Wyly Christopher Parsons
Contributed by Barbara Bamberger Scott
Wyly Christopher Parsons (February 7, 1941 – April 1, 2014) was one of the first in Chapel Hill to hear of Meher Baba, in 1966-67, from Marshall Hay, who had taken it upon himself to help his circle of friends by sharing Meher Baba’s message.
Chris stated that, in preparing for the concert that preceded Meher Baba’s Chapel Hill Darshan, “Somewhere along this period the concert was cooked up to introduce to the ‘scene’ the idea that Meher Baba was real and drugs were finished, a mistake that was over.”
Chris was present at Meher Baba’s darshan the day after the concert, despite being “fried” with drugs and exhaustion from the night before. At that seminal event among Meher Baba’s “children of the West,” Henry Kashouty and Rick Chapman came at Meher Baba’s directive to speak to us about Meher Baba (with drug use as one of the topics of interest at the time). Chris described it from his perspective: “I would say that the level of discourse was high (no pun intended) and the entire affair was a demonstration of how serious everyone was about what was going on.”
Throughout the years, Chris pursued work as a graphics artist and IT technician. In the early 1990s he retired and gravitated to Asheville, NC, where he had friends in the Meher Baba group. He played his Baba cards close to his chest (Jim Cannon, a longtime friend of Chris’s who also attended the Chapel Hill darshan, modestly describes Chris and himself as being in the “underwave”). But in his later years Chris definitely felt a need to be in contact with Meher Baba’s people and Meher Baba’s influence.
I last saw Chris some years ago, in Asheville, at a gathering for Bhau Kalchuri at the home of Winnie Barrett. He appeared as he always had to me: pale, clear-headed and extremely thoughtful. He often spoke or responded slowly in conversation, and I took that to indicate that he was letting every possible permutation of one’s question or statement rattle around in his head until he was able to reach for the best possible answer. He had an engaging, puckish smile.
Jim Watson, who saw Chris not long before he passed away, recalls that Chris had used his considerable talents in graphics arts to painstakingly create useable photographs of her children for Jim’s wife, Isabel. When Jim offered to pay him, Chris said, “I don’t do money.”
Chris helped me, kindly and studiously, to produce the cover for Golden Thread—my book about Meher Baba’s darshan in Chapel Hill.* Using an old photo of a rather notorious house in Chapel Hill bearing a handmade sign—”Chapel Hill Beatnik Hangout Members Only”—Chris superimposed a young Meher Baba, and then at my direction we added a red rose bush and put a red rose in the lapel of Meher Baba’s dapper white suit, the only color on the black and white picture. I thought, and still do, that this artistic composition was way cool, and that Meher Baba would have approved of it. Without Chris’s visual and mental acuity, the book would not be, to me, as special.
The obituary in the Asheville Citizen Times** includes this information about Chris: “He was born in Florence, AZ, in 1941. He attended both Christ School and the UNC-Chapel Hill. He was an artist and enjoyed painting, photography and graphic art design and recently had an photography exhibit at Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway.”
After Chris’s death, his son Eli told Jim Watson that among his possessions were twenty Meher Baba books.
Chris, who was a longtime sufferer of adult-onset Type I Diabetes, died alone, of a heart attack, in his pad in Asheville, on April 1, 2014. I think the significance of the date would have made him smile.
* Barbara Scott, Meher Baba- Chapel Hill-1967 (Meher Mownavani Publications, 2001).
**Also from the online obituary:
“He is preceded in death by his wife, Sally Holtz Parsons and by his mother, Winona Westfall Parsons. Mr. Parsons is survived by his father, Wyly Parsons, of Prescott, AZ; sister, Jane Mantone, of Phoenix, AZ; as well as three sons: Eric Parsons, of Westminster, CO; Eli Parsons, of Greenville, NC; and Nathan Parsons, of Chapel Hill, NC; one daughter, Nicole Edwards, of Pittsboro, NC; and four grandchildren, Corbin Edwards, and Lillian, Natalie, and Grace Parsons.”