Remembering Dick Whitlock, artist, banterer, ‘Mr. Persimmon’

He drew weekly with a group of friends and most days found time to work on his paintings and sculptures.


Richard “Dick” Whitlock

Richard “Dick” Whitlock, an insatiably curious artist who never missed a chance to celebrate life with friends and family, died of cancer on April 4. He was 74. 

There may be a word for someone who luxuriates in primitive, medieval, renaissance and modern art; who enjoys rock, country, rap and opera; who is interested in every culture, every boundary name and every change in war and in peace; and who reads books on a myriad of subjects, from action figures to cartoon characters. But lacking such a word, just know that Dick Whitlock was that man and much, much more.

Dick was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Tucson. He grew up aspiring to draw from seeing “Draw Me!” matchbook cover ads for Art Instruction, Inc., a cartoon art correspondence school. (One of the teachers at the school was Charles M. Schulz, who created the “Peanuts” cartoon.) 

Dick graduated in 1968 from the University of Arizona in Tucson with a degree in comparative psychology just in time for his draft number to pop up. Luckily enough he was stationed in Germany, adroitly employing his college degree to avoid ill-tempered sergeants and quota-driven lieutenants. He spent his off-duty hours during those two years seeing a bit of Western Europe and making friends at a local anti-Vietnam War storefront where he met Brigitte Seelbach, the love of his life and soulmate forever.

Upon discharge he moved to Berkeley where his sister, Catherine-Ann, lived with her husband, Millard Rowlette. Brigitte soon arrived and so began 50 years of a life of love, family, friends, good humor, generosity, good times, work and travel, all played out under the umbrella of Dick’s passion for art and collecting interesting, beautiful, amusing and eclectic objects. He drew weekly with a group of friends and most days found time to work on his paintings and sculptures. He was interested in clay, bronze (he learned mold making and casting), resin and even neon.  

Artists must eat and Dick found a good fit as a salesman in the printing and color-separation fields. His morning ritual was an espresso at Caffe Trieste in North Beach, where he’d join in congenial banter and then retire to “his office,” their indoor phone booth, to begin his day. He knew his business, and he was honest and hard-working. Affably bringing to fruition the ambitious visions of art directors in San Francisco’s advertising agencies, he’d found his dream job, albeit never without a splash of drama, a foreboding deadline and stiff competition. Meanwhile, Brigitte opened a women’s clothing store in Berkeley, Persimmon, which she closed in 2019, saying 43 years seemed like long enough. Dick had a moniker for himself. It was “Mr. Persimmon.”  

However busy they were, family, friends (in all corners of the world) and home came first. Parties were thrown, no occasion for celebration missed, no friends neglected, no Paul Thiebaud Gallery exhibit unattended. A world-class garden was developed, curated and nourished (gardening being one of Brigitte’s art forms), news nighty dissected, trips planned, art made, art collected, displayed, shared and some of Dick’s work exhibited and sold.  

Home was, and was always going to be, Berkeley. Dick discovered new community in a repertoire of favorite haunts: the Med, Moe’s, Cesar’s bar, Sam’s Log Cabin, Cafe Rio (for “the best egg sandwiches”), the downtown Y (seeing friends always outpaced the treadmill), Peet’s on Solano (to meet with his “Old Men’s Club” as an honorary member as he insisted he was really too young to be a card-carrying member). The friends list was always expanding and overflowing the house.  

A spring 2020 trip to Ghent, Belgium, had been planned to see the new restorations to 13 altarpieces in St. Bavo’s Cathedral originally painted in the 15th Century by the van Eyck brothers. News of COVID-19 canceled the trip — and then more terrible news: Dick had cancer. He was courageous and always the most humorous, interested, loving person you could ever imagine.

Dick is survived by his wife, Brigitte Whitlock-Seelbach; his sister, Catherine-Ann Rowlette of Tucson; nephews Nick (Rachel, né Christopher) and Pieter (Jamie, né Mikkelsen); great-nephew Henry of Santa Cruz; and great-nieces Sonora and Maya of Portland. Dick was preceded in death by his parents, Charles Albert and Genevieve Valentine Whitlock of Tucson.