Hometown Heroes

This month’s Hometown heroes Judith Walcutt and David Ossman are surrounded by their sons Preston, Devin and Orson. -  Brian Kelly
This month’s Hometown heroes Judith Walcutt and David Ossman are surrounded by their sons Preston, Devin and Orson.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

This month’s Hometown Heroes, husband David Ossman and wife Judith Walcutt, share the conviction that “Words are Actions” and they strive to practice this belief as they interact with their fellow humans each day.

Asked what is the best way to conduct a life, they each have a piece of the puzzle.

Judith: “To speak as if each word matters. To tell the simple truth. To act in accordance with what we know in our hearts is true and real and honest. If we haven’t loved enough or lived enough or shared enough, or even walked on the beach enough, we better get on it.”

David: “To create things, to open minds and change perceptions, and to pass on what one learns in the process to the next generation. To take lined paper and turn it sideways”

Neither of them can speak without adding physical actions to their words — arms, hands, tears, standing up, sitting down, pacing from time to time to make a point.

Their home sits within a forest amid a filtered view of Holmes Harbor; it’s over flowing with books, artifacts, paintings and mementos from loved ones. Their kitchen wall displays many clocks set to international time zones. An enormous white corkboard fills one entire wall with the family schedules and important dates.

Their children are one of their favorite topics. The two are seated facing one another at their dining room table in their kitchen — the hub of many family, friends and imaginative discussions.

“Judith and David gift us with wholesome, commercial-free programming, we welcome them into our hearts and into our homes. Whether over radio, on television or our local stages, this family brings sunshine to a cloudy world,” says volunteers Richard and Jo Evans.

Ossman is internationally famous for numerous achievements, particularly for his part in the legendary radio and recording quartet Firesign Theater. Firesign was selected and honored this month in Washington, DC by the Library of Congress for their 1970 album “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers.”

Firesign’s witty humor was never just entertainment — each program had a purpose in mind — to educate and provoke the listener to think. Ossman received multiple Grammy nominations as a highly respected performer.

Walcutt is a well-known producer and mastermind of dozens of smash hits on and off island such as the radio program “Live from the Islands” and the recent play at WCT, “A Thousand Clowns.” As a director, writer and founder in 1981 of Otherworld Media, a non-profit production company for public radio and TV, she has won many national and international awards for her work, including a Gold Medal from Parent’s Choice and a Grammy nomination.

Nevertheless, it is not these cachets and successes which makes these two Hometown Heroes.

What does? Their natural generosity to help others reach their dreams, by giving their time and talents, the kind way they treat others, and the modeling of truly loving and involved parenting.

“Judith and David, besides doing a wonderful job of parenting — unlike many artists with international reputations, have the rare gift of sharing their talents with local audiences, which give their work a distinct human quality-the most vital gift an artist can offer,” says novelist and playwright Tom Churchill.

Dorit Zingarelli, self-described ‘earthling,’ writes if she had to choose one word for these two it would be, ‘Generosity,’ “ever loving, loyal and giving of their heart to kids. There is nothing as inspiring as being around people who truly love what they are sharing.”

For Walcutt and Ossman speaking affirmative words are key to creative inspiration.

Walcutt, a Buddhist, is inspired by the view practiced by the Dalai Lama. “Even after all of the pain and suffering he has seen inflicted on others in his country of exile and on the world in general, even so, he remains optimistic about the human condition.”

It’s more natural to remain optimistic when people are kind.

Walcutt was at the airport about to board a connecting flight in Boston when she learned of the sudden death of her godmother. She wanted to exchange her ticket to get to the memorial. The ticket agent couldn’t help.

A stranger overhearing her situation, comforted her with words and donated his frequent flyer miles to get her to her destination.

“This was transformative — it makes me look for ways to return the favor to others.”

South Whidbey Intermediate teacher Rene Neff says her fifth-grade students eagerly look forward to Walcutt and Ossman coming in and performing poetry. One Valentine’s Day, Walcutt sat on a stool reading love sonnets from Shakespeare.

“As she read silent tears began to drop from her cheeks. The students became alarmed and looked to me for help. But I too found myself tearing and assured them it was OK.”

“Another time David transformed our classroom into a 1952 Greenwich Village ‘beat café.’ He brought in beat music, rocking chair and lamp; his voice alone is magic. They created a safe and inspirational space to feel empowered as a writer and use our imagination.”

Your mind is like the sky, it can go anywhere, Walcutt says.

“I have known Judith for 30 years. My children still talk about the Judy Bird that would come into their rooms long black bird legs, colorful boas, and chiffon wings—swooping and squawking with a strange-like parrot accent. And for me, Coco the wild and goofy alter ego she invented for me, so that I would have an alternative to over-serious adultness,” says, Diane Kaufman, a 30-year friend and local social worker.

A lot of folks on South Whidbey have used their imaginations to develop non-profits that change people’s lives.

“Groups like Friends of Friends, Whidbey Children’s Theatre, South Whidbey Children’s Center. Thinking of people behind these groups that take human kindness to that level is very inspirational to us. If we won a million dollars we would pay off their debts.”

If they won a thousand roses?

“We would bring them to the forgotten elderly in nursing homes, to caregivers, home respite providers and hospice workers. We’d send them to childcare providers, and early childhood teachers. And let’s not forget social workers and child welfare advocates — we better get some more roses!” Walcutt says.

Walcutt and Ossman met in San Francisco, Calif. in a radio drama workshop that Ossman was teaching.

Walcutt says, “I was hopelessly in love with some painter somewhere else.”

“David was a complete gentlemen and only asked me out after the workshop was over. We dated by postcards for a while. At another radio event we both attended, I announced — with laughs — I was now accepting applications for the position of my husband. The likely candidate will have read and loved James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ David found an opportune moment to recite an entire excerpt from the book — Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, of course. We were destined.”

Ossman says, “It was a chance meeting that brought us together. I believe in chance, which means being open to the moment. Chance is an important factor in my creative life. It’s being in sync with the universe.”

At almost 70 years old, Ossman says he has a lot of life under the bridges.

He says it took him too long to learn that forgiving or apologizing does not diminish oneself. At the point of realizing that, there are a lot of missed opportunities and words unspoken, he says.

Asking him — have an example you want to reveal?

“No!” He says firmly, but smiling.” And then, quickly adding, “I’m sorry.”

An excerpt of one of Walcutt’s poem hammers home how important our words are.

“Think of words as the simplest of physics/

words are actions followed by equal and opposite reactions/As surely as nails pounded into wood,

we build our lives with words/hammered by actions

into dwellings we must lie in/wherever we go, wherever we are/our words are the buildings we must inhabit.”

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