Close up, the portrait was out of focus with pixels of poppy seeds, stacks and onion seeds sectioned off, but from far away, Joann Nixon knew it was her husband.
Joann hadn’t seen her husband’s smiling face in about two years and there it was Friday, immortalized on a canvas covered in seeds and grains. Philip Nixon died in 2007 after falling off a ladder while he was fixing the roof on his house. He was one day shy of his 60th birthday.
It was the second blow to the Nixon family, after Joann and Philip’s 11-year-old son, Christopher, was killed after being hit by a car while riding his bike on Maysville Road in 1998.
Both Christopher and Philip donated their organs.
Their generosity was why Joann was at Glenwood Park on Friday and why she’ll be in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day. The Indiana Organ Procurement Organization nominated Christopher’s and Philip’s portraits to be on the Donate Life Float in the 121st Rose Parade.
Glenwood Park students who knew Philip when he was a teacher decorated a floragraph, a portrait made of all-natural materials. They sprinkled seeds and grains over glue, similar to how an artist would use glitter on paper. Students at Concordia Lutheran Elementary School, where Joann teaches, will decorate Christopher’s portrait next week.
The floragraphs will be among 76 portraits that will be on the float to honor organ, eye and tissue donors. Joann will be one of 24 people to ride on the float, honoring her son and husband.
“It’s almost eerie,” Principal Dave Weber said of the picture. “It looks just like him.”
Half a dozen students met in Glenwood Park’s art room to receive their marching orders for how to decorate the portrait. It was also a time for Philip’s former co-workers to share stories and laughs with Joann.
Weber remembers sailing in the Chesapeake Bay with Philip, who wanted to show his boss and friend where he grew up. Philip always made it sound as if the island was a huge place, Joann said, but in reality, it was pretty small.
“Phil could stretch a story,” Joann said.
Philip also had a habit of writing jokes down on paper and keeping them in his wallet. Honoring that, Marti Cooper, of the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, had the students read hokey jokes to Joann, who commented on how her husband told similar quips.
Philip and Joann had always been blood donors, and Philip also donated bone marrow. When Christopher was killed, the couple were faced with the decision about organ donation. It was a decision she would face again nine years later.
“When we knew that Chris, being a young, viable donor, would help a lot of people, there was no question in our minds,” Joann said. “When Phil had his accident, and we were at the hospital for more than a week, there was no question in our minds.”
Christopher was able to donate his heart, both kidneys, liver and pancreas to four people. The liver recipient died within a couple of weeks and the three others are still living. Joann’s sons became friends with the heart recipient, going on trips with him and keeping in contact.
At this time, Joann doesn’t know who received Philip’s organs. She said she hasn’t been emotionally ready to start the process of having the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization contact the recipients.
“I have not been able to write that letter,” Joann said. “I have to make the first step.”