I’m “old school” enough to still keep a written address book. Based on the calendars in that book, I’ve had it since 1983. While I’ve added to it during those 30 years, I’ve never removed anyone because the entries are a nice summary history of friends important enough to me at some time in my life to warrant inclusion.
With 2013 drawing to a close, I decided to look through my address book to remember some of those old friends over the last 30 years.
“JB” was my undergraduate college faculty mentor. He came to the college in my juniot year and was one of the younger faculty members. His father had been an important official in the Congo (now Zaire) government before it was overthrown in a 1960 military coup in which the elected president was executed. Because of his father, JB was on a “wanted” list and escaped by swimming the Congo river into a neighboring country. He was adopted by an American family and earned a Ph.D. at Ohio State. He was the most important academic, and also a significant personal, influence on me. I spent many hours in his office and had dinner at his home many times. He passed away in 2010. I can attest to his obituary.
“Jan” was a year behind me in college. She was a freshman when, as a sophomore, I rallied white student support for an occupation of the Student Union by a group of black students. As part of the agreement ending the occupation, JB was one of two black professors brought to the college. Jan and I were JB’s top admirers and we took every class in African history and politics that he offered. She was often in his office with me or at his home for dinner. Jan’s father was a Methodist minister in Alabama and she saw the KKK burn a cross on their lawn for his support of civil rights. Jan is now Dean of the Candler School of Theology at distinguished Emory University.
“Joe B” was an Assistant County Administrator when I worked in a Florida county administrator’s office in the mid-80s. Since we were both single, we hung out quite a bit. Every Friday after work, we took in Happy Hour at a popular downtown bar just a minute’s walk from the office. Joe was black and I saw first hand how this part of Florida still sometimes treats blacks regardless of their position. At one popular local burger place, we were ignored and left without being served even though I wanted to make an issue of it. A few years after I left for Tallahassee, Joe took a better job in Greenville, South Carolina. His health took a turn for the worse and he died in his forties.
“Joe F” was the personnel director for the county Joe B and I worked in. Joe was also single and usually joined us for Happy Hour. Joe was what, in the south, we call “a good ole boy”… complete with cowboy boots and pick-up truck. A few years after I left the job, Joe moved to a very rural county in south Florida. Within two years of moving, he ran for a vacated County Commission seat and won. But what was shocking (politically) is that after just two years into his four year commission term he challenged the incumbent (25 years) Clerk of Court. And won! He served as Clerk from 1996 until late 2012, and is now Manager for the County Commission.
There is one person who is not in my address book but who is always in my thoughts on New Year’s Day: Rick Spencer. He was my classmate who died from cancer on New Year’s Day 1970 in our senior year of high school. This blog, and my personal high school website, are named in his memory. It is one thing to die after a full life; quite another to die very young. Since I almost died from a virus as an infant and then a near drowning as a child, Rick’s death impressed upon me the commitment to live life as fully as possible now because we do not know how long we have.
Happy New Year! Celebrate life by not taking it for granted.