The rest of the world knew him as Dr. Death, but to residents of Royal Oak, he was "that quirky gentleman" who was quiet and unimposing. To friends he was just "Jack."
Upon learning Friday of , Royal Oak business owners and residents reacted with a sadness that was unique to the place Kevorkian called home.
Royal Oak gallery support
Art consultant Anne Kuffler was devastated by the news of Kevorkian's death. Kuffler is the artistic director of , the exclusive dealer of Kevorkian's art.
Hers was one of the few galleries that would take his work, Kuffler said. "The other galleries were afraid," she said. "But I had a child who died a long, arduous death and I believed in Jack's cause."
Kevorkian was also a frequent visitor of in downtown Royal Oak before he went to prison and after he was released and returned home, John McEntee said.
"He always came around looking for boxes. I think he was looking for something to keep his junk in," he said with a laugh. "I've known him for a long time and he never once tried to push his political views on me. He never created any controversy at our store."
Shirley Sillars recalled seeing Kevorkian at the a couple of years ago. "You would see him around a lot," said Sillars, who used to live and work in Royal Oak and now lives in Ferndale. "We go to the library a lot and I was in the children's section with my daughter, who was about 3 at the time, and I looked up and saw him standing behind her in the checkout line. It just took me aback.
"There's my little Miss Sunshine with Dr. Death standing right behind her."
Frequent library user
Kevorkian was a frequent visitor to the library to do research and write, staff said.
"He was a very interesting guy and came in quite often," said Mary Ann DeKane, the Adult Services librarian since 2002. "He was always writing and working away on something. He and I got to be pretty close. ... He was a very unassuming, down-to-Earth guy. Being treated differently wasn’t important to him, what was important was getting his message out."
Computer aide Ed Pank has worked at library for four years and saw Kevorkian frequently.
"He used to come mostly in the mornings. He was right at the door and one of our first patrons in the morning," Pank said. "He was doing a lot of research for books he was working on. He never brought attention to himself. He was very diligent and a really nice man. He would write on the computer for hours on end; he spent a lot of time here. I would just help him out saving documents."
Kevorkian acted just like any other patron, but inevitably he would be recognized and people asked if they could take his photo. "The last half a year he hasn’t been here as much," Pank said. "The last time I saw him he didn’t look that well, and he wished me the best of luck in everything I did."
Brooke Meltzer and Nick Rosebush, both 20, lived in the same apartment complex as Kevorkian, across from the on 11 Mile Road.
"He was very secluded, and if I did see him he was always reading or doing something like that," Meltzer said.
Rosebush called Kevorkian "a great man and a perfect neighbor."
"I’m sorry to hear that it happened. I knew he wasn’t looking good, and I saw him right before he went to the hospital," he said. "I really admired the guy. I did a project on assisted suicide in high school. I get really upset when people talk bad about him because they don’t understand what he was doing."
Rosebush said Kevorkian was well-liked. "He was a really smart man. We talked a little here or there," he said. "People were always picking him up. Everyone thought he was the nicest guy. My landlord said one time that if we had another 28 Jack Kevorkians in this place that it would be just fine."
Mr. B's caught up in controversy
John Dempster, owner/general manager of pub and restaurant, recalled how in the early '90s Kevorkian and frequented the Main Street restaurant for lunch. Kevorkian, who lived in an apartment above the restaurant at the time, always ordered the same thing: a small cheese pizza with green peppers.
The former pathologist's assisted suicide crusade caused some commotion for Mr. B's, Dempster said. Right to Life protesters frequently marched on the sidewalk in front of the establishment.
Dempster took those days in stride. He said the protesters were always well behaved. And he respected Kevorkian's passion.
"He had tons of conviction," Dempster said.
No crank calls
Huntington Woods resident Alex Cooper recalled his only encounter with Kevorkian: "About 17 years ago, I was on the program committee of the Michigan Society for Healthcare Planning and Marketing and we were trying to set up a debate with Dr. K and Dr. Howard Brody, a medical ethicist at MSU. Since I had a remote connection with Dr. K’s attorney at the time, I was assigned the task of inviting Dr. K to the debate.
"After a frustrating game of telephone tag with his attorney, I decided to call Kevorkian directly at his apartment above the old Mr. B’s in downtown Royal Oak. We had a good chat, but he politely declined the invitation.
"At the end of our conversation, I asked Dr. K, 'Since your number’s listed in the phone book, do you get many crank or threatening calls?'
"He laughed and loudly said, 'You know, I never thought about it because I’ve never – ever!!! – got one call like that! It shows you how much people are behind what I’m doing!' "
Resident shakes up Royal Oak
Royal Oak resident John Schultz remembers sharing a wall with Kevorkian in downtown Royal Oak when Schultz was an editor for the Royal Oak Mirror.
Kevorkian lived in an apartment building on Main Street that was between Mr. B's and the building at Third and Main, said Schultz, now the managing editor at DBusiness magazine based in Royal Oak. "The Mirror offices were in that building and my office and Jack's apartment shared a wall," he said. "I would hear Jack in his apartment doing dishes or moving around, playing flute, etc. We would run into each other occasionally in the adjoining entrance. We would chat, but he never would discuss what he called 'his business.'
"One night I worked late to around 3 a.m. on page proofs for The Mirror. I went home for a couple hours of sleep before the printer came the next morning. I came downtown to the office around 8 a.m. and the place was surrounded with media trucks and reporters from all over.
"I asked what was going on and found out Dr. Kevorkian had performed an assisted suicide the night before – and I was three feet and a wall away working on the page proofs and didn't hear a thing!"
It was the first assisted suicide in Kevorkian's apartment, noted Schultz, also the co-author of Images of America: Royal Oak. The previous assisted deaths were performed in Kevorkian's van. "From that point, downtown Royal Oak was a buzz with folks wanting to get a glimpse of him or his apartment," Schultz said.
The apartment building was torn down a couple years later for Mr. B's to expand.
- Leslie Ellis and Lynne Cobb contributed to this report.