The Officer and the Gentleman
December 28, 2013
While at work yesterday I got a call from a former co-worker from my last job. We are really good friends, and we have kept in touch over the last year and a half. It’s not unusual for her to call, but it is unusual for her to call during work hours. She wanted me to know about the death of a retired co-worker. A gentleman in his 60’s, “Gary” who didn’t wake up from his Christmas day nap.
Gary was a union man through and through. He was a husband, father, and grandpa to one little girl who would talk about incessantly, but not in an obnoxious way. He spoke of his family in a way that made you wish you were a part of them. He once told me that he liked me so much because I was almost the same age as his daughter and reminded him of her. He was a Vietnam Veteran and a former Air Force officer. He entertained us with his heavy baritone singing of religious songs, stories about his family and tales from his military days including one about a time he spent the night in a Mexican jail.
He thought a woman’s place was at home, “making biscits and gravy” and told all us girls that we should have married better so we wouldn’t have to be there, and none of us got offended by his words, because that’s just Gary. He was full of shit and he would tell you so.
He was a self-professed alcoholic and a connesieur of fine cigars, habits that landed him near death on several occasions and resulted in heart problems that ultimately lead to his retirement a year and a half ago. The majority of his sick days were spent in various rehab facilities. Many times I would have to go help him on the job and he would apoligize for the state of things saying, “Now watch this carefully, I was still hungover when I sorted this”. He was the scribe for our union branch and his articles were published nationally in our union magazine. Undoubetly, he was often hungover, or perhaps drunk, when penning these articles because they seldom made sense, even to those of us who knew him, but there was always a gem or two in them that would put a smile on your face and set his article apart from the hundreds of others. Often when I met someone from another office they would tell me to tell Gary that they loved his articles.
A devout Catholic with a old school upbringing, he was also a gentleman. Under threat of impending winter weather, he once took a female co-worker home to spend the night with his family so she wouldn’t have to drive in on icy roads the next morning. His wife provided her with a change of clothes, laundered the ones she arrived in, and made her breakfast the next morning. If your kids were taking up for a charity through their school he would give. If a co worker was in trouble he would give more than anyone in the office. If a co-worker from another office was in trouble, or had an emergency, he would give more than anyone in their office, even though he didn’t know them. He didn’t do it to be boastful, and he probably didn’t even know he was giving more than anyone else, that was just him.
He knew the names of everyone on his route, and all the retired folks on his route knew him. On his days off he would often drive from one town over to attend the funeral of someone from his route, or help an elderly patron from his route with household chores they could no longer complete. When you filled in for him, expecially if he was sick, you spent much of your time answering questions about his health and whereabouts. Even though he has been retired for some time now, I’m certain there is a sadness among the people of his route today.
Shortly after my leaving the organization where I had the pleasure to make so many friends, I told J that I really missed Gary. I missed his stories and his singing, and the way he would say things to management that I would never have the balls to say. Even though we hadn’t spoke in the last year or so I asked about him often and thought of him more often. Just last week I had asked about him, and the friend that later called me with the terrible news had said she didn’t think he would live much longer, despite the fact that he was at home and doing relatively well. The years of smoking, drinking and working in coal mines had taken their toll and each setback had been more severe. I don’t think either of us thought he only had a matter of days left, and I had no idea how hard his death would hit me.
Rest in peace Gary. You have left a void, and the world is a little sadder because you are no longer in it.
The day I found out the news I got in my car to go home and this song was just beginning. I can’t think of a more appropriate song to honor you. See you in heaven.