It's with a saddened heart that I write today's post. This past Tuesday, June 16 many of us heard the news that our dear friend, John Rich of Oakleaf & Acorn had passed away. Such a loving, vibrant man with the biggest heart, it's hard to know just how one should react.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of John is kind. He was really kind...and generous too. Every time I visited his little shop in Braselton, he'd always want to give me something on my way out. The first time I shot a blog post with him for Sweet Peach in the summer of 2011, he was all smiles when I walked in the door, excited to show me around and share his many insights into the making of various handmade wares. Afterwards, he took me out for a BBQ lunch - just to be nice and I suppose to extend our animated conversation discussing artists and how cool the South is... he loved giving me new ideas for future blog posts.
Because of John, I was connected to some incredible artists that I would ultimately share on Sweet Peach, like Otis James, Billy Moore, Courtney Hamill, Emily Myers, Marvin Poole, Julia Leaphart, Shaun Garcia ...many of which have become close friends as well. For those that knew him, he enlightened us to new things and people with the sole intention of sharing how great they were. His joy was in sharing...what a gift that is.
John was a twin and his brothers and his family always meant the world to him and I can't remember a conversation where family wasn't mentioned. I always loved this picture of his dad holding him and his brother. He used it on his sale tags, placed the picture prominently in his old shop in Braselton and always loved to answer the question, "Who is in this picture?"
Since I started Sweet Peach, John has always been part of its foundation. Because of his friendship and impeccable taste in southern goods, he was the first person I called for my Sweet Peach Revival, the West Elm event as well as the first Root City Market we did together. I loved shooting gift segments with him and was overjoyed when he agreed to let me shoot a before and after of his manly haircut. I remember snapping his 'after' shot and realizing he was like a big kid in a candy shop- he just loved being a part of the process.
One of my favorite stories to share of John was when one of my friend's ordered a leather bag from him (made by Shaun Garcia). It was for her husband's birthday. He drove down from Braselton to Atlanta to deliver it personally and also included a cool birthday card, some wrapping paper, enough tissue paper to wrap ten bags, a yard of ribbon and just for fun, a lucky rabbit's foot...all delivered with the biggest smile and a pure joy just to play even a small part in the celebration.
A kindergarten teacher by day, John was joyful, enthusiastic, curious. But to get back to the heart of it, he was kind. That's my favorite trait of any person I meet. Kindness. And with him, it was contagious. I could never leave his shop after a big bear hug and some wonderful, inspired conversation without feeling rejuvenated, happy. There's no wonder the impact of all those lasting impressions John gave...
This was the last pic I took of John, at his home for a holiday gift post. Not only did he routinely have unique, beautifully made items for me to photograph, he knew how to style them as well- always having cool props on hand to help the shoot like burlap sacks, old antlers, horseshoes, records, chicken feeders and vintage books to of course, bottles of whiskey or moonshine. I'm forever grateful to have known John and to have been able to have received a big hug from him this past Saturday. I'll treasure that moment and so many others, and most of all John, I'll treasure the gift you gave me of friendship. The kind that comes by in life so rarely as it's filled with the purest, most admirable intention- to love and be loved.
My mind wanders to a favorite Raymond Carver quote...
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
The family has stated there will not be a memorial service but there will be a celebration of John Rich on Saturday, June 27. More details to follow. In the interim, I reached out to just a few of the many, many people whose lives John touched and asked them to share an anecdote or two about John. If you would like to add one of your own, please do so by clicking on "Post a Comment" at the bottom of this post. Thank y'all for sharing...
MICAH WHITSON, The Old Try
"I was able to spend some time with John last year at the 33 x 43 pop-up in Atlanta. My wife, Marianna and I drove down with our really young daughter, Annie - she was maybe seven months old. My wife left the kid with me to go do something so I was there by myself and asked John to watch her for a bit while I ran to the bathroom. Marianna returned and John was there holding Annie, being the sweetest. Later, Marianna asked me why I left her with a stranger and I realized that John just had that way about him. It felt like I'd known him forever, knew of his life from social media, had so many people tell me that we had to meet, etc... that I just fully forgot I'd actually known him for all of twenty minutes and in that time, I already felt like he was the biggest, kindest person in the whole state of Georgia. I love that guy."
"I can't tell you how much I will miss you. From the very first day I met you 5 years or so ago, you were generous and caring. Your giant smile lit up a room. You were an amazing friend and an amazing dad. I will forever be a better person and a better father for knowing you. God speed my friend."
EMILY MYERS, Emily G's Jams
"John is one of those guys that lights up a room. I met him when I was new to the food business and he offered praise and a good push when I felt I was in over my head. I would get the wonderful notes about how much he loved the flavors and packaging of my jams and I knew he meant it. I knew if I needed anything he was there for me and as my business grew, I depended on him for advice and sometimes just a word of encouragement.
I've never met someone like John- someone so full of smiles and love. He made me want to work harder and to be a better person. He inspired me.
I feel like the world is worse off without him but I know if he was here now he'd tell me how that was just a bunch of baloney. He'd then remark at all the wonder and beauty in the world...how could I not see it?
So now I will try to see life as he did, as a wonderful adventure without any of the cynicism I so easily fall into sometimes. He was a great man and if I can live my life even half as well, I'll feel like I achieved something big."
PETER DALE, The National
"We're just heartbroken about John Rich. I first met John in his beautiful shop in Braselton several years ago. Oakleaf & Acorn was my dream shop and in the most improbable location. John sourced brands I had previously only seen in New York or LA and introduced me to makers and creatives from our own backyard. That is what John was best at doing, supporting and cultivating local talent. He believed in the quality and integrity of what we can make and do here in the South. As a customer, I knew his gentle manner, warm smile, passion and knowledge of his products. Those qualities extended to his suppliers as I witnessed this year becoming a vendor to Oakleaf & Acorn. Losing John is a huge loss to our community and it's our challenge to live up to the potential John saw in all of us."
THOMAS WAGES, Tweeds
"I had the fortune of meeting John years ago when he opened his original shop in Braselton. He was the first person I shared my idea for TWEEDS with and since we were both talkers, our first conversation lasted more than an hour. By the end we were old friends. Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting John shared a similar instant connection. His genuineness and ever present smile were contagious - it was impossible not to love the guy. I am grateful we had recently been able to catch up, share stories, good laughs and as always, left each other with words of encouragement. He truly was one of a kind. Rest in peace brother."
HASKELL HARRIS, Garden & Gun
"What I love and remember about John is sharing many exchanges with him in the early days of Garden & Gun about Southern artisans worth knowing and celebrating. I remember the first time we wrote about Oakleaf & Acorn well and I loved following his work in the years after. He was a kind and giving soul and a great ambassador for the good things happening in this region and a man who will be sorely missed."
NAN MYERS, Firefly
"I think it is fair to say that if you ever had an exchange with John then you had an exchange with a genuine, authentic lover of life. Great guy. This truth reveals itself within minutes of meeting John.
I first met John many moons ago in my store, Firefly. He had married Christy whom I had always known, liked and grown up with. When he visited Firefly back in the late 1990's, he would really study my wares and we would chat endlessly about various artists and makers. He was a breath of fresh air, not to mention that he was cute as a button and a kindergarten teacher.
The seeds for Oakleaf and Acorn were being planted and thoughtfully tended to. Since hearing the news of John's death, I did mentally throw up my arms to the universe and more specifically to God with my questions of 'WHY?'
I think this is where faith comes in. I do think John already had this earthly life figured out and mastered. He knew that in order to do great work, you must love what you do. Can you imagine having John teaching your kindergartener? He knew that Great Oaks from little acorns grow. What an amazing gift he gave to so many children.
'No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.' - Abraham Lincoln.
His great work was also reflected in his online business. He passionately sought out artists and makers and he passionately peddled their works through his site, but more importantly in person. His enthusiasm and kindness were infectious, even on social media. However, his greatest life's work and loves in life were being a husband to Christina and a DAD to Jack, Kate and Scout. John truly enriched this world and left behind deep roots that will continue to spread, grow and flourish throughout our handmade community, his classroom and his mighty acorns- Jack, Kate and Scout. Feel the love and strength of so many flowing your way, especially mine..."
Many of you have asked how you could help out his family in this time of need and within 24 hours of word of John's passing, Micah of The Old Try created a Live Rich print that I told him must be divinely inspired. It's perfect. And John would have loved it. Proceeds from each sale will go directly to his family, just click here to learn more. Thank you Micah, and this whole community of artists and makers that feed my soul and fed John's soul. How lucky we are to live such a rich life.
Images: Sweet Peach; Atlanta Magazine (first pic) Content: Sweet Peach and contributors