones facts, but still.
One reason Dexter Oliver is the writer he is, is because of Neil Carmony. Who better to write Neil’s obituary?
Requiem for a Writer
by Dexter K. Oliver
Writers are an odd bunch. It takes a lot of desire, discipline, and determination to sit alone for long periods of time crafting a nonfiction book, a novel, or a short story collection. A writer who is also an editor of Old West historical tales is a rare combination. My late friend, Neil B. Carmony, who died April 15, 2021, fit the bill.
Neil was a native son of Tucson, Arizona. He worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, was an outdoorsman, hunter, long range silhouette target shooter on both sides of the Mexican border, and had a wicked sense of humor. His large head housed a large, erudite brain. His circle of friends was wide-ranging: biologists, historians, ranchers, hunters and trappers, environmentalists, book store owners, book publishers, and writers of every sort.
When he turned to working on books, either as the primary author or as a guiding editor, his main legacy was soon revealed. He would settle for nothing less than the truth in whatever project had his name on it. Deep research and fact checking became his trademarks. The “Tucson literati” quickly learned that he was less than tolerant with those who didn’t follow suit.
When author Chuck Bowden quoted Carmony in the beginning of his book, “Frog Mountain Blues”, Neil swiftly pointed out that the conversation was (not surprisingly to some) a complete fabrication and never took place. When another Tucson writing icon, Greg McNamee, penned a book called “Gila: The Life and Death of an American River”, Neil’s copy was awash with yellow highlighting of erroneous “facts”. McNamee later begged him to help edit his next work but Carmony refrained.
Just to show his impartiality in regard to printing the truth, he also called out his longtime co-writing partner, Arizona Game and Fish veteran David E. Brown, when Dave allowed sloppy research to show up in one of his books on the Southwest grizzly bear.
In an era when we trample the truth underfoot, elect pathological liars to the highest realms of political power, laugh nervously at their antics, and then wonder why our children lie to us, the loss of a truth teller like Neil Carmony is another nail in the coffin of our collective culture. RIP old friend.
Dexter K. Oliver is one of that odd bunch, a freelance writer from Duncan, AZ.
Photo by Dexter K. Oliver: Some books written or edited by Neil B. Carmony
Obituary reproduced here with Dexter K. Oliver’s permission.