My friend Wes passed away at the age of 57 just shy of his next birthday. Wes was one of the smartest people any of us would ever meet, but he was far more than that. He was passionate about his work. And, he loved to learn new things and would relish in either applying the new knowledge or telling you or our clients about it. He would light up a room. He was also competitive.
Wes has had two battles with cancer. He surprised even his own doctors by surviving throat cancer. His positive attitude was noted as one reason. The doctors were so amazed, they would invite him to attend conferences and have other doctors hear is story and look into his mouth. The surgeons used part of his shoulder muscle to reconstruct his tongue. As a result, he had to learn to speak and swallow with his displaced muscle and constantly drink water as he produced less saliva.
The second cancer came along later and would cause him to retire early on disability, much before he was mentally ready. He was battling with this cancer at the same time missing out on plying his trade. The last time I talked with him, he was frustrated as he was not working. Having to go through something like this again was disturbing, especially with the hope of returning to work less available. Yet, when I asked him his opinion on a matter, he again lit up and was a totally different person.
At his funeral this week, the minister spoke of Wes’ making it long enough to attend his daughter Chelsea’s wedding just two months ago. He astonished everyone walking down the aisle with his daughter, leaning heavily on her as he wheeled an oxygen tank on the other side. He could not speak the last few months, but was a furious note writer often more interested in you and how you were doing.
His son Taylor finally betrayed a secret they shared when he spoke at the funeral. He said he and his Dad would wink at each other as their signal of affection. They would often debate issues, but the wink at the end meant, even though we may disagree, know that I still love you.
His wife Charlene is the greatest trooper. Between his two cancers, she had her own illness that took a long while to figure out. So, they shifted roles for a few years with Wes being the caregiver. Yet, when his cancer returned and she was recovered herself, she was the Florence Nightingale. She was there for him until they end.
Two of my favorite stories about Wes involved him being on the phone. We had a finalist presentation he could not attend due to a minor surgery for one of his children. He could call in as it would offer him a distraction while he waited. Wes was somewhat antsy and need such distraction. So, we created a life-size picture of a torso and head shot and sat it in the chair by the phone so they could see the voice in person. The client loved this and it showed we were the kind of people they wanted to work with.
The other involves vintage Wes. He would get so into his subject, he would often times forget who he was talking with. At the end of one call with me late in the day, he was thinking about his wife usually calling him at that time of day and signed off with “I love you.” To which I responded “I love you too, Wes.” He laughed and said that is not the first time this had happened.
Wes, I am not the only one who loves you. You touched many of us with your passion and pursuit of excellence. Your family and friends will miss you.