I had the privilege of spending time with Geoffrey Deuel and his lovely wife, Jacqueline, in November 2011. Geoff has since given me permission to share with you my visit and a few photos that my friend, Dorothy (also a Pete Duel fan) took while we were in Geoff and Jacqueline’s home.
First let me say that both Geoff and Jackie are some of the most down-to-earth, authentic people I’ve personally ever met. They are souls of integrity, forgiveness, and kindness. I couldn’t help but feel I was with my beloved family when I was with them.
Geoff, Dorothy, and I spent time late one morning, after a dinner we had all shared the night before in an outside cafe, in a small room in the Deuel’s house. Geoff had gathered a number of vintage boxes and large, stuffed envelopes, and kept them in a corner. As Dor and I sat on the bed in the room, Geoff slowly opened the boxes and the envelopes and shared their contents with us.
I can only tell you it was a privilege and an honor to have been invited into what was, till then, the private lives of Geoff and Jackie. I am at a loss for more words. I truly am. I am forever in their debt and I’m not deserving of their generosity — nothing made me any more special than any other Pete Duel fan. I happened to be in that proverbial right place at the right time. So it is with even more gratitude that I thank them for allowing me to share with you now some of the memories I will cherish for as long as I will hold them in my heart.
In those boxes and envelopes that Geoff carefully opened and went through, item by item, were dozens of photographs, family pictures and keepsakes, a few seen already online and in books, but mostly never published before, of Peter from the time he was five weeks old till the week before his passing. We saw him as a baby, as young boy, as a man coming of age, and as the beautiful, masculine, handsome talent he became. It was all there: his youth, his joy, his dreams, his ambition, his heart. We went through Pete’s high school yearbook page by page. We held Peter’s Boy Scouts utensils in our hands. We laid eyes on pictures of Pete’s first love. But the most poignant item (for me, anyway) was Peter’s childhood scrapbook. It was filled with articles and pictures he’d clipped from magazines and newspapers when he was around the age of twelve: mostly of fast cars, leggy women, and airplanes. Throughout its pages were Peter’s notations, scribbled in pencil, about why a particular news article or magazine picture was important enough to him to keep.
Dorothy and I cried some. And we laughed some. And we were overwhelmed. And the only thing that made the viewing of those pictures more special was that it was Geoff, Peter’s brother, who shared them with us.
And Jacqueline, bless her heart, left us alone with him to do so. I never did thank you, Jackie, for your thoughtfulness that day, for imagining that we even needed the privacy, so if you’re reading this now, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
It was an intense and a surreal morning. It was emotional and it was closure in some inexplicable way and it was a godsend. I felt such a mix of emotions, I didn’t realize how much they were at play till I left the state, flew home, climbed into my truck at the airport parking lot, drove on out to the Interstate — and only then it hit me. And hit me hard. I had to pull over and cry every last tear that had been bottled up inside me for the past twenty-four hours before I could summon the strength to drive home.
The most emotional part of my visit with Geoff was when he asked, “Would you like to see Pete’s hat?”
Neither Dorothy or I could believe what he just asked us. He couldn’t have meant Pete’s hat, rather, Heyes’ hat, could he? He didn’t mean THE hat, right? Not the one we’ve all thought might be long gone. He couldn’t have meant THAT one. We must have looked shocked because he asked his question a second time. “Would you like to see Pete’s hat?” Dorothy was the first to speak in a quivering voice. “You have the Heyes hat?” “I have the Heyes hat,” Geoff said. “It rests safely with me” — and has for the past 40 years.
So it is with honor and with privilege that I share with you four of the pictures Dorothy took that early afternoon when we got to hold in our hands the hat Pete wore when he played Hannibal Heyes.
I added the picture of me hugging Geoff because I wanted to say something about his hugs. Geoff struck me as an unpretentious person, a warm, forthright, real, highly intelligent, dry-witted, worldly character of a man who has been through a lot in the last four decades. And yet his hugs were memorable. Strong. Determined. Sincere.
After my visit with the Deuels, I told Dorothy, “If Peter was half the man his brother is, then Peter was one helluva a guy.”
I know many of you have asked about Geoff over the years, so I’d like to open up this page to your thoughts and well wishes to him (please be patient about seeing your comment posted; I’m gone most of the day and will get to it this evening; posts must be approved to weed out spam, unfortunately). I’ll send him the link in a few days so he can read what Peter’s fans have to say on this 40th memorial day of his passing.
Thank you all for your kind words and for helping me keep Pete Duel’s memory alive by your visits to this site. And thank you, Geoff, for all you know we thank you for; thank you, Jacqueline, for your hospitality, kindness, thoughtfulness, and friendship, and thank you, Dor, for holding my hand throughout it all.