OBITUARY

Charles Joseph Pecor, Jr.

October 5, 1938November 1, 2020

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to one of these charities that reflect the values our father held near and dear: Meals on Wheels or The New Georgia Project.

Meals on Wheels (https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/) provides free meals to seniors, those most vulnerable to COVID-19. Click on the Donate button, and consider checking the box labeled “I’m donating in honor of someone” to make a tribute to Dad.

The New Georgia Project (https://newgeorgiaproject.org/) is a nonpartisan voter registration effort to give all Georgians a voice in their state and local government. Follow the link and click on the Donate button at the bottom of the page.

….

Our father was a scholar, a performer, and a brilliant raconteur. He was a kind and generous man as well.

His mother’s family was from Boneville, Georgia, a tiny, unincorporated community in McDuffie County, part of east Georgia’s cotton-belt, and due to his own father’s premature death, he spent his entire childhood there. One of his greatest pleasures was roaming its well-known fields and forests. Another great pleasure was reading, which he apparently taught himself to do when he was only three, sitting in his grandfather’s lap while his grandfather read the newspaper. He loved Boneville all his life and with all his heart; despite their poverty, his family obviously made him feel deeply loved, completely protected, and supported in all things.

At the age of only five, he stepped on a bus for his first day of first grade in nearby Thomson, and apparently leaving the comfortable cocoon of Boneville was quite hard on him, because he ended up being put on bedrest for six weeks due to some kind of stress-related disorder. His doctor at the time compared his symptoms to those of soldiers suffering from shellshock. Perhaps this educational setback was the cause of his lifelong difficulty with spelling. In addition to being a poor speller, he was, throughout his childhood and adolescence, the sort of bright but inconsistent student who works hard or hardly works depending on whether or not the subject at hand has captured his interest. Nevertheless, his combination of curiosity and intelligence, the education he received, and the unfailing support of his mother, grandmother, and aunt provided him with opportunities that allowed him ultimately to thrive and travel far.

It was also in a public school in Thomson that he saw his first professional magic show, a performer by the name of MacDonald Birch, a major American magician who did well for himself during the 30s and 40s by traveling the country and presenting a glamorous and polished act in humble venues. Seventy years later, our father could remember many details of this performance, including the famous Vanishing Pony. Magicians were and are a warm cross-generational fraternity of lovely, creative, supportive people, and they quickly enfolded our fatherless father in their warm embrace. At that very performance in a high school auditorium, he met Walter T. Harper of Camak, Georgia, who eventually took him to his first magic convention in Augusta, Georgia in 1954, where he met his two most important and beloved mentors in magic, Bob Carver and J. C. Doty.

Nothing made our father happier than attending a magic convention. He performed for many years as a close-up artist and stage magician, and was a particularly witty and charming master of ceremonies. He of course developed close friendships with many magical peers whom we were raised to think of as aunts and uncles. Our mother, Claudia, often served as his lovely assistant, and he included his children in the act on occasion as well.

He often lectured at conventions and sold sets of accompanying lecture notes. When he would come home from a convention at which he had sold out of those lecture notes, his face would be wreathed with smiles. His delight clearly had nothing to do with the modest financial gain, and everything to do with having his creativity and hard work affirmed by the community that meant so much to him. Publishing his how-to book for beginners, The Craft of Magic, and his numerous publications in magic periodicals over the years gave him similar satisfaction.

His greatest strength as a performer was combining polished, well-practiced technical mastery with creative, original patter, whether funny, or creepy, or both. He obviously recognized his own strengths, as he styled himself The Wizard of Wit when we were children.

A wonderful example of this style was his signature finger-chopper routine, a masterpiece of comic timing and sardonic humor. After he had produced a tiny guillotine and selected a volunteer from the audience, he would make a big show of making sure the finger that was to be placed in the chopper was on the volunteer’s non-dominant hand. To show how safe it was--”You look a little nervous”--, he would demonstrate the apparatus on a cigarette, which would, of course, promptly be chopped in half. After a dramatic pause during which he feigned speechless consternation, he would plow ahead by saying, “Oh. Oh. Well, I’ve never known this to fail . . . twice in a row.” He would place a tiny basket under the end of the selected finger and cover its tip with a “blindfold” in the form of a thimble. While groping in his pockets for these items, he would toss out a white handkerchief stained with bright red spots, out of which would roll a prop version of a bloody, severed finger. After returning the handkerchief and “finger” to his pocket without comment, he would drape the apparatus with a bit of red silk--”because red doesn’t show dust!” He led up to the actual “chopping” by saying, “Everything should be fine . . . as long as you do not move that finger . . . or your hand, your elbow, or your shoulder,” concluding with the following disclaimer: “The thing that happened in Atlanta that you may have read about in the newspapers was not my fault! The woman moved her hand!”

We have watched this routine dozens, if not hundreds, of times. It was never boring. His subtle adjustments and ad libs in response to the reactions of the volunteer and his masterful manipulation of the reactions of the audience, which always included both amusement and rising tension, made each performance its own unique tour de force. And no actual human fingers were ever harmed, of course.

Throughout his life, he continued to grow and develop as a magician, eventually becoming interested in bizarre magic, which inspired marvelous new routines and introduced him to new and wonderful colleagues and friends. He became a mentalist as well, and joined the Psychic Entertainers Association. While he certainly never believed he actually had psychic powers, he claimed to us that about 50% of the PEA did harbor such a belief. To such persons, he extended the genial, bemused tolerance which was his harshest judgment on most of humanity. If you did not personally attack our father, he wished you no ill; if you did try to mess with him, he would use his signature wit to make you reconsider that decision.

After entering his “Yoda phase,” as he called it, he developed deeply meaningful relationships with younger magicians, whom he considered honorary children and who reciprocated his affection and emotional investment in their lives. As his mobility issues more and more curtailed his ability to travel, these dear, younger friends kept in touch by phone and email and even came to his house to visit and session with him. In the last few years of his life, he lost the dexterity necessary to perform, but he continued to attend the meetings of his local magic club as long as he retained the strength to leave the house for anything other than medical appointments.

Despite a rough and uneven start with higher education, our father also had a successful career as an academic that eventually dove-tailed with his vocation as a magician.

After an academically disastrous freshman year at Emory at Oxford, which seems to have consisted of much partying and little studying, he transferred to the University of Georgia, where he earned both an undergraduate degree and an MFA in Theater. Immediately after earning the second degree, he began his career as a professor at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia.

At the time, Shorter was a small Baptist school, but it was not the bastion of anti-intellectual fundamentalism that it later became. The pay was not very good and it made no provisions for the retirement of its faculty or staff. As a result, the faculty was dominated by absolute (and perhaps under-credentialed) beginners, such as our father, and professors of a rather ancient vintage who needed extra income in retirement or simply could not afford to retire at all. The student body was an eclectic mix that included young Southern women like our mother who might be part of the first generation in their families to attend college. Many of the young men had flunked out of more prestigious institutions in the Northeast and had been recruited to come to this little Southern school as a sort of academic second chance. Somehow, there were even international students.

During his five years at Shorter, our father worked as a one-man theater department, teaching a wide range of classes on his own and directing a variety of classic and avant garde plays. Until the end of his life, he was extremely proud of his work there with the Shorter Players. His first show was Jean Anoilh’s Antigone, in which our future mother--a sophomore at the time--played the role of Ismene. They soon began dating and married each other the following August.

Eventually he was recruited away from Shorter and worked in a similar position for three years at Georgia Tech. Our parents moved to Fairburn, Georgia, where they built a large home with the help of our maternal grandparents. They had the two of us during this time as well.

Between the new house and the new children, money was tight. One of our father’s kind friends from the world of magic, John Stanfield, ran a United Rent-All franchise and offered him the opportunity to work at the store on Saturdays, an offer he gladly accepted. One of his primary duties was setting up hospital beds in people’s homes, which was a two-man job. He assisted a full-time employee, James, in carrying out this task. James was Black, and our father thought it was perfectly reasonable for him to be in charge, as James “knew what the hell he was doing,” whereas our father did not. However, in the Atlanta area in the late 1960s, the sight of a Black man telling a White man what to do as they worked to assemble a rented hospital bed filled the White families in whose homes they were working with pretty obvious contempt. Surely, this “Charlie” must be the lowest White man alive!

To be clear, our father was not at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement or anything like that, but all his life he considered racism a species of particularly rank stupidity, at best. Although the intellectual and moral foundations of such a position should, one would hope, be obvious to all, it is a bit of a mystery to us how he arrived at it. His entire family, and indeed, all the White people in the Boneville of his youth seemed to be unapologetic, unreconstructed, out-and-out white supremacists. Our mother’s family was likewise, as were most White Southerners of the time, and obviously there are many people of similar background who cling to that ideology even today. When directly asked why he would be any different, he replied that his mother had been the greatest influence on him and that she “was not really like that,” even though she didn’t talk much about it as an impoverished single mother in the Jim Crow South.

To sum up: during this period of his life, our father worked six days a week. Monday through Friday, he was wearing a suit, addressed as Professor Pecor, and treated with respect and deference. On Saturdays, he dressed as a manual laborer, showed common sense deference to a more skilled coworker, and was, as result, treated with contempt. He not only rejected racism, he had no use for classism or economic inequality, either, and this experience only served to reinforce his beliefs about how unjust our society could be.

He undoubtedly enjoyed great advantages as a White man during the Sunbelt Boom. It is doubtful that he would have gotten that second chance in college without being a White man, for example. He and his mother were by no means the poorest people--or even just the poorest White people--in Boneville, Georgia, but our grandmother was in fact poor from the time her husband died until her death. She spent most of those years working in a small textile factory for less than minimum wage. Plenty of people were better off than her and her son, and some did not hesitate to let them know where they stood in the pecking order.

As a consequence, all his life he strongly supported government programs that gave money to the poor and believed in practicing personal charity as well. In his later years, during a Sunday School class on “Christian Financial Management,” an acquaintance had felt moved to speak out against acts of Christian charity, explaining that he had been “raised to believe everyone should just take care of themselves.”

Getting into his car after church that day, our father said to our mother, “I sure am glad I wasn’t raised that way!”

“How were you raised?” our mother asked.

“I was raised that we might not have much, but we could still do something for other people,” he replied.

As the years passed and they had more to give, my mother always let him write all the checks. She knew he would give away more than she would.

It was quite a shock when our parents learned that our father could only stay at Georgia Tech for three years because his position was not tenure-track. He quite simply lacked the class privilege to be aware of the distinction between tenure-track and non-tenure track positions on the academic job market. Shorter had been an academic outlier where such distinctions did not apply, and perhaps, after he had taught at another college for five years, it did not occur to anyone at Georgia Tech that he did not actually know anything about the tenure system in higher education. It was because of this turn of events, though, that our father’s academic pursuits would eventually intertwine with his love of magic.

Once it became clear that a PhD would make this all-important “tenure” much easier to obtain, our parents sold their new house and the whole family moved to Athens, Georgia, so that our father could complete the coursework for a PhD in drama as quickly as possible. With a family of four to support, he quickly went back on the academic job market, and we all moved again, this time to Macon, where he had secured a job at the institution then known as Macon Junior College. He began teaching full time again while working in his dissertation.

We used to play in the living room of our home at 1555 Westminister Drive as our father sat in the back room clacking away on the portable typewriter his mother had given him in high school. “Daddy’s working on his dissertation,” our mother would say. For all we knew, it was just something that all fathers did, like mowing the lawn. On other hand, by the time he actually finished it we were six and eight, and just old enough to understand that we were in on one of his jokes when we solemnly confirmed for adult party guests that we now addressed him as “Dr. Daddy.”

It was this dissertation that brought together his magical and academic lives. The Magician on the American Stage, 1752-1874 is about magic in the American Theater before the golden age of the late 19th and early 20th century. During this early period, the American market for entertainment had developed sufficiently to tempt foreign conjurers to tour here, but native-born performers had not achieved international stature. Our father did an immense amount of original research for this project. He established various major performers' itineraries and repertoires by cross-referencing multiple documentary sources. He traveled to use special collections, both public and private, and spent countless hours poring through microfiche versions of old newspapers looking for relevant advertisements. His background as a working magician enabled him to explain the illusions referenced in the various sources and helped him analyze the influences on various prominent magicians of the era.

This dissertation was actually published in a limited edition of 500 copies. While it’s not a book for the general reader, if you're researching the specific topic, or even just researching variety theater in the United States during that time period, it’s a must-read, to the point that our father was probably one of the top experts on this subject in the world. When he was told that copies were for sale on the internet for as much as $500.00, he was incredulous. “If they think they can get $500.00 for THAT, good luck to them,” he harrumphed.

Soon thereafter, though, he learned that the rarity of the book had indeed made it highly sought after--by young researchers too poor to pay $500.00 for a single text. Since Pecor is such an unusual surname and the book is so rare, people started calling him out of the blue to ask if he was related to the author and knew how to contact him. He took great pleasure in telling them that any text accepted as a dissertation by the University System of Georgia could be had from that system for only a small fee covering the copying cost.

It is impossible to list here all of our father’s creative projects and charming quirks that do NOT fit not under the headings of magic or academia--topics which, in themselves, have been given short shrift already. The topic of his recreational lying, however, can perhaps provide the reader with a sense of his unique spirit.

Our father was not a con man or swindler of any stripe. He sought no unfair advantage over anyone, and never bamboozled a fellow being . . . in any matter of importance. In matters of no importance, however, he absolutely loved to craft the most elaborate, fantastical lies.

During the 1970s, the price of gold skyrocketed and then collapsed. For weeks, he strolled about Macon Junior College, occasionally looking off into the middle distance and announcing with an abstracted air, “I sure am glad I got out of gold when I did.”

Finally, someone--perhaps a student--took the bait, inquiring hesitantly as to whether or not the salary of a humanities professor at Macon Junior College really allowed one the income to speculate in precious metals.

“Oh,” our father replied in a mild but lofty tone of astonishment, “you don’t think I do this for MONEY, do you?”

He told so many people that Cynthia Sams, his former student and a dear family friend, was his daughter by a previous marriage, that eventually someone said to our mother, “Now, you’re Charlie’s second wife, right?”

He told innumerable people over the years about the “grits harvest” in South Georgia. (For the uninitiated: grits are ground up corn. That’s all there is to it.)

In our father’s version, though, grits were grown in orchards. When the grits were ready for harvest, circular sheets of some plasticized material were taken into the orchards. In the center of each sheet was a small hole. This hole was for the trunk of the grits tree. Extending from the hole to the edge of the sheet was a radial zipper, which allowed the sheet to be placed around the tree. The workers would then shake the branches of the tree and the ripened grits would fall from the tree into the plasticized sheet. And that’s how the grits were harvested in South Georgia.

Even if you were on to him--even if you lived with him and knew he just made this stuff up ALL THE TIME--it was incredibly hard to catch him at it. He was so erudite, so well-read, had so many unlikely sounding facts at his command, that as soon as you said, “Oh, come on, Dad, you can’t fool me again, that’s just another one of your lies!” it would be true. It would be a verifiable fact, right there in the encyclopedia.

It was fun for him. It was funny. But he wasn’t making fun of people. He wasn’t mocking their ignorance or credulity. He was doing it to amuse himself, but not at anyone’s expense. He was playing to an audience of one, perhaps, if need be. Everyday life was just a little too boring for him, and he needed to spice it up a little. And the wonder and treasure of who he was--was that he so often took the rest of us along for the ride.

He was a man to charm the innocent hour. He was a man who could weave a waking dream from memories and odd facts and lies. A man who could lay out bits of dime-store junk on a card table and leave you completely beguiled, and wanting more.

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Charles Joseph Pecor, Jr.

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Heyward Boyette

November 11, 2020

Claudia,
Please accept my deepest sympathies. It's been a while, but I cherish the years of magical memories with Charles.
Heyward Boyette

Cherilyn Landry

November 7, 2020

So sorry to hear of Charles passing. He is such a Godly man. It was such a privilege to have known him. He was so inspiring
with his readings. He is in the arms of Jesus. Sending prayers and love to the family . Cherilyn

richard molan

November 4, 2020

Claudia and family, Pat and I want to express our sincerest sympathy on the passing of Charles. We shall miss his memorable ruminations as the "old Geezer". We so enjoyed our time with him and he shall remain in our thoughts and in our hearts forever. Much love to all of you.

Cousin Rick Molan

Dewel Lawrence

November 4, 2020

I was saddened to learn of the loss of Charles Pecor. We were friends for several years at Macon State College. My deepest condolences go to Claudia and their family.

Patsy Rece

November 4, 2020

Steve and I are so sad to hear of Charlie’s death. Claudia, Charlie and their children were our neighbors for many years and became dear friends. Their creative and unique personalities were a gift to be treasured.

Pat Getz

November 3, 2020

I attended Macon Junior College in the early 1980's when Dr. Pecor was in charge of the drama department. I have fond memories of participating in plays during that time. He was a great teacher and mentor for many during those years. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY

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