Don Luce at Niagara Falls (Photo credit: Ted Lieverman)
It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Don Luce at the age of 88 in Niagara Falls, NY. This 6 December 2022 obituary by Seth Mydans of the New York Times (NYT) is an eloquent and fitting tribute to Don and a life well-lived. Don is one of my heroes on a very short list and an inspiration to me and countless others.
I especially liked how Thomas Fox, an International Voluntary Services (IVS) colleague, described Don, as quoted in the NYT obituary: “His manner was always quiet, his humor sharp. He was a shy person, in that sense ill-equipped to play the prophet role he came to endure. Don had no rough edges. His strength — and it was enormous — came from his ability to fasten onto a truth and speak it plainly. He was always most passionate when he spoke on behalf of those who were never allowed that opportunity.”
In 2019, I suggested to Debbie Curtis, a Niagara University colleague, that she consider inviting Don to speak at the university. Here is a report about Don’s presentation to the NU community in November of that year. Below is a photo of Debbie and Don from the former’s LinkedIn post about the event.
On A Personal Note
I share a few strands of DNA with Don; he’s a distant paternal cousin through both parents. On his mother’s side, our common great-grandparents are Phillip Wheeler (1698-1765) and Martha Salisbury (1698-1745). We’re also related through his paternal grandmother, Almina “Mina” Celia Church (1866-1938), which means we’re both direct descendants of Mayflower passengers Stephen Hopkins and Richard Warren. As young men, we both stopped believing in the cultural mythology that surrounds the founding of British Colonia America (BCA) and the US. (I discuss family ties to the early days of BCA in this CounterPunch essay From New England to Vietnam: Settler Colonialism in Cross-Cultural Perspective.)
When I think of Don and people like him, I think of the last of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances: My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand. The ground on which Don stood in Vietnam and his home country was rock solid, his legacy one of kindness, caring, and a quiet yet steely determination to seek justice for those fellow human beings who were the victims of state-sponsored violence and considered expendable by an unjust and unfair society. While I’m sure he would demur, it’s no exaggeration to say that Don was both Christlike and Buddha-like.
My heartfelt condolences to his husband, Dr. Mark Bonacci, Don’s other family members, and legion of friends in the US, Vietnam, including the survivors of Côn Sơn Prison, and elsewhere. While those of us who knew, or knew of, Don are in mourning, we celebrate his life and know that his spirit lives on.
Postscript: This local obituary contains information about Don’s memorial service on 26 December 2022 at the Community Missions of Niagara Frontier in Niagara Falls, NY. The service will be videotaped and posted to YouTube. I’ll add the link here as soon as it’s available.
Shalom (שלום), MAA