Greg Hayes, the retired ranger many called the soul of Jack London State Historic Park, died Wednesday at the age of 62, after a long struggle with cancer.
Hayes was a rare combination of park ranger and scholar, who earned a master’s degree in American literature from Sonoma State University with a thesis on the subject of his life’s work, entitled, “Jack London’s Agrarian Superheroes.”
Hayes was a writer and poet himself, and, according to his wife, Robin Fautley, “a pretty special guy.”
Fautley and Hayes met, appropriately enough, at Jack London State Historic Park, where they fell in love, married and lived – for 21 years – in the ranger’s house inside the park.
He retired in 2003, but continued seamlessly as a docent, training other docents, writing interpretive text and providing an ongoing presence.
Generations of docents and park staff came to depend on Hayes for both his encyclopedic knowledge of London, and for his compelling calmness in any circumstance, the gentle authority he wore as a senior spokesman for the park.
Fautley describes Hayes as “a loving and supportive husband and father. He gave me the ability to grow into the person I became. And he cared deeply about social justice and the environmental attacks against Earth.”
During a day-long television shoot in the 1990s, Hayes led a video crew through the interior of London’s Wolf House ruins, filling each stone room with a story and an image of what it looked and felt like until it was hard to believe he had not been there as the doomed home was being built.
He had an appreciation for and an understanding of who London was that was neither romanticized nor cynical, but deeply real.
His devotion to the park was reflected in the work he invested to keep it alive when the state threatened to close it, and to promote the unique public-private partnership that manages it today.
Fautley said Hayes was uniquely qualified to help shepherd the park into its new relationship with the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, which is now managing the facility, serving some time as the group’s president. “Because he had been a ranger, he understood the interface between the park and the nonprofit,” she said. “I don’t know that they could have done it without his help. He probably worked 40 hours a week on that partnership until it all came together.”
Fautley said that while Hayes was devoted to the park, he filled his life with a variety of other interests, including world travel – “I think we went to every continent except Antarctica.” – and for the last few years, he had been working at the Writing Center at Santa Rosa Junior College, helping students learn how to improve their written work. “It felt to him like an important contribution to literacy,” Fautley said.
Born in Los Angeles, educated at UCLA, Hayes came to Glen Ellen in 1978, and stayed. A daughter, Nicolette, lives in New York City.
His legacy of wise stewardship, deep knowledge and gentle leadership will persist, say his friends and family, and his words will remain in print reminding those who read him of the sharply intelligent and quietly passionate man who worked in, but was not hidden by, the shadow of Jack London.
A poem Hayes wrote on the death of his mother reflects his deep insight:
the soul takes three days
to leave the body
according to the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
time you could profit from
by brushing up on prayers,
deciding which letters of “Hallelujah” are accented or silent,
whether to tutoyer dieu
three days to observe
the birth of patience
in the carnal host, the gradual heartbreak and loss
of the pulsation of beauty,
the desiccation of once silken membranes,
irises directing inward their glorious gaze
why so long? Did they lie about Eternity,
how far it is and how long it lasts?
is there some negotiation in progress then
we don’t know about now
or are we already, asleep, adream,
at play in an earthly paradise,
as the insurance man claims?
A celebration of Greg Hayes’ life will be held inside the winery ruins at Jack London State Historic Park at 10 a.m. on Sunday, July 20. Fautley suggests that those so inclined may make contributions to jacklondonpark.com/jack-london-be-a-partner.html; to the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation; to Environmental Traveling Companions; or to Tiffany Beth’s cause in her fight against caner with Relay for Life at go.Relay.Org/Y8Rlc.
For a sample of his poetry, see sonomanews.com.