Remembering Dick Gregory: A true friend, hero & original to the end

Dick Gregory, left, JoAnn Watson, right.
Dick Gregory, left, JoAnn Watson, right.

By JoAnn Watson
Activist & former Detroit city councilwoman

I was his Detroit “Sister.”

Dick Gregory came to Detroit to headline my first political fundraiser, held at the Roostertail, in February 2003. As usual, he brought the house down with his inimitable wry, witty, human-rights spiced style of humor.

He also gave me some sage advice, “Convert some of your lawn signs into sandwich-board posters and put them on at the busiest intersections in the city!”

Adding, with a twinkle in his eye, “You’ll win.”

And I did! Two months later, on April 29, 2003, I defeated highly-favored Gil Hill, who had been predicted by all the pundits to win by a landslide.

It was serendipity that Dick Gregory was the Keynoter during my first City Council race in 2003, and was also the Keynoter at my City Council retirement in December 2013, held at The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. 

The night before the December 2013 event, Dick called me to say that all flights from Washington D.C. had been cancelled due to hazardous weather conditions – but “not to worry,” “If I can’t get there by Delta, I’ll get there by Greyhound!” and “I never miss a speaking engagement, and as a result, I never cease to get requests!”

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The next morning, I picked Dick up as he stepped off The Trailways Bus as if he were disembarking a luxury liner, “high-fiving” the bus driver and hugging several passengers.

As I drove him to his lodging at the Hotel St. Regis, he asked if “there were any establishments nearby where he could buy a lottery ticket.” I stopped the car, looked at him in amazement and told him I did not play the lottery and was not really sure where a nearby lottery store might be. Suddenly, Dick pointed to a strip mall on West Grand Boulevard, just west of Henry Ford Hospital’s main campus, and said with excitement, “I see a Lottery sign! Pull into this parking lot I won’t be long.”

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In a few minutes he returned with his lottery tickets in hand, and within moments we had arrived at the St Regis where he would lodge until his 6 p.m. appearance at the retirement event. Of course, Dick Gregory was Brilliant and Bold in his Keynote Commentary that evening, giving no clue to the audience that he had been on a bus all night with no sleep –stopping through Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toledo before ultimately reaching his Detroit destination.

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No, he did not hit the lottery that night, but we all won the biggest Jackpot of all! The Privilege of knowing him, loving him and admiring an Humble, Godly life filled with sacrifice, commitment and devotion 

To honoring all Humankind is precious and priceless! We extend Prayers to his beautiful wife Lillian, his ten children and a grateful Global community, whose smiles may not be quite as bright today.

Long Live The Spirit of Dick Gregory!