Until his final days, local artist Randall L. Dalton, 67, had what those who knew him best could only describe as "a Peter Pan complex."
"He didn't want to grow up," said Michael Martin Mills, 63, Mr. Dalton's partner of 34 years and a former Inquirer editor. "He wanted to be young and to have fun for the rest of his life."
Ask any of Mr. Dalton's close friends - it seemed as if he had "as many as two or three thousand," by Mills' estimate - and they would agree: When it came to staying young, Mr. Dalton came as close as one could get.
Mr. Dalton, a prominent local artist from the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia who was known for his fierce advocacy for the regional arts community, died Friday, Feb. 5, from complications of a stroke.
Endearingly called "the Blue Man" by many involved in the Philadelphia arts, Mr. Dalton spent most of his professional career building a campaign around the color blue - a hue he hoped would unify support for artists in Philadelphia who he said often worked for little pay and little appreciation.
" 'Do Blue' became his motto," Mills said. "He would say he was blue about the situation for the arts, but instead of being blue, we all should 'do blue.' "
Mr. Dalton's most passionate project, Mills said, was his Blue Grotto, an art installation that today is showcased at Philadelphia's Community Education Center, a nonprofit performing-arts hub along Lancaster Avenue. Featuring hundreds of blue lamps and blue lights, Mr. Dalton's project illuminates the center's basement in radiant azure and sapphire tones, serving as an unabashed reminder to spectators of the importance of the arts, said Terri Shockley, the center's executive director.
Blue Grotto will continue to be showcased, Shockley said.
Beyond his blue campaign, Mr. Dalton also worked alongside dozens of local artists, helping to create and install their projects throughout the city. Most notably, he helped install New York artist Red Grooms' wildly popular Philadelphia Cornucopia - the grandiose, parade-float aesthetic featuring Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington that was revived from the bowels of City Hall years ago. It now is owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
But to those who knew him best, Mr. Dalton was more than an art advocate; he was intelligent and hardworking, said his sister, Kathy Dalton.
"A super friend and super gardener," whose talents carried him to the Philadelphia Flower Show, where he constructed lush rhododendron exhibits, Shockley said.
Mostly, Mills said, he was someone who loved to help people in a city he loved fiercely, for its murals and its grit, and in spite of its problems and struggles.
"He loved that it wasn't a perfect, gleaming city for yuppies," Mills said. "He loved the beauty in the distressed architecture in different neighborhoods. He just loved it here."
In addition to Mills and his sister, Mr. Dalton is survived by a brother, Richard Dalton; multiple nieces and nephews; and his in-laws.
A memorial service will be scheduled at Philadelphia's Community Education Center in the spring. In the meantime, donations may be sent to the center, 3500 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, 19104.