Special Guests: Pearl Means
Speaker: Don Holly, EIU anthropology professor,
Russell Means and Gordon Grado met under challenging circumstances.
Means, perhaps best known as a political activist and early leader of the American Indian Movement, could barely talk because of a cancerous tumor pressing against his throat. He and his wife, Pearl, met Grado, a world renowned oncologist based in Scottsdale, Ariz., during Means’ initial consultation.
“When we walked in, Gordon sat on the edge of his chair, looked straight into Russell’s eyes and told him what an honor it was to meet him,” Pearl Means recalled.
Grado went on to tell the couple about his father, Louis, a retired Eastern Illinois University professor of education, who would come home each evening and ask his children, “What did you do for humanity today?” The elder Grado would also talk about notable individuals who worked and sacrificed for the good of the people.
Russell Means, Grado said, was one of those notables by whom he became so inspired.
“He and my father were alike in their struggle to identify whatever wasn't right and to try and find a solution without compromising one's beliefs or principles,” Grado said.
“As (Russell’s) wife, I often heard others speak highly of my husband,” Pearl Means said. “But Gordon’s words were especially powerful. My husband told me later that he knew he had an ally in Dr. Grado.”
Several months following that meeting, in October 2012, 72-year-old Russell Means succumbed to throat cancer.
“But we were very grateful for Dr. Grado’s help,” Pearl Means said. Through a treatment known as TomoTherapy, her husband’s tumor had been “successfully eliminated,” allowing him to spend his finals days on earth with his voice intact.
Grado and his wife, Mary, continue to keep in contact with Pearl Means. They also collect artwork created by her husband, who began painting in the ‘90s.
Pieces of their collection, titled “The Artwork of Russell Means,” will appear on display between April 13 and May 15 in the Marvin Foyer of Booth Library, located on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Admission is free and open to the public.
“Mr. Means was not only an activist, but a musician, artist, philosopher, mentor, historian, sociologist and history maker,” Grado, an EIU alumnus, said. “Touching on all of these areas truly makes him unique and someone that would touch the university, students and faculty in many ways.
“The forte of Mr. Means' work is not only in his activism and support of the indigenous nations, but his constant commitment to identify and attempt to correct any injustice that he saw,” Grado continued. “He also didn't mind discussing either his weaknesses or his strengths and was uniquely able to provide not only a magnifying glass to see life but a corrective lens to see it clearly.”
Russell Means appeared in the 1992 film, “The Last of the Mohicans,” as Chingachgook. “That role opened up the artistic side of this man,” Pearl Means said. He viewed “artists as the true revolutionaries, for they see the need for change first.”
Her husband created dozens of paintings over the year, including five series. One of those series, titled Indian Killer, features 12 “alleged American heroes.” Each piece measures 34 inches by 27 inches and includes a framed narrative, written by Russell Means to explain “who (those individuals) really were.”
Additional exhibit pieces include the following: “Buffalo on Plains,” “Ancestors Leaving,” “Tatanka,” “Valentine,” “The Dance” and “Crazy Horse.” The exhibit also features a portrait of Russell and Pearl Means that was painted by Pearl’s sister.