Science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer died Wednesday morning at his North Peoria home. He was 91.
"There is no funeral," said Bette Farmer, his wife of nearly 68 years. "Just a memorial service. That’s what Phil wanted. We talked about it."
- Farmer co-founded the local Sherlock Holmes club in 1977.
- Farmer was convinced he saw a UFO over Bartonville while working at Keystone Steel & Wire Co.
- Farmer loved trickery and often wrote under pseudonyms. A favorite: "Venus on the Half-Shell" by Kilgore Trout – a Kurt Vonnegut character.
- Farmer referred to himself as a "washed-out pilot" and once supported his family as a technical writer for the aerospace industry in California.
- Farmer once acted as the Bradley University mascot, presenting a war bonnet to band leader Fred Waring.
Farmer had been ill for the last several years. Hospice care had been sought. But his death was still a surprise to family and friends.
"This was a bit of a blow," said Paul Spiteri, who helped publish some of Farmer’s work and has talked with the Farmers weekly during the last few years. "No matter how much you feel you’re expecting it, you’re just never prepared."
Spiteri flew to Peoria from his home in the United Kingdom to surprise Farmer on his 90th birthday last year, and returned just a few weeks ago for the author’s 91st.
"I guess if there was something I’d want to say, it’s that even though Phil may have left us, our memories of him and the words he left will stay with us and future generations forever," Spiteri said via e-mail.
He is one of the group Bette Farmer sometimes calls "the boys" – the devoted fans who have produced "Farmerphile" magazine and attended a mini-convention they call "FarmerCon" for the last several years. Even after Phil Farmer quit writing, Bette included her own articles in the fan publication. That includes her account of the time Farmer literally threw himself at her feet in the basement of Bradley Hall – twice – when both attended Bradley University.
"I turned around and said, ‘You’re going to kill yourself,’" Bette Farmer wrote. "He jumped up and started a long diatribe about how he had looked at me from afar for so long and it was like viewing a beautiful sunset or some such thing. He has started many stories through the years with just such an opening BANG!"
While Farmer was known for his prolific writing, Bette Farmer handled most of the business. Tracy Knight, a fellow writer, described the author as "inspired, but not ambitious" and credits Bette Farmer’s focus as a key complement to Farmer’s work through the decades. Given the author’s failing health, he said he has "very mixed" feelings about Farmer’s death.
"I don’t know that we deserved him this long," he said.
Terry Bibo can be reached at 686-3189 or moc.ratsjpnull@obibt.