Monthly Archives: February 2015

Remembering George Brett

When I was in graduate school at the George Washington University I joined an online group called Brainstorms (which has nothing to do with GWU). Because there were a fair number of Brainstorms members from the DC area, we decided, in 1999, to have a get together.  Dean and I hired a babysitter and drove to Adam’s house in Falls Church. There were probably 6 or 7 Brainstorms members there and a few spouses. A few things I remember from that night:

  • Chicken sausages could taste really good
  • Falls Church is cool at night
  • George Brett was a great listener
  • Lemony Snickett books could save my kids
Meeting George
George is on the right (photo borrowed from Glen — who is on the far left). This is the night I met George.

On our walk around Falls Church, George asked me about my degree program and what I wanted to do with my upcoming degree in educational technology leadership. I told him that I really wanted to help create online learning environments that involved virtual chatrooms — online spaces where students could interact with subject matter experts. For instance, if someone were learning about Shakespeare, they’d “talk” to an avatar that looked like “the Bard” in an environment that simulated England of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. George didn’t laugh at my dream. He thought it was a great idea and offered ideas.

George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS
George, Rupert, GeoDuckie and the POTUS

I saw George a number of times after that, at various Brainstorms functions. The last time I saw George was in 2009 at our Inaugural Ball (where he wore a kilt and his signature bow tie). We interacted online a lot, though. First on Brainstorms, then on Facebook. Several years ago when I asked for suggestions for places to go for a romantic weekend, George emailed me and invited us to stay at his lovely cabin in Wintergreen, VA. We had a wonderful time.

Once, on Facebook, I asked my FB friends to recommend pillows. Shortly after I pressed “enter” the phone rang. It was George telling me that he and Sally were on their way back from Bed, Bath and Beyond where he found the perfect pillows — Laura Ashley. He knew they were perfect because he tried them out, right on the floor of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The last time I spoke to George, he and Sally were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Florida. He called me, asking if it was me who needed a job reference or something. Typical George — he didn’t want to leave it until he returned to Virginia and took time out of his anniversary vacation to ask. I’d not asked him, but was grateful that he was calling to make sure. I assume he went through his address book until he found the right person.

George died earlier this month — in fact, the same day Sandy died. His memorial service will take place in about three hours. I’ll be headed back to Falls Church — not to meet George or visit with him in his apartment, but to say farewell to him. To be in a church where people from many areas of his life will be gathered to say goodbye to a remarkable man.

George was a thoughtful, kind, gentle man. In all the time I knew him — online and off — he never, to my knowledge, uttered (or wrote) an unkind word about anyone. He left us far too soon. The world is a better place because he was in it, but his passing has left a void in the lives of everyone that knew him.

Walking with Sandy

Since the beginning of 2015 six people I knew died (well, one died in late December, but I heard about it in January.

Harold, my sister-in-law’s father died first. He was in his nineties and had declined a lot over the past year, but he was going strong a few years ago. I’ll save more about him for another, longer tribute.

Audrey was next. She was the mother of another sister-in-law (married to the twin of the sister-in-law who lost her father a few days before). Audrey was also in her nineties (or late eighties) and was ready to go. She was always kind and we talked at my husband’s family gatherings.

Around the same time I learned that Georgainne, a woman with whom I taught when I first moved to Alexandria, had died around Christmas. She was also in her eighties — which shocked me because she always seemed so young. We used to have long talks after school about everything under the sun — and once we went to see Cats together.

Nearer the end of the month Jack died. He was Marcia’s father and larger-than-life to me when I was a kid. I was a little afraid of him until I was at least in my thirties. Here’s what I said about him in a post about vacationing in Wisconsin:

Jack, Marcia’s dad, was a man-of-all-trades if there ever was one. He could build you a house, lay your carpet and build your furniture without consulting a book or expert. He also knew how to organize a group of people to help build that house. Some would say he was bossy. He’d say he was efficient. Either way, he got the job done with the help of his friends.

In February George died after a battle with cancer. I met George online in 1998. I met him in person the following year and several times thereafter. He belonged to an online group that I also belonged to. While I have a lot to say about George, the most prominent thing that I think about when I think about him (who will also get a separate blog post tribute) is the fact that in all the years that I knew him I never heard (or read) him say any a nasty thing about anyone. Not once. He was the kindest, most gentle man I’ve known.

About 40 minutes after George died, Sandy died. I knew Sandy from my kids elementary school. My son and her son were friends for a few years and Sandy and I served on the PTA together, but I’d not seen her at least since Andrew was in high school. She was always active and sweet and good to everyone. She made everyone feel better about being alive, I think. It occurred to me, when I discovered that she was in hospice (she’d actually died the afternoon of the evening I found out she was ill), that I’d undoubtedly thought about her many times a day since she was PTA president and I was on the PTA board or managing the school email list.

You see, Sandy’s husband is a journalist and she once confided in me that after her husband read something I’d sent in my capacity as email list manager he remarked on my proper use of a hyphen. So anytime I hyphenate a word I think of what Sandy’s husband said and I’d smile. I even remember exactly where she told me this — in the parking lot of the school.

Monday night, when I heard that Sandy had died, I found the journal of her illness on the CaringBridge site. When I awoke at 3:00 am, unable to sleep I opened the journal in my tablet, having bookmarked it before I went to bed. I read about her diagnoses with an aggressive form of liver cancer and how she fought it, first with surgery then chemo-therapy then radioembolization. I read how, despite the pain she walked, at least around the block, most days. I read her post to her readers when she made the decision to stop treatment and enter hospice. I read about her death a few weeks later.

The rest of that night (I never went back to sleep) and the next day and the next sleepless night I kept going over one thing that I’d read in the journal. That she would try to walk at least around the block each day. I know her block and it is a very big block. I was hugely ashamed of myself because I am fine and willingly stay in the house, sometimes for days. I never walk around the block, although one of my promises to myself was to take walks during the day.

Last night, I made a decision. I was going to work on everything that makes me angry at myself — my diet — my lifestyle — my procrastination — my lack of exercise — the list goes on. I’ve become nearly a recluse since — well for a while. Maybe learning about my mom was part of it — but that fact about Sandy walking around the very large block was like a “thanks I needed that” slap in the face.

I finally fell asleep last night — somewhere around 3 am. I dreamed I was in a crowded room of friends of Sandy. Then Sandy entered the room wearing a beautiful blue flowered dress and walked up to me and gave me a hug and I told her about her husband’s hyphen comment and what it meant to me and what her kindness meant to me.

This morning I woke up more awake and happier than I’d waken up in months. I kept saying, “I’m happy! I’m really happy.”

I did take that walk today — just around the block today, and you know what — I felt like Sandy was there with me.