My friend and hero, Studs Terkel, passed away at 96.

My labor-organizing, rabble-rousing great-grandmother Louise introduced his books to my young dad and later to me. He was trustworthy and fun and righteous and gritty and opened up the whole world to you. A grandfather prophet you’d get in good trouble with.

A champion of the underdog, the overlooked and the everyday who never forgot a face or a story, a man who always wore his solidarity socks I’d find out later, he let people tell their stories in their voices, period, or at least he claimed it was that simple. He reflected light back on everyone he recorded, and on you too as your humble, fumbling radio host or as the glue between stories in his books.

Here’s Studs on the radio with a 22-yr old Bob Dylan

He was magnetic. He had touched who-knows how many lives by the time I met him. We traveled together twice for some days with his friend and nurse, JR, and sometimes briefly with his beloved son, Dan. A man on the Acela overheard me offer him a paper and said, “Studs, is that Studs Terkel?”

“Eh, how you doin’ there!” Authentically, generously curious about every person he ever met.

Immediately, like the man had been waiting to get it off his chest for 50 years, “people look at me and say you’re successful, accomplished, what’s the matter, what are you still angry about, it doesn’t matter if you’re black. Studs, your book on race is the only place I’ve read my story if you know what I mean. I tell them read that,” then a long, enveloping hug for the little old man in a raincoat with his fish cane and glowing ancient smile.

In the greenroom at the Daily Show too, John Stewart enthusiastically greeting him almost flushed, honored, “for a kid in oppressive suburban New Jersey your books were what let me know there were other people out there like me.”

He remembered everything, especially people’s stories and People’s History. He asked every worker at hotels, restaurants, taxis, train stations where they were from, how long they’d been here. No matter what state or nation you were from he knew your last hundred years of political history, your national song, your folk heroes, and usually had an anecdote to boot.

To a taxi driver from Ethiopia, Studs yowled, indignant yet animated by finding something to share, “the first country bombed in an aerial attack by that Italian fascist bastard Mussolini in 1936! I’ll never forget it, I went to a demonstration in Chicago, it was a Saturday, with my friend’s sister…”

Studs was very old, and had lived richly. His body gave out long before his mind but his mind wouldn’t have it. He wore us all out in DC on one trip when he was probably 93, deciding a burger and a beer would be just the thing around 11pm. We’d been up since 5.

He never stopped soaking in experience or pushing himself to get out to see people, promote books, lend a hand to a cause. He was a worker to the end. His final book is coming out in November. He’ll be pissed off to miss a publication date.

He’ll be pissed off not to have seen Obama’s election, especially. He was old enough to have heard Lucy Parsons lecture at Bughouse Square in Chicago.

Studs broke his neck a few years back but he didn’t sweat it too much. Seemingly ad lib, “I went up the stairs real Balanchine-like, but came down more Fosse,” jazz-hands at the punch, big gummy showman grin.

His preferred epitaph: Curiosity Did Not Kill This Cat

I hope he’s back with Ida tonight, free of his body, happy.

He will be deeply missed and forever loved.

Ina Howard-Parker worked with Studs Terkel at the The New Press, and now runs RePResent: Agents for Change.