(photo courtesy of Steve Thomas)
Richard Earl Oakley | November 1, 1928 - July 11, 2011
I first met Richard Earl Oakley aka Dick Oakley, at a little hole-in-the-wall magic shop, in 1972, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Fun Shop, located then on Union Avenue in downtown Memphis, was to many, I now suspect, merely a place to walk by when enroute to their destination. To a then 15-year old boy, it was another world. Walking into that shop was akin to entering an entirely different dimension, where one could immerse himself in a world of true wonderment.
The conductor extrodinaire behind this wonderment was a gentleman possessed of unique qualities. He was a character that was generous, kind, patient and uniquely gifted in the world of legerdemain. This was Dick Oakley. At the time, I admittedly did not know the definition of the word "mentor." And to his credit, Dick Oakley never used the word to describe what he became to me. The shop would be busy, especially on weekends, when my Dad and I would enter but Dick's keen eye would detect me and acknowledge my presence.
Over the course of time, Dick Oakley took the time to teach me sleight of hand (vanishing a playing card in one hand in plain view was my first) and patiently demonstrated the props that I would eventually take home with me. U.F. Grant's Temple Production, The Acrobatic Silks, The Milk Pitcher, Multiplying Billiard Balls, the Phantom Tube and the list goes on, made their way into the act that I would eventually develop under Dick's guidance. He taught me the patter, always adding his own personal flavor to a favored piece, much to my heartfelt appreciation. I would always return home and diligently practice, for hours, in front of a mirror, whatever new sleight that Dick had shown me. Upon my next visit to the shop, I would show him and he would seemingly be in awe, as to my ability to duplicate that which he had shared with me. His unceasing exhortation and exuberant encouragement kept the fire, under a fledgling magician, fanned and hot.
I could go on about Richard Oakley but frankly, it wouldn't mean a whole lot to those who read it, that never met the man. To those few, I am truly sorry that you never had the opportunity. To those who did, I feel assured, that like me, you are much better for the experience. My parents (and me) moved from Memphis in 1974. It would be the last year that I saw or spoke to Richard Oakley.
A personal thank you to my new friend, Steve Thomas, a magician from Mississippi, who just happened to have posted an cover image from a "The Fun Shop" catalog, on Facebook. Our subsequent communication ignited some wonderful memories in me that I had long since "shelved."
Finally, I would like to say this. I never had the opportunity to say "thank you," in a meaningful way, to Richard Oakley. If I had, I would have thanked him for presenting me with my very first magic table. The table, which had seen years of use from a professional magician who asked Dick to gift it to somebody who could and would truly use it. He saved it for me. I used it for almost thirty years. Most of all though, I would have thanked him for his unwavering patience and his ability coupled with his desire to "mold" an up and coming magician. And, Dick, thank you for taking my phone call, when I grew nervous about having accepted an invitation to perform at St. Jude Children's Hospital. He said something to the effect "that's wonderful!! Just remember, YOU are the artist. You are the magician. The audience are your puppets. They see only that which you want them to see. And Ronnie, you'll know you succeeded when they invite you back."
You were right Dick. They invited me back.
(slide show courtesy of John Sorrell)