A tragic loss: our dearest Jean-Paul is no longer among us
I was asked to write a memorial on the death of Jean-Paul who passed away on November the 5th of 2006. Jean-Paul died in Leiden Universitary Medical Center, only a few hundred meters away from where I work after a long and difficult sickbed.
Jean-Paul Maas is known for his tremendous impact on the development of the cat fancy. He was a well-respected judge, a member of influential national and international cat organizations or federations, and had a good network all over the world. However fame fades away in the passage of time. When you don’t judge any more people forget you soon. With written material it is different, particularly when books or articles are involved, characterized by outstanding quality, both regarding content and style. Jean-Paul had those qualities. He worked in an academic way and knew how and where to consult his sources. His work on cat genetics can be considered as a standard work. Furthermore some of his writings have been translated in several languages and are therefore accessible for a large public. Hence his star won’t bleach very soon, and in cold days we can find comfort and consolation in the warmth it radiates.
I found it extremely hard to start with the writing. It’s very emotional. Jean-Paul was only 67 years old and I have the feeling that he had not been able to fulfill all his potential, all his talents. I feel so sorry for him. He was simply too young. Hence I needed a kind of incentive to start. The best way is to contact someone very close to him, Sylvia his wife. I just had a very long and intense phone call with her in which we discussed his life. She finds a very hard to pick up her daily routine, but fortunately she is supported very well by her children Jean-Marc and Jeffrey.
Jean-Paul’s last years were far from easy. The past few years I noticed that it became harder for him to travel and to judge. Usually when we judged together he was full of energy and after the show he loved to walk in the city, do some shopping and celebrate the day with a delicious dinner. Jean-Paul exactly knew the good places, for food, for shopping, special museums, history, anecdotes, jokes, gossips, etc. There was never a dull moment with Jean-Paul. He knew how to entertain his companions. But then his eagerness for life diminished. He needed more rest and more time to recuperate. The first signs that something was wrong with him happened about five years ago in the south of France. After our arrival in the hotel he cancelled my invitation to have a drink in the lobby. It was only seven ‘o clock p.m. He preferred to go to his room and have a rest. Well everybody is tired from time to time. So I didn’t bother. However from then on I noticed that he needed to save his energy for judging more and more. Judging is very demanding. It takes a lot of effort because you have to concentrate all the time and this obviously became harder for him. The last time we judged together was in Kiev. He loved to walk despite his overweight, but now he stopped every time and started to tell me something about the history of a building or informed me about a style feature. Or just made a funny remark. It was an excuse. He couldn’t go on without having several breaks. This was new and I easily adapted to it. Then we went up a rather steep hill slope near St. Andrew’s Church. He suddenly fell, on his chest. I was really worried but he said it was nothing. “Bad luck”, he said. “I slipped away”. “That’s all”. He was only worried whether the porcelain Borzoi I had had just bought in an antique shop that afternoon, and which he had put in his Rucksack, was not broken! Well it wasn’t, but I was more concerned about his condition than the Borzoi’s and suggested a stop at a restaurant where we had a wonderful dinner and an exciting conversation about our childhood and roots.
Back home in Holland I told him to consult a doctor. Sylvia agreed with me, but he didn’t go. Instead he replied that he knew what the doctor would say: “You have too lose weight!” Furthermore he confessed that quite recently he had suffered from an absence while driving his car on the way to a cat show in Antwerp. He just had not caused an accident, although he had been traveling away from the right half of the road without noticing it. This event had been alarming enough for him to cancel the show and drive back home. I think for him these were the signs that more serious things were going to happen. He was aware of it and he started to discuss giving up judging. The person, always been so keen on traveling, started to develop doubts on leaving home. He simply didn’t trust his physical condition any more.
Not long after these signals he got his first brain stem infarct from which he recovered miraculously after a period of revalidation with physiotherapy. There was nothing wrong with his mental condition. Neither his speech, nor his thinking or memory had been affected, but his motor behavior was hampered. His movements were slow and weak. His coordination had become clumsy. Furthermore his energy level was low. Back home after months of revalidation he was in good spirits again, but then Sylvia fell ill and had to go to hospital for some weeks. During his revalidation Jean-Paul had lost some weight, but being alone at home now made him vulnerable to his greatest weakness: food. Nevertheless his recovery progressed. He even passed his driver’s exam again (his license wasn’t valid any more after the infarct). This demonstrates that his mental faculties, eyesight and hearing were okay.
Each time I visited him he wanted to know in full detail what was going on in the cat fancy. I illustrated my stories about the cat shows with pictures, and he was excited to see all his cat friends, particularly those from Rolandus in Kiev. Rolandus was very special to him. Here he found friendship and appreciation. Not only for his professional qualities as a cat judge, but above all for his qualities as a human being. He told me: “Here I feel like in a warm bath. I feel welcome, as returning back home from a far journey. They absorb what I have written on cat breeds and genetics. They truly want to learn and expand their knowledge of cats”.
Although he had given up judging he was still very involved in the cat world. Other recurring conversation topics were childhood, family ties, family roots, the effects of moving to other countries, traveling, being exposed to other cultures, religion, cosmopolitism, and of course jokes about sex. Jean-Paul had a lively imagination and he was a master in describing how certain persons would behave in particular sexual situations. Very funny indeed! It is up to your own imagination how some people were portrayed, particularly colleague judges he didn’t like that much.
In late spring 2006 after Sylvia had recovered from her illness my wife Francine prepared a special dinner for Jean-Paul and Sylvia in their house in Leiden to celebrate our long friendship of more than three decades. I have two pictures of that memorable evening. Jean-Paul had his beloved dog ‘Lotje’ on his lap and he seemed to be very happy with two lovely ladies at his side.
Francine and Jean-Paul got along very well and loved to discuss literature and cooking recipes, and after his infarct religion became more prominent in their conversations as well. He was brought up Roman-catholic, but he didn’t go to church anymore till a few years ago. Then he developed a renewed interest in religion.
Jean-Paul had written a cooking book for his two sons with his most successful recipes. We got a copy, which I consider as a great honor. Of course it did not include only recipes. That would be too mediocre, not enough Jean-Paulish. Instead almost each recipe was accompanied by an anecdote or historical description: where to buy the real ingredients (for instance in the Rue Mouffetard in Paris, where he had lived as a student and where he attended professional cooking lessons) and how the recipe originated. Francine has a similar cooking book, made by her mother, which we gave to Jean-Paul at that occasion. You can imagine that the two exchanged many experiences about how to prepare the best cheese souffle or puree (according to Jean-Paul you have to put a thee spoon of vinegar in it). Then Sylvia and Francine discussed sewing (Sylvia used to give sewing classes at home for hobbyists) and Jean-Paul told me about his newest purchases. He had ordered an Indonesian sky bed and a ‘scootmobiel’, a kind of motorbike with three small wheels, specially developed for invalids as an aid for shopping and sight seeing. He was looking forward to his ‘scootmobiel’, which would give him more freedom to move and allow him to go to the park where he loved to walk with Lotje.
Before I went to Kiev in September 2006 I visited him and we were planning a new cat book. In addition to the description of the breeds, including the new ones, illustrated with pictures I had taken at shows, he would concentrate on genetics while I would write a chapter on judging and origins of both long and short hair breeds. In the genetic part he would pay attention to unusual eye color, tabby patterns in hybrids of wild cats (Bengals and Serengeti) and exceptions to sex related color patterns (for instance male torties), and genetic aberrations in cats, for instance the Weissenburg Syndrome in white blue eyed cats, causing deafness and problems with seeing in the dark, short legged ness in Munchkins, polydactyly in Pixie Bobs, short tailed ness in Japanese Bobtails, Kurilians and Pixie Bobs, different coat textures found in different Rex breeds, and boldness found in several Sphynx breeds). Although we had already written quite a lot of articles over the past years, which could be easily transferred to this ambitious project, still a tremendous amount of research had to be carried out to realize such a plan. However, at that meeting I hadn’t the slightest idea that this encounter would be the last one where I would meet Jean-Paul in full ornate, e.g. exhibiting his full potential as a gifted writer, an intelligent person, an original thinker, and above all an affectionate friend, a true soul mate, full of charm, wit, humor, and from time to time with a sharp tongue. Well, nobody is perfect and creative people can exhibit an artistic temper, that is to say they can be moody, stubborn, unpredictable, and undiplomatic. However I knew how to tackle his temper swings. When I left I said:”Paultje behave well during my absence, particularly to lovely Sylvia. When I come back I’ll bring you red caviar from the Ukraine, but only if you behave well. Promise?” “Yes Petertje, yes”, he replied, “If you say so I’ll be an angel”. This was the true Jean-Paul: a bit naughty, playing with words, acting, fooling around as a child, joking and being irresistible charming at the same time.
Shortly before I flew to Kiev Sylvia called me that Jean-Paul was in hospital again, probably because of another infarct. When I came back from Kiev Sylvia told me he had a second miraculous recovery, a kind of resurrection. The doctors were amazed. He was sitting in a wheelchair, making jokes with the nurses, and he had already begun with a new revalidation program. Incredible! His children en grandchildren came to visit him. He was delighted to hear that he would be grandfather again. Hence, there was hope. He had asked for me to visit him. Of course I wanted to go, to give him the presents from Rolandus, the letter from Olga and Andrew and the caviar I had promised him. But I had a lot of work to do after my staying abroad, and I hadn’t yet fully recovered from the flu. I didn’t want to contaminate him. So I decided to postpone my visit.
The next week I went to the hospital with the presents and the Rolandus letter. Too late … At the reception I got the bad news. The day before he had collapsed in the bathroom, couldn’t breath, had been operated, and was now lying in the intensive care center in a critical condition. Everybody was depressed. How could this happen? They advised me to visit him a few days later. I did, I went to the intensive care center where I was told that he was kept in an artificial coma. I saw him lying there, motionless with all kinds of tubes entering and leaving his body and electrodes on his chest. Three other visits followed in the remaining weeks. His condition remained unchanged. On the 5th of November he died. I miss him. I guess we all do. Farewell Jean-Paul. We love you. Rest in peace.