It’s not often you meet someone who manifests all that is good in human beings, but I was fortunate to meet such a person. I was connected with J.R. Getches while working on a fundraiser. He was kind enough to share his wisdom and time with somebody he’d never met and owed nothing to. I considered him a friend afterwards, but I think J.R. was a friend to everyone. J.R. was a staple of the Lowcountry Blues Society, played with various bands including The Louis D Project and MacDaddy, and was a gifted guitarist, singer and songwriter. J.R. was also well-versed in martial arts, which may have contributed to his Zen master ways.
J.R. was also a prolific photographer. He observed the divine in the ordinary. Whether his subject was human, animal or landscapes, his signature-style is exquisite, ethereal and soothing. And because J.R. didn’t do anything halfway, his art was exhibited at the Charleston City Gallery and he was a valued member of the Charleston Artist Guild.
J.R. left a distinctive and indelible mark with his artistic gifts, and he accomplished a lot, but his biggest impact was not what he did, but who he was. Have you ever met anyone that not a single soul has a negative word to say about? J.R. was that person. He was kind to every living being.
In tributes from J.R.‘s friends, old and more recent, a consistent theme emerged: J.R. was a teacher, a student, a mentor, a friend, a collaborator, an inventor, a guide. He was patient with those who needed that and an inspiration to those who needed that. Despite any differences in politics, socioeconomics, background, race or religion, J.R. found a way to connect with everyone he met. You’re a Trumper? You’re Antifa? You’re famous? You’re homeless? You’re Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, atheist? It didn’t matter to J.R.. He treated every sentient being with respect. He had a unique ability to not only see one’s humanity, no matter how deeply it might be buried, but to nurture it so it rose to the top. J.R. was easy to be around and made everyone a better person.
Sadly, J.R. left this dimension on April 11 after a six-month battle with epithelioid angiosarcoma. He was in so much pain that my only solace in his departure is he didn’t have to endure it for years.
J.R., who moved to Colorado for family reasons in 2019, deserves to be remembered by the Charleston community he embraced and the community that embraced him. He loved Charleston. He met and made a life with his true love, Christina, in Charleston.
The greatest way to remember J.R. and honor what he gave to the world is to pay his gifts forward. Especially in these contentious times, let’s honor J.R. by finding the humanity in others, remembering to be kind, caring for the most vulnerable, finding beauty in the mundane, cultivating an interest and sharing it with the world, exhibiting grace in difficulty, leaving this place better off than we found it — so when our time comes, perhaps someone will write something like this about us.
Maybe Charleston City Paper’s “Best Of” can create a new category — Kindest Charlestonian? J.R. would’ve won every year.
For those who were touched by J.R. Getches, there will be a celebration of his life on May 22 at Forte, 477 King Street, Charleston, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Debbie Hall survived Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, but now lives in Florida.