Staff writer and columnist Alan Peppard, shown here in 2015 with Charlotte Jones Anderson, passed away on Saturday at the age of 56. (Photo by Jeanne Prejean)

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An Elegy for Alan Peppard

The longtime Dallas Morning News society writer and historian passed away at the age of 56 on Saturday night. Here, a close friend remembers him.

Editor’s note: The developer and mayoral candidate Mike Ablon was a good friend of Alan Peppard, the longtime Dallas Morning News columnist who passed away last week. We asked him to write a piece remembering him. 

Alan Peppard was his own drummer, but he was a master student of others. His was a life well-lived, a life where avocations and vocation are inseparable, a life where family brings solace and meaning, a life of unending curiosity pursued with passion and without apology. We lost Alan on Saturday night. He was 56.

He had an optimistic fascination with life. A raconteur and bon vivant in the best of references, Alan enjoyed sharing the quirky realities of each of our lives with others (as much as he enjoyed sharing his own idiosyncrasies).

Alan had a deep fascination of life that transcended himself, allowing him to look for, find, and appreciate the humanity in each of us. No person—celebrity, well-known personality, or everyday citizen—was immune to his critical eye, compliment, and/or critique. For three decades at the Dallas Morning News, Alan exhibited a genuine fondness for people. He was open and non-judgmental. He peered into their souls so deeply that celebrities and non-celebrities alike developed a deep affection and considered Alan a friend.

Though Alan would have refuted it, there was a sweetness to him that permeated his own soul and his interactions with others. He called things the way he saw them, and his kindness allowed all to accept what he had to say. Alan’s profession required thick skin to protect from constant exposure to his own beliefs and feelings. Time articulated his courage to tell the stories as he saw them without becoming jaded.

From a generation of mass-commodification in which all baby-boomers gravitated toward a norm, Alan understood that we all privately aspired for an individual identity. While we moved as a generation toward sameness, we also relished the stories of individuality—those who had the courage to find and live their own quirky selves. Alan brought these stories to all of us in his own way, through his own reflections on people, times, places, events, and the collision of those things.

Alan was so good at storytelling that we often missed the fact that he was telling us the stories of who we all were. Buried deep in the who-what-when-where-and-why, he exposed himself. This allowed us to identify with his storytelling, whether we realized it or not. He helped us connect to people who appeared to be different than we are.

One of the great markers of a storyteller is that you forget the author is telling a story. As Roland Barth said, “the birth of the story comes with the death of the author.” Alan would have known and enjoyed this little irony. In his own playful way, he would constantly insert a selfie of himself with the subject of a story, fully knowing the irony of his actions while smirking to himself at the computer. Alan was the master of selfies before there were selfies, but for a wholly different reason: the joy of the irony of the moment.

Alan was the guy I always tried to sit next to at dinner. The conversation would always be interesting and cover an unending array of subjects. (These were often connected by tangents constructed only in his mind, which he would artfully defend.) You would be assured at least a few deep belly laughs, and you most definitely wanted to hear the snide and hysterical comments he buried under his breath while laughing to himself. This wickedly sharp sense of humor unveiled his knowledge of the complexities of life and an in-depth understanding of people—not the least of which was his understanding of himself.

Alan will be missed as a husband, father, brother, friend, storyteller, and raconteur. He will be missed for his music, literature, and movie knowledge, as well as his quotes. We will miss his “insider’s knowledge, and an outsider’s curiosity,” his snickers and the shrug of his shoulders when he knew he was excusing himself ahead of time for doing what he knew he was about to do—but maybe shouldn’t. We will miss him for his endless selfies with every person who lived or paraded through the Dallas scene for three decades—but not for his golf game.

Eulogies were intended to be written for old people, not for the young who had as much of their life in front of them as behind them. Eulogies were intended to tell a whole story, one of a full and fulfilled life, with the struggles, failures, and the successes that come from the fortitude and grit upon which triumphs are achieved. Loss is always painful, but it always includes an extra dose of pain when the story has a piece that will be left largely untold.

Untold will be the joy of his spending more life and time in his beloved house, engrossed in his wife and three girls. There will be un-played music on his guitar and piano (with long historical explanations that he always felt responsible for reiterating, even if he had told them before). There won’t be more horrible golf with his friends, or more bad jokes and great storytelling about people and places that were often overlooked. There won’t be more precise stories of our collective history with a succinct value placed upon the accuracy of his facts. We won’t get the scoops on the lives and lifestyles of those who are well known to all of us and yet not really known at all. There won’t be more.

An untold more…

Life is constructed by those of us who live it and those of us who tell it. A great burden falls on those who tell the stories, that they get it right. This is a weight lost on most of us, but known to the few who take this important chore seriously.

Alan enjoyed all stories—stories told in prose, told in music, and told in life. In the oddest of moments, one could always expect an anecdote or quote from him, sourced from any of a number of origins recent or remote. Addressed to one of his Greenhill friends from four decades ago, he recently pulled a remote memory that seems apropos of repeating today. To Alan: from those of us who knew and loved you, and for those who felt they knew you close-up but from afar during your 30-plus years as a public writer and storyteller, I can only think of a line from an old story, spoken with its full context: “Shane, come back!”

A bientot, mon ami.

Mike Ablon is the principal of Dallas-based real estate development company PegasusAblon. 

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