John Crispin McConkey
McConkey, John Crispin (Cris)
"You made one Hell of a difference in this world and in our lives."
Of the many responses that John Crispin McConkey (Cris) received during the illness that preceded his death on December 23, this is the briefest and yet encompasses them all.
Cris died at his home on Aiken Rd. in Trumansburg early in the morning of December 29, 2015 at the age of 63. Throughout his adult life, he was a passionate advocate for social justice and environmental causes. A videographer, Cris traveled to towns in Pennsylvania as well as New York to capture on video the despoilments to the Earth and the hazards to health that result from shale fracturing—fracking— as well as the many meetings that residents made to protest this invasion into their lives and communities. He established the Shaleshock Media website, a gathering place for news and videos of the dangers of fracking.
More than 25 years ago, Cris developed Hodgkins Disease, a cancer of the lymph system, and received wide-angle radiation, the major way of treating the disease at the time. The majority of patients who underwent that treatment are now coming down with lung cancer. Cris was one of them. After many months of chemotherapy, targeted radiation and immunotherapy, he was told by his oncologist that he had only a few months before lung cancer took his life. Weakened by the disease, he traveled to Cuba to receive a drug, CimaVax EGF, known to halt the growth of cancer. In his condition the trip was arduous, but he was also drawn to the island for the chance to see his great friend and musician, Pablo Menendez. Cris met him through his mother, Barbara Dane, who inspired Cris with her passion to ignore embargos and unite people through music. Cris fought successfully to get Pablo a visa to perform in the US in the middle of the embargo and videotaped many of his performances. Cris had also tirelessly supported the Cuba Caravan, bringing medical supplies to Cuba during the embargo. In return, he was now receiving treatment and hospitality from the Cubans and Pablo. He stayed in Pablo’s house and was treated to a practice session with his band, Mezcla. Cris was moved to leave his bed and even danced for a few minutes. He then taped a final interview with Pablo. Without the help of a long-time friend, Mary Anne Grady Flores, to assist him, he never would have been able to make the journey. Many friends, grateful for his role in exposing the dangers of fracking that led to Governor Cuomo's ban of it, sent in monetary contributions to cover his expenses. Cris and his caregivers were hoping the vaccine would make its effect before the cancer took his life, but that was not to be.
In mid-December, his friends arranged for a benefit dinner for Cris in the parlor of the Unitarian Church. The tables filled so rapidly that many diners had to wait for a seat. When Cris' older brother, Larry, brought Cris into the room in a wheelchair, everybody rose and applauded him. He was too weak to stay very long. As Larry was wheeling him out, he asked for a microphone to express his gratitude. "I'm a lucky duck," he said.
In a note to him afterwards, one friend wrote the following:
What a wonderful event you had last week! I hope you and your family recognized how much love and respect there is for you in this community. We are so grateful for your longstanding commitment to social justice activism. Thank you for being the videographer/archivist of the 'movement'--of so many efforts that comprise our work to bring about what I call 'the reign of God'--peace, good will, plenty and dignity for ALL. We are blessed to have you in our community.
"These are not easy days, I know, but I hope and pray that you are not discouraged, not in pain and able to recognize the love of God and the love of your community that surrounds you. We send our best wishes and prayers for healing and joy at Christmas and always."
After his death, Sustainable Tompkins was among the organizations and friends to express their gratitude for Cris' work:
"Today we are honoring our dear colleague, Cris McConkey, who passed away this morning. Thanks to Cris, many of our Sustainable Tompkins events made it onto video to be shared with others. His commitment to sustainability, attention to detail, high production values, and passionate heart made him an essential and valued member of our movement. Thanks to Cris's leadership at Shaleshock Media, our region's fight against fracking was shared across the nation and overseas—inspiring other communities to stand up to protect their land and water. We will so miss his intelligent and dedicated participation."
And Gas Free Seneca wrote:
"It is with deep sadness that we say good bye to our friend and hero, Cris McConkey. Cris was the founder of Shaleshock Media, and has been documenting the fight against the fossil fuel industry for years, often for long hours with little to nothing in return but a thank you from those he helped. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family during this difficult time. Cris, we will miss you more than you know. Thank you for showing us what a true, dedicated heart can do. You are our hero."
Cris was a son of James R. McConkey and the late Gladys Voorhees McConkey, who died in 2013. In addition to his father, Cris is survived by his brother Larry McConkey (wife Diana) of Stockton, NJ, his brother Jim McConkey(wife Kristin and children, Katie and Braeden) all of Stockton, NJ; a cousin Dale Steigerwald of Trumansburg as well as the numerous friends who have provided such love and generosity throughout Cris’ illness.
A private graveside service for members of his family will be held at Greensprings Natural Cemetery, Newfield, NY, arranged by Lansing Funeral Home.
A celebration of Cris’ life will be held from 1-4 pm, Saturday, January 2, 2016, at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca Church, 306 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY.
The following are organizations that Cris supported and has designated as recipients of his retirement fund. Please consider contributing to one or more of them in his memory.
- Durland Alternatives Library
127 Anabel Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
phone : 607-255-6486
They are working to archive much of Cris’ work as a videographer. You can go directly to the location on their website devoted to this project with a link to donations:
- IFCO/Pastors for Peace
418 W 145TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10031
Cris worked extensively with this organization in opposing the US embargo of Cuba and supporting the Cuban people with medical and educational supplies.
- First Unitarian Society of Ithaca – Social Justice Council
PO Box 6, Ithaca, NY 14851-0006
Cris was the chairperson for Latin American Concerns.
Contributions can be made to the Social Justice Fund and the Adult RE Speaker Fund in his memory.