Whether at work or at play, CeCe Bullard had a knack for inspiring and challenging those around her.
An Art for Living
Cece Bullard had a knack for surprising and challenging her friends, a talent that extended past her untimely death on Oct. 1 due to complications from cancer. She scripted her memorial service, arranging to have it held at the Woman's Club, one of the last bastions of Richmond's more genteel days. It was the first memorial service ever held there, and paying their respects were more than 200 prominent members of Richmond's artistic, political and non-profit communities. It was a well-moneyed, primarily white crowd. The service began with the African-American singing group, The New Jewels, belting out "Oh Happy Day" a rollicking gospel song. "When they started, I saw people's jaws dropping open," recalls one person in attendance. Several songs later, as the Jewels launched into "We Shall Overcome," the crowd was holding hands and swaying together. On that day, for the final time, Cecelia "Cece" Bullard brought people together, touched their lives and educated them a little, all at the same time. Many people knew Cece as an art critic; she wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 1992 to 1996 and for Style briefly last year. But in a life that was filled to overflowing, Cece was much more: a businesswoman, an award-winning equestrian, a civic leader, an author, an effective fund-raiser, and, perhaps most of all, an adventurer. "She was probably the most significant art critic that Richmond has ever had," says Beverly Reynolds, director of the Reynolds Gallery. "Cece's perspective was so keen. She was an extremely talented writer and a vibrant, highly intelligent person. She was never afraid to have a definite point of view." One of Bullard's more controversial actions was her vehement criticism of the design for the Arthur Ashe monument. In a 1995 article, she stated, "I deplore the proposed statue. Aesthetically, it is unworthy of Ashe and of Richmond." Rather than just criticize, however, Cece backed up her words with actions, helping to form Citizens for Excellence in Public Art to advocate international competitions for public sculpture. "Her involvement was nothing short of courageous," Reynolds says. "Cece threw herself into everything, heart, mind, body and soul," recalls another friend. "She always had a purpose." Or two or three or four. Cece's interests were many and her insight and drive usually resulted in her being given leadership roles. She helped establish the MCV Hospital Hospitality House that provides low- or no-cost housing for the families of hospital patients. She served as president of the Elizabeth Mount Kates Foundation that supports educational programs for female prison inmates. It is a testament to the variety of Cece's passions that both Frances Lewis, art collector and philanthropist, and Wendy Hobbs, warden at the Goochland Correctional Center, attended her memorial service. With her work, Cece improved Richmond. But it was in her play that she was constantly expanding her own knowledge and experience. She traveled extensively, spending much of this last summer in Mongolia. A trip to Madagascar led to a fascination with lemurs and an abiding interest in their preservation. She played tennis, took clogging lessons, and had just started lifting weights at the time of her diagnosis. A friend and fellow weight-lifter says, "As skinny as she was, she was outlifting all of us until she got sick." Cece was a handsome woman tall, thin, darkly attractive and I remember a bemused expression often playing about her face. When I met her, I was new to Richmond and she seemed the model of Southern sophistication, with her precise accent and slightly aristocratic air. It wasn't until I first entered her home a veritable funhouse bursting at the seams with bizarre and eclectic art that I got an inkling of her singular astounding personality. She was "old Richmond," born here 53 years ago when west of Three Chopt Road there was little but pasture land. She used to ride horses along River Road. But as steeped as she was in the traditions of this Confederate town, no one more clearly represented the vanguard of Richmond's future. Cece said something to me more than 10 years ago that was simple, but it sticks with me today: "You need to care about what you are writing about." The amazing thing about her was that she cared about so much. And the most powerful and fitting tribute to Cece Bullard is how many people came to care about
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