Violinist remembered as voice for life's highs, lows

Andy Dickison, whose public playing is familiar to many in the Valley, died last week.

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WALLA WALLA — One of the city’s most public of musical voices fell silent last week, according to those who knew Andy Dickison.

“He talked about heaven all the time. He was very frustrated … but knew he needed to trust God’s timing. But he was tired of the fight,” said the Rev. Tom Rush of Calvary Chapel Church.

Dickison died at his home March 6 at age 57.

Although the name won’t ring a bell for many, much of downtown Walla Walla was treated to Dickison’s impromptu violin concerts as he played outside stores on city sidewalks for the past three years or so.

In 2010 the musician played in front of an audience for the first time in almost 40 years in a concert to benefit Rising Sun Clubhouse. It was a nervous moment, he told the Union-Bulletin before the event — his passion for the art had been derailed by depression since he was a senior in high school. That and other components of mental illness had sucked away the joy of living time and time again for Dickison, he said in 2010.

The violinist grew up in Northern California, developing his love of music in fourth grade. He joined the Junior Symphony there, earning the title concert caster in two seasons and being recognized as an outstanding violinist in his age group for the northern half of the state, according to Dickison’s family. He loved composing music as much as playing music.

Despite his illness, Dickison managed to enlist in the military, serving his country as a police officer in the U.S. Air Force from 1978 to 1981.

That’s the year his illness fully announced itself, “blossoming” into attempted suicide, he said in 2010. “At that point I was hearing voices … I thought I was talking to God and angels.”

Military doctors were somewhat helpful, but Dickison was not correctly diagnosed with schizophrenia until he was in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Oregon, largely from his own research. “The doctor told me to try Haldol (a prescription antipsychotic). I got better. I really got better.”

He spent years learning to live with his complicated diagnosis, which includes bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, but the voices in his head were never completely silent, Dickison said then.

His congregant and friend is done with that earthly battle now, Rush said Wednesday.

“He was very open about himself and his struggles and his disabilities, and one more thing, he was open about his faith in Jesus Christ.”

Dickison acted as a spokesperson for mental illness, willing to educate anyone who cared to listen. In 2010, he talked to the Walla Walla Valley Academy orchestra students who also participated in the benefit concert, said orchestra Director Ben Gish.

“He talked about the impact of mental illness and what had happened to him. He explained it can happen unexpectedly, and you just never know. And if you ever found yourselves in that situation, don’t be afraid to get help.”

Dickison also told the students about the “great” work done by Rising Sun Clubhouse and his gratitude of the organization’s existence in the community, Gish added.

The nonprofit clubhouse provides a social and skill-training setting and peer support for those living with mental illness.

Despite medical and mental health help, his friend continued to deal with many challenges, Rush said. “Addiction, our regular sinful nature, his disability, and all of that was on the table. I’m going to miss him because I’ll miss his transparency.”

Although Dickison “lost some battles, Jesus won the war,” Rush said. “Jesus accepted him. Andy was a guy who not many people understood. It is probably true that a lot of people didn’t appreciate him the way they should have. I think I can safely say that I am one of those people. Looking back I know I didn’t see him really the way he really should have been seen. But Jesus, Jesus saw Andy and loved him, even when Andy was his enemy.”

The pastor said he could tell others were attracted to Dickison’s open heart by the number of people who responded in the two days no one heard from Dickison before he was found dead at the bottom of a set of stairs. “I was so grateful there were so many people who cared about him.”

Andy Dickison is survived by many friends in Walla Walla, family in Idaho, California and Oregon. A service is planned for Saturday, 2 p.m., at Calvary Chapel Church, 19 E. Birch St.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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