Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the Royal Oak Patch in Michigan.
A public for Jack Kevorkian took place Friday morning at White Chapel Cemetery, but a living tribute of sorts carries on 575 miles away in Allentown, PA.
Betsy Harron of Allentown, 30, has a tattoo of Kevorkian’s painting “Fever” that covers her entire back.
Harron says the late pathologist was “the most influential person in her life.” She says her respect for him began in high school. Whenever she was ask to write a persuasive essay she chose to write about Kevorkian.
“Any time we were assigned to debate an issue, I would write about him,” she said. "He had great personal integrity and dedication to his cause. He was not selfish. He never worried about what would happen to him.”
In her sophomore year of high school, Harron saw an album cover by American metal band Acid Bath, which used one of Kevorkian’s paintings. She researched the artwork and was surprised to learn Kevorkian was an artist, too. When she decided to get a tattoo in 2004 -- done by Easton artist Michael Ireton -- she chose his painting titled “Fever," which depicts a man Harron says “is burning from the inside out.”
“I am not an artist,” she said, “but I can appreciate the unique way he portrayed suffering and illness.”
You don’t just look at a Kevorkian painting, “you feel it,” she said, describing the feelings as intense and uncomfortable.
Harron has always been interested in death and is studying to be pathology assistant. Right out of high school she went to school to be a funeral director, but found she could not separate emotion and business. Uncertain she could handle watching people deal with the pain of death on a daily basis, she decided to go the science route.
“I know my interest in death and the dead sounds weird and morbid, but I am not a creep,” she said.
Talking to Dr. Jack
Last year, Harron travelled to Michigan for a wedding. While she was here she made plans to visit Royal Oak’s to see Kevorkian’s paintings. She was disappointed to learn from the gallery’s artistic director, Anne Kuffler, that the original paintings are in the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, MA. Kuffler is the exclusive dealer of prints of the work.
Harron says Kuffler sensed she was “bummed out." Then Kuffler suggested the unthinkable: She asked Harron if she wanted her to call Kevorkian and have him come down to the gallery. Kuffler cautioned her that it was late in the day and she couldn’t make any promises as to whether he would come.
Harron listened to the phone conversation as Kuffler relayed to Kevorkian the details of Harron’s life and described the tattoo.
“She told me he said he was impressed that someone would devote their skin to his art.” Harron said. “Then she told me he said he apologized, but he was busy and would not be able to come to the gallery.”
Kuffler asked Kevorkian if he would like to apologize himself, and handed the phone to Harron.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Harron said, “but he was real nice. I told him my name was Besty and he said he liked my name. He said he wanted to meet me one day in the future.”
Harron said she was planning to come back to Michigan this year. “I wanted to take him to dinner,” she said.
“I balled my eyes out when I heard he died, and I called Anne,” she said. “I wanted to tell her I was sorry because I knew she was a good friend of his, and I wanted to thank her for introducing me.”
The detailed tattoo took five years to complete, Harron said. She has sensitive skin Ireton could never work on it more than a couple of hours at a time.
Harron sent Kevorkian a photo of the finished tattoo and he told her he was impressed with Ireton’s work.
“He said Mike’s version was better that his,” she said.