Columbia Renaissance man Forrest Rose was by all accounts a prolific musician, writer and thinker. Often characterized as humorous, witty and intelligent, Mr. Rose wrote and performed with passion.
“He was someone who loved to skinny-dip in the fountain of life,” said longtime colleague Irene Haskins.
Mr. Rose fluidly penned his insights on Columbia’s social and political scene in a weekly column in the Columbia Daily Tribune. He was also a dynamic bassist and emcee in a host of bluegrass bands, most recently Perfect Strangers and the Rank Sinatras.
“Playing with Forrest was always exciting,” said Chris Brashear, who plays fiddle and guitar for Perfect Strangers. “He always played with a lot of energy and spirit. He had a lot of musical knowledge. He was always a wellspring for ideas.”
Mr. Rose died in Arizona early Sunday morning, March 20, 2005. He was 48. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.
He was born July 6, 1956, in Dallas to Earl and Marilyn Rose. He grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, the only boy in a house with five sisters.
Mr. Rose came to Columbia in 1974 to study at the MU School of Journalism. Most of his vast realm of knowledge, though, seems to have come by his own initiative.
“He always had his head in a book, even when he wasn’t supposed to,” said his sister Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU in Massachusetts. “He read everything. He knew the Bible, he knew history, he knew literature. He had an ability to remember phrases, whether lyrics to a song or anything else.”
Mr. Rose died unexpectedly on an Arizona road trip with Perfect Strangers. The group played a Saturday show in Avondale. After the show, the five-member band went to the home of a longtime friend and former Columbia resident, Dr. Roger Wilcox, where an informal jam session broke out.
“We were just playing some music,” said Jody Stecher, the band’s mandolin player. “Just having a good time and enjoying each other’s company.”
After about an hour and a half, Mr. Rose sat down on the couch next to Brashear. He called out some suggestions for the band to play and sing.
“We played a couple other songs. Then I looked over and he looked like he was starting to go into some kind of seizure,” Brashear said. “It rapidly became clear he was going into some sort of crisis.”
Although Wilcox is an emergency room physician, neither he nor the paramedics were able to resuscitate Mr. Rose.
Throughout his life, Mr. Rose was able to inspire and reach out to a great many of his friends.
“He loomed larger than life,” Brashear said.
When fellow Tribune columnist Haskins wanted to learn to play ukulele, Mr. Rose spent hours trying to teach her.
“If you were his friend, he made you think he was always thinking of you,” said Jim Robertson, managing editor at the Tribune. “It’s the reason people became devoted to him; he made them feel he was interested in them and cared to see them.”
In 1987, Mr. Rose suffered a brain aneurysm while playing in Nashville that put him in a coma for 16 days. The aneurysm never held Mr. Rose back. Rather, it prompted him to try and live an already full life to the absolute fullest, said Carol Rose.
“He used to say, ‘I don’t remember it — I didn’t have a brush with my mortality, you did,’ ” she said.
In 1988, Mr. Rose married Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren. The two divorced and have a son, 15-year-old Brennan.
“The relationship between the two of them was very inspiring,” Stecher said. “He was very devoted to his son. It really was number one in his life.”
His sweetheart of five years, Bernadette Dryden, said Mr. Rose brought so much music into her life.
“We would put on all kinds of music and dance to it,” she said.
Their signature song was “Honey,” a sweet, lighthearted tune by pianists Jay Mcshann and Ralph Sutton.
“The doctor who was there when he died, I was just talking to him,” Dryden said. “I said, ‘I hope there’s a great beyond out there where we can all get together.’ He said ‘Well I’m not sure there is, but boy, would I love to have an eternity to talk to Forrest, to sit around and shoot the breeze with Forrest.’ ”
Mr. Rose is survived by his parents; sisters Elise, Cecile, Karen, Miriam and Carol; son Brennan of Columbia; sweetheart Bernadette Dryden of Columbia; and former wife Wendy Noren.
A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2615 Shepherd Blvd. The service will be followed by a musical celebration at the Blue Note.
At the memorial, speeches and anecdotes from Mr. Rose’s life will be delivered by various speakers. At the Blue Note, musicians will reminisce and play tribute to Mr. Rose and the various styles of music he enjoyed.
“Musicians are coming in from all over,” said Richard King, owner of the Blue Note.
Donations may be made to the “Scholarship Fund for Brennan Rose” at First National Bank, P.O Box 1867, Columbia, MO 65205.