In Memoriam: Wade Carey

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By When Wade Carey and I moved back to Washington from Boston in 1979, we began almost 40 years of life on the Hill, settling into a house just opposite the Potomac Avenue Metro station. A friend came over for drinks, bringing along her then-boyfriend, who was a well-known TV personality long associated with national politics. Making light conversation, he said, “I had no idea there was a 14th street on the east side.” To which Wade deadpanned, “Oh, is there a 14th street NW?”

John Wade Carey Jr., 66, died September 12 after a sudden and brief illness. All his life, he gave most of his spare time and all of his energy to encouraging both visual and performing artists wherever he met them, and he clearly believed—to paraphrase Tip O’Neill—that “all arts are local.”

One of the things Wade loved most about living on Capitol Hill was how often he ran into artists of all kinds as he just went about his daily routines: playwright Tony Gallo suddenly emerging on his bicycle from an alley, sculptor Larry Kirkland visiting the site of his American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, artist Agnes Ainilian returning to her gallery on 7th street SE, actress Grainne Cassidy visiting family on the Hill, charcoal-and-pastel artist Ellen Cornett wrapping up a class at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.

And Wade was catholic in his tastes, from Gaia’s mural on the side of Nooshi’s building on 8th street SE, to Amy Weinstein’s buildings on the site of Hine Junior High School, to a Tim Conlon-tagged railroad car on the tracks beneath Virginia Avenue, to the outsider art that someone had created with little action figures in a front garden on Massachusetts avenue SE. When he went to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan for the first time, he was careful to spend time in schools and workshops, looking at promising efforts in each of the 13 traditional arts.

Before neuropathy limited his long walks late in life, Wade loved to explore cities on foot—ones both new to us and long familiar—crisscrossing Dublin and Hamburg, Istanbul and Buenos Aires, Prague and Bangkok, Melbourne and Berlin, and, of course, his native Washington. Nothing pleased him so much as a hike through unfamiliar urban fringe territory, whether along the Potomac from the massive coal piles south of Daingerfield Island up to North Arlington’s steep river banks tucked beneath the George Washington Parkway, or the Anacostia from just below RFK Stadium up to the National Arboretum. Long before Nationals Park led the renaissance of the Navy Yard precinct, Wade loved to prowl the light-industrial wasteland that preceded it, looking for the former warehouse or auto body shop that he could turn into an urban oasis.

That was the essence of his genius: to cherish the curious and draw out the possible from people—and especially artists—from buildings, and from places both wild and manicured, always imagining what could happen if everyone went with their imagination.

There will not be any immediate funeral ceremonies, but a memorial celebration will be announced later this month.