Monday evening at about 8 p.m., a small SUV ran off the highway at what was called a “sweeping turn” on 101 south just beyond Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Ave. exit. Initial CHP reports said the occupant was from Richmond, and later said he had identification from both Richmond and Oregon.
It took fire department personnel over 20 minutes to extricate the driver from the Toyota Rav 4, which has smashed into a redwood tree. The engine was pushed back and the dashboard was pinning the driver inside. He died shortly after midnight at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
The next day, the Sonoma County coroner's office confirmed the identity of the victim killed in the solo vehicle crash as 58-year-old Robert Greygrass of Talent, Ore.
We read these stories almost every day, victims of car crashes and gunfire and other forms of sudden death, or not-so-sudden, when someone is taken away too soon. We may think, “That’s too bad” and we may say “Our hearts go out to his friends and family,” but sometimes the life of these victims is worth more than a cliché.
“The dude was important,” said one of Robert Owens Greygrass’s friends in life, Jason Couch of southern Oregon. Along with other members of Greygrass’s extended Native American community, he is planning a memorial for the actor, writer, story-teller and more – a memorial that is drawing people from all over the west. See their Facebook page here.
He was “a kind of legendary elder or mentor in local (Southern Oregon) tribal circles,” according to another resident of Talent, a small town in the shadow of the more well-known Ashland, home of the celebrated Shakespeare Festival.
Greygrass himself was a performer at Ashland; according to one of the Facebook posters, “Robert in the West Coast premiere of Black Elk Speaks, produced by Actors Theatre of Ashland in collaboration with the American Indian Cultural Center in Talent, OR. For a 15 week sold out run at the Miracle on Main Theatre [Ashland, OR].”
In that play, staged in 1994, Greygrass played the warrior Crazy Horse. In another Ashland performance the next year, he played the physically deformed John Merrick in “Elephant Man.” He won Best Actor of the Year awards for both. Owens-Greygrass was himself a polio survivor.
Other testimonials to his talent for sharing, bringing people together, and healing are on the same Facebook page.
His website touts his gifts, as actor, coach, and as a healer whose first success was himself: “Robert survived crazy dysfunctions, poor health, dumbing down, and being lost spiritually. He took charge of his life.”
His self-description in Twitter reads “#storyteller #actor #comedian #writer #father & #grandfather.” One of his friends called him “a prayer warrior.”
He was also, perhaps primarily, a story-teller, bringing light and enlightenment to the ailing, to the young, to strangers and friends – he was a regular at Wavy Gravy’s Camp Winnarainbow up in Laytonville The network of Native American poets Turtle Island Storyteller says the Lakota born as Robert Owens changed his name to Robert Greygrass in respect to the sage plant, known as greygrass in the native language.
So burn some sage for Robert Owens Greygrass tonight, or tomorrow, or the next time you think of how fleeting our lives can be, yet how they can touch so many people if we live with the right kind of love in our hearts.