Seth Vidal remembered as beloved bicycling neighbor
Seth Vidal wouldn’t have dressed up for his own memorial service. But on Saturday morning, about 200 people dressed up and packed the pews at Clements Funeral Service to remember him. There were bicyclists, gardeners and restaurateurs. There were computer programmers, university professors and lawyers.
Vidal’s service brought together little, colorful pieces of Durham, pieces that formed a vivid picture of his 36 years. Vidal lived them fully, friends said, despite this year being his last.
Vidal was riding his bicycle on Hillandale Road July 8 when witnesses say a driver hit him from behind and didn’t stop. He died that night. Maceo Christopher Kemp, 27, was charged in the accident.
Watts-Hillandale neighbors met up at Oval Park on Saturday and walked to the funeral home together. Others rode their bikes to the service, taking off their helmets before stepping inside.
At the front of the pews at Clements Funeral Service on Broad Street, a photo poster was displayed of Vidal. He stood in front of long green stalks of bright sunflowers. On the photo, someone wrote, “The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me.”
His partner, Eunice, and members of his family, including parents Alicia and Wade, sat near the front as friends took turns stepping up to the podium to share their memories of Vidal.
A photo collage on display and a photo slideshow both showed Vidal throughout the years, with the people he loved. He wore suspenders in his elementary school picture. Other photos showed Vidal as a boy hugging a golden retriever about as big as him. Him, older now, swinging in a hammock next to his dog. Or him with Eunice, while they visited Locopops for a treat, while they cooked at home, when they shared a kiss.
The Rev. Sarah Woodard told the group of friends and family that Vidal loved Eunice for her strength, her love of animals and her intellect.
“They shared a love that many people will never know,” Woodard said. “They shared hopes and dreams together. And they made conversing seem so easy.”
Molly Tamarkin, who knew Vidal from when he worked at Duke University, stepped up to the podium and shared a poem, one that Eunice had posted on a blog with a photo of Vidal sleeping on her shoulder.
“Even this late it happens: the coming of love, the coming of light,” Tamarkin read.
Tamarkin’s voice cracked, and she ended with, “Even this late the bones of the body shine and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.”
Tom Callaway knew Vidal from Red Hat, where Vidal worked as a senior software engineer and was known as an open source guru. Callaway met him 15 years ago and immediately knew he wanted to learn from this man.
“His code is used by millions of people all over the world,” Callaway said. “… He represents the purest spirit of open source.”
They suggested books to each other and played video games. Callaway would listen to Vidal recite Beastie Boys lyrics in the “worst New York accent I’ve ever heard.”
“Seth was a good man, and that’s rare in this world,” he said.
Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery said she’s receiving messages of mourning from former employees, about the man who walked into her restaurant with a passion for food and flavors, for gardening and farmer’s markets.
During the Sunday brunch rush, Eunice and Seth would walk in and lift people’s spirits with their sweetness and unbridled joy, she said.
“I can’t tell you what a joy that was to watch, and how happy that made us all,” Tornquist said. “One of the sparkles of my day is gone, and I will miss Seth tomorrow, in two weeks and 15 years from now.”
Vidal’s family has received an outpouring of support from the foodie spots that knew him well: Parker and Otis, Chapel Hill Creamery, Joe Van Gogh, Sam’s Quik Shop, Scratch and Toast.
Jason Merrill of Back Alley Bikes said Vidal was the first customer to become a close friend. They geeked out about bikes and became “kindred spirits” through their shared love of traveling around town on two wheels.
“That’s how I choose to remember Seth,” Merrill said. “Smiling, hopeful and riding his bike.”
Meredith Emmett and Galia Goodman were Vidal’s neighbors. They saw Vidal every day, and Goodman would catch up with him when they crossed paths while walking their dogs.
“I’m the age that a lot of men find invisible,” Goodman said. “Not Seth. …Seth was my friend, my dog-walking partner, my inspiration. He gave me a bicycle because he said it was time to get rid of my car.”
People continued to walk up to the podium, talking about how he helped them through losing a family member. He walked a fellow bicyclist home after she got a flat tire. He drove his coworker home after she got her wisdom teeth removed. He put people in their place if he ever overheard someone make racist comments. He let friends crash on his couch. He’d look neighbors in the eye and ask, “Now how are you doing?”
Vidal drank sweet tea at restaurants, but he would tip like he drank beer all night. When he was a kid, he brought books to parties. He would skid his bike on the bike trails and feel jubilant, like he was 8 years old again.
Summer Bicknell, a friend of Vidal’s, talked about how she texted Vidal and Eunice to see if they wanted to watch Fourth of July fireworks together. The text never went through.
Vidal had emailed her recently, but she never responded. She talked to the group about sending Vidal an email after he passed away.
“I never responded to your email because, well, I thought I’d see you again,” Bicknell read aloud. She told him she missed his sarcastic comments and non-sequiturs.
“I’ve been tripping over your shoes on the porch all week and I’m just so damn hurt that you’re gone,” she continued. “I’ve loved you and I never told you, but I hope you knew anyway.”
The memorial services will continue for Seth. Sunday (July 14), the Durham Bulls is hosting a “bike to the game” event. The game starts at 5:05 p.m., and there will be a moment of silence for Seth before the national anthem.
The Watts-Hillandale neighborhood is planning a special Night of Lights on Monday July 15 at 8:57 p.m., the exact time the hit-and-run took place.
Red Hat’s Fedora Project, a global partnership of free software community members that Vidal helped organize, also has set up a web page in Vidal’s honor. People can visit fedoraproject.org/wiki/User:Skvidal/Friend to read stories about him or to donate to charities in his memory.