We come to the final instalment of this series on the forgotten but brilliant science fiction writer John M. Ford.
Over the last few posts, we’ve looked at how he made nifty comedy out of the Star Trek franchise, and how his interest in games allowed him to lend nuance to the usual goodies-vs-baddies-in-space shenanigans when he was playing in other people’s universes.
We also thought about why thinking science-fictionally matters when we try to find new ways of doing things for our communities, our organisations, ourselves. And we considered how good ideas move between the world on the page and the world beyond it.
I wanted to end by coming back to Ford’s actual life in Minneapolis. The city is something of a magnet for science fiction writers, and Ford was surrounded by a community of colleagues and friends, the most famous of whom is probably Neil Gaiman.
In my research for this series, I discovered that Ford – “Mike” to his friends – was an enthusiastic member of the old Friends of Minneapolis Libraries, and that his family, friends, and fans had created an endowment in his name to that organization after his death.
The Friends of Minneapolis Libraries have now become the Friends of the Hennepin County Library following a merger between adjacent library systems. I contacted the Friends’ Finance Director Linda K. Merritt, who was kind enough to discuss Ford’s contribution to the library friends over the years.
I would describe Mike as an unassuming supporter of our library. He was a frequent shopper in the Friends’ used bookstore – picking up books of all genres to pass on to others. In all the years of his patronage of our store, we were unaware of his writing career until after his death! I attended Mike’s memorial service and was overwhelmed by the stories of his kind-heartedness, humor, and unpretentious brilliance. His friends were truly blessed to have had this man in their lives.
It was my honor to assist his partner, Elise Matthesen, in setting up the John M. Ford Endowment. Memorial gifts in Mike’s name were received from all over the world and we continue to receive gifts into this endowment annually. Our endowments are structured to endure endlessly. A portion of interest earned on the invested funds is used to enhance the library’s collection every year. This will continue in perpetuity as long as the Friends exist.
In our last instalment, we talked about Ford’s heroes as quiet, unsung figures who made a difference without knowing if they’d ever be remembered. We considered how that might also apply to a brilliant “writer’s writer” in the sometimes overlooked world of genre fiction.
Now Linda’s account tells us that Ford was as quietly generous and thoughtful in real life as he was on the page: a storyteller and friend to libraries who wasn’t in it for the glory, but the sheer joy of the work.
We’ll remember him.