Some Reminiscences of Gerald Heard

by Jay Michael Barrie

I first met Gerald Heard in December 1944. Rather, I should say, it was at this time I descended on him. Intellectually lost, in ill health, and tormented by the pointlessness of going on living.[1] I had read a book of his called A Preface to Prayer, which had a profound effect on me — an effect which, though it has waxed and waned in the years since, has never ceased to be the driving force in my life.[2] And so, as those aspiring to become Zen monks are forced to do, I had battered at the doors (by mail) until I was finally invited to spend a weekend at Trabuco College.[3]

At this first meeting an instant rapport was mutually recognized, and three weeks later I went back to stay. From that time until his death 27 years later, despite the fact that there were many ups and downs in our relationship, he was the closest and most influential human being in my life.[4]

Two other great gifts of Gerald Heard's were his conversation and the power to draw people to him. To quote an old friend of Heard’s, W. Somerset Maugham, “It is no exaggeration to say of Gerald Heard what Dr. Johnson said of Edmund Burke: “Burke’s talk is the ebullition of his mind; he doesn’t talk from a desire of distinction, but because his mind is full.' ” If, at a dinner party, he spoke loudly enough to be heard past the person seated at either side, conversation ceased and all would listen spellbound. He could talk with experts about their subjects, using and understanding their technical terms. But he could also speak with great simplicity.

Once in the summer of 1957, he spent one month touring the major penal and mental institutions of California, with a camera and sound crew, filming material for a series of eight television programs on mental health, called Focus on Sanity, to be shown on CBS and which he was to moderate. One day was spent at San Quentin Penitentiary where, during the afternoon recreation period, he and I were allowed to join the prisoners, with no guards accompanying us, in that walled-in compound known as “the yard” — something, I was told at the time, that was unprecedented.

I confess to some nervousness as we mingled with throngs of men whose crimes ranged from forgery to murder. But Gerald appeared to be quite unperturbed, and since it was a very warm day he sought out the shadiest spot available, sat down, and started a conversation with a man who sat down next to him. Within minutes an umbrella was shielding him from the sun, and he was surrounded by a pressing crowd and had modulated into a dissertation on George Bernard Shaw, speaking eloquently but in the simplest of language, with which he held his listeners in absolute silence for thirty minutes.

Gerald Heard had one experience during our long friendship that I would regard as being a psychic phenomenon. He may have had others but this is the only one of which I have personal knowledge, and it occurred four months and nine days before his death.

Every night during the last two years of his illness Gerald slept soundly for from eight to ten hours. It had become my habit, after seeing that everything was in order for the night, to spend thirty minutes or so reading before retiring myself. I slept in the same room with him,[5] and by the time I came back his regular breathing would indicate that he was asleep. This happened invariably. However, on the night of April 5, 1971, within a few moments of turning out his light and leaving the room, I could hear him tossing about and attempting to speak. (By now his power of speech was in the main gone.) Returning to his bedroom I turned on the light and spoke to him. He took no notice of me but, gazing fixedly over my shoulder, continued trying to speak. There was a look of great concern in his eyes — no sign of fear, anxiety, or distress, only concern. I did my best to catch some word that would give me a clue from which I could extrapolate and determine what it was that he was trying to say. But to no avail. So I sat down beside him and talked to him softly. Gradually he quieted down, went to sleep, and slept soundly for the rest of the night. I was greatly puzzled since this was the first time such a thing had occurred (as it happened it was the only time), and I made a note to call his doctor in the morning and report it.

The next morning as I listed to the 6 A.M. news on the radio, I heard that Stravinsky (who had himself been gravely ill for some time) had died in the small hours on the morning of the 6th. Allowing for the time difference between Los Angeles and New York City, I discovered that the strange incident of the night before had taken place just shortly before the actual moment of Stravinsky’s death.

Though they were poles apart in many ways — the elegant, erudite Anglo-Irishman and the turbulent Russian genius of music — there was a very strong tie of real affection between them. They always embraced warmly, exchanging the European kiss on friendship on both cheeks, even in public, when meeting and taking leave of one another. And when the Stravinskys still lived in Hollywood, Gerald and I often stopped in for tea in the late afternoon. Heard and Stravinsky spent many hours, on these occasions, in the pleasurable conversation that only two great minds can enjoy. Several times Gerald told me that one of the things they often talked about at great length was the subject of death. So it is hard for me to discount the thought that in extremis Stravinsky’s departing spirit somehow turned to his friend for reassurance.

Jay Michael Barrie (1912-2001) was Gerald Heard's personal secretary and editor, associated with Heard from their meeting in December 1944 until Heard's death in August 1971.

These excerpts are from "Some Reminiscences of Gerald Heard" by Jay Michael Barrie, published in Parapsychology Review, Vol. 3, No. 3, May-June 1972, Copyright 1972 Parapsychology Foundation, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Excerpts from "Some Reminiscences of Gerald Heard" by Jay Michael Barrie used by kind permission of the Parapsychology Foundation, Inc.

[1] Barrie, a conscientious objector during World War II, was held at a minimum-security prison camp in Chilao Flats in Angeles National Forest, where he served as chief cook for more than 100 men.

[2] Barrie related in 1977 that he read the entire book in one sitting, and during the early hours of the morning, when he finished reading, he underwent a profound white-light experience.

[3] Trabuco College was located nearly 100 road miles south from Chilao Flats.

[4] Barrie always credited Heard with saving his life.

[5] Beginning on February 5, 1966, Heard suffered 26 minor and six major strokes. Following Heard’s second stroke on October 31, 1966 and until his passing, Barrie became Heard’s fulltime caregiver

"Two other great gifts of Gerald Heard's were his conversation and the power to draw people to him."