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Royal Oak Remembers Jack Kevorkian

The restaurants, shops and library that Kevorkian frequented say they will miss the quirky, understated gentleman who called Royal Oak home.

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."

Nutri-Foods visitor

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."

Surprise encounter

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."

Good neighbor

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.

Joe Papierz Jr June 04, 2011 at 11:30 PM
In spite of all the glowing testamonials I've always had a slight reservation against Kevorkians "work". Once in awhile the most tragic and painful illness can have a miraculous reversal and recovery. His "solution" to excrutiating pain permanently eliminated that possibillity.
Joe Papierz Jr June 04, 2011 at 11:34 PM
Nikki, you need to learn the difference betweey human beings and pets. In spite of all the glowing testamonials I've always had a slight reservation against Kevorkians "work". Once in awhile the most tragic and painful illness can have a miraculous reversal and recovery. His "solution" to excrutiating pain permanently eliminated that possibillity.
Joe Papierz Jr June 04, 2011 at 11:37 PM
In spite of all the glowing testamonials I've always had a slight reservation against Kevorkians "work" and suiside as well. Once in awhile the most tragic and painful illness or seemingly hopeless family problems can have a miraculous reversal and recovery. His "solution" to excrutiating pain permanently eliminated that possibillity.
Mike June 04, 2011 at 11:39 PM
jo ko, If you were really a nurse you would know that eithanasia is illegal in all 50 states. What you describe may happen but it is illegal. Three states, Oregon, Washington and Montana allow assisted suicide, which means a physician (not a lay person) allowing a terminally ill individual access to medicine in a dosage that will bring about death. The drug is not to be directly administered by the physician, e.g., by injection. And yes, people who feel strongly that suicide is immoral may find their views challenged when they or a loved one is the one undergoing a painful or lingering death. In the same way, the staunchest atheist may find theselves praying when they are in extreme distress, as on a battlefield. What of it? Sometimes our views are changed by experience, and other times we revert to our previous ideas when a crisis is past.
Joe Papierz Jr June 04, 2011 at 11:40 PM
In spite of all the glowing testamonials I've always had a slight reservation against Kevorkians "work" and suiside as well. Once in awhile the most tragic and painful illness or seemingly hopeless family problems can have a miraculous reversal and recovery. Suiside and the Kevorkian "solutions" to excrutiating pain permanently eliminated that possibillity.
Joe Papierz Jr June 04, 2011 at 11:40 PM
In spite of all the glowing testamonials I've always had a slight reservation against Kevorkians "work" and suiside as well. Once in awhile the most tragic and painful illness or seemingly hopeless family problems can have a miraculous reversal and recovery. Suiside and the Kevorkian "solutions" to excrutiating pain permanently eliminated that possibillity.
Mike June 04, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Sandy, If I see someone robbing a bank there is no occasion to say, "Who knows? Maybe bank-robbing is right for that person. I won't judge." But on the other hand, the sin (and it is sin) may be mitigated by circumstances in that person's life of which I have no knowledge. Only he knows what is in the person's heart. And of course there's a difference between stealing bread to feed a starving family , and stealing because one doesn't feel like working or wants to live in a bigger house. That's why ultimately only god can judge. But that doesn't mean we can't send bank robbers to jail. That's why believers are enjoined to "love the sinner and hate the sin."
Mike June 04, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Gee, thanks for setting us straight O wise one.
cj June 04, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Really? Those are sins? What bible r u freaking reading? jeez
Mike June 04, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Evelyn, if his kidneys were failing then he was terminally ill. It did kill him, after all. He did not take the path he prescribed for others. I do not see this as hypocrisy, necessarily; every situation is different. But most of his "patients" were not terminal. They were mostly depressed people who might have been helped with treatment, or disabled individuals with many years ahead had they not been convinced that life was no longer worth living. He saw assisted suicide not an an escape from a lingering death but as an escape from an unfulfilling life. That's the wrong prescription, in my opinion.
cj June 05, 2011 at 12:00 AM
My life, my decision! No one else has the right to make the decision unless I give it to them! Especially the goverment! I'm a total believer in Jack's message! And besides, why does anyone care what I do w/ my life? Stay the heck out of my business and tend to your own life! Just saying...
Lori McGovern June 05, 2011 at 12:03 AM
How I wish there was a man as noble & courageous as Dr. Kevorkian when his gift was in it's infancy & his notoriety still non-existant outside of a small closed community. Growing up with a terminally ill father who begged me to assist him in ending his suffering was a really tough thing to deal with. I wanted to help him end his long drawn out suffering but just couldn't bring myself to honor his request. My father understood & respected my being on the fence yet knew I was able to relate to his desire to make his agony stop. Watching him wither away to a broken man still haunts me to this day. I am a huge supporter in the right to chose to maintain your dignity. It is ashame that what should be basic human self-right is dictated by society & government (considering the perpetually horrid state of both society & government). The world is far worse off now that the dear doctor has passed on. Please do not tell me how to live my life or how & when to end it. Rest in Peace Mr. Kevorkian, you sure have earned it. You will always be one of my personal heroes.
cj June 05, 2011 at 12:04 AM
Bruce, I totally agree with you!
dennis p. June 05, 2011 at 12:05 AM
===== A true pioneer in respecting the terminally ill. I think the medical profession should do away with the Hypocratic oath and instead take an oath to rival the work of Dr. K. When the patient feels he/she wants to leave us in a dignified manner, who is to say he/she cannot? No on has the right to tell me how I treat my own body. Eve our Lord took his own son's life. So why can we not take our own? =======
cj June 05, 2011 at 12:05 AM
And Joe, those cases are rare! And why do you care what other people do with their lives? Who died and made you the boss?
Lori McGovern June 05, 2011 at 12:14 AM
Chukuma ~ in the end it was also Dr. Kevorkian's CHOICE not to elect to utilize the service he provided. In no way does that mean that it wasn't the RIGHT choice for many others. He was a noble & honorable Doctor whowill forever be highly respected for his life's work. For you to refer to him as an 'executioner' implies that he sought out his clients & forced his services upon them. It was they who sought him out to remedy what you (as a doctor) could not!!
drs June 05, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Hey Mike, let's see where you got your information from, you can't just make stuff up or were you there?
christy ebbert June 05, 2011 at 10:04 PM
I'm pretty sure killing someone is doing harm.
Frank June 06, 2011 at 05:55 PM
No pioneer. Just a ghoul who got his kicks watching people die. Read his background. Then when he was getting in trouble he latched on to the "death with dignity" angle.
Ronald Wolf March 22, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Beautifully written nikki. Dr Jack would have loved what you have expressed so eloquently I am sure.
Joanna sprague March 23, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Lorraine, I couldn't agree with you more. I worked admitting ...both general and Er...for a very long time. I saw sooo much. I think JACK was a great guy. He cared about the suffering person.... not the medical profit. I am one very happy camper we at least treat animals as good as we do when it is time to put them down. Amazing how money becomes more important when it is a person.
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 03:15 AM
I had the good fortune to have two good conversations with him at the Farmers Market. Coincidentally I knew one of his former lawyers whom I found later to be a disappointment as many in that profession turn out to be. I found Dr. Kevorkian to be a patient remarkable individual gifted not only with the courage of his convictions but a brilliant writer as well with a knowledge of history and constitutional law far beyond his medical training, I discovered his compassion for the suffering of his fellow man surpassed anyone I have ever met before. I feel I lost a great friend, and I hardly knew him. I believe there are many in this town who feel the same way.
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Frank,I believe you are the same opinionated local know it all that pollutes the net with similar drivel and I am being kind. Am I correct?
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 03:35 AM
A touching commentary, and so true, I experienced this with my mom who on hospice at home did not pass peacefully, and to this day I regret putting her in a system that was not there for her in her last moments alone.
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Well said, Royal Oak would be a kinder place to live if more people thought like us.
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 03:49 AM
If they gave awards to idiots you would take first prize.
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 03:59 AM
The most common form of cruelty is neglect, found in the biggest and best hospitals and so called nursing homes, See what happens when your insurance runs out. Excellent commentary by the way.
Ronald Wolf March 23, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Morphine is not always easy, especially when someone has been on it for an extended time. Its side effects of nausea, and feelings of strangulation and bowel paralysis are horrible in the debilitated and dying. My late mother with terminal Alzheimers on "home" hospice resisted the oral morphine that stained her lips and teeth a sickly blue. I wish there was another way. She died alone after hours of labored breath due to the morphine, I deeply regret using a hospice that rarely visited and was too far from us.
Frank March 23, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Please. He didn't give a crap about anybody's suffering until he got caught up in the controversey and he thought it would help him out. He was a ghoul obsessed with death. Royal Oak is losing it honoring this idiot. What's next a statue for Josef Mengele.
Ronald Wolf March 24, 2012 at 05:56 AM
Still at it Frank? Obviously if you had a fraction of a fraction of Kevorkian's brains you would be a little more loquacious instead of repeating your bitter schoolyard babble ad nauseum. On your ludicrous comparrison to Mengele, you may have accidentally scored a point considering Royal Oak's apparent on going admiration for the rabid Jew-hating Priest and Hitler acolyte Father Charles Coughlin. An admiration apparently shared with editors of the "Royal Oak Review". As far as someone being a idiot, you should think twice about casting that stone. If you are capable of thinking.

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