An old colleague and friend died much too early

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.

Brian’s Song – the first movie where men could watch and cry

The other day I came across an old movie called “Brian’s Song” that I had not seen in a great while. Rarely, was a made for TV movie from that era (1971) met with such accolades, attributable to its compelling story. Spoiler alert – It was also the first movie where men who watched were allowed to cry. The story is about the friendship between two football players, Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, who both joined the Chicago Bears professional football at the same time. In the movie, James Caan plays Piccolo, while Billy Dee Williams plays Sayers.

They both were star college running backs and competed for the same position on the team. Sayers would go onto be one of the most gifted players in the NFL, whose career would be cut short by injuries. Piccolo knew he had his work cut out for him, but he also saw a key part of his work to push Sayers to make him better. These rivals, from different races and backgrounds, would room together and become the kind of friends we all would hope to have. They worked and played together. They teased each other and played practical jokes on each other.

Piccolo would tell Sayers the coach had a deaf ear on one side, so it was important to be on his good ear side, which was all untrue. When Sayers kept hopping around to stay on the good side, the coach said “Sayers, what are you doing?” Sayers would return the favor by slipping mashed potatoes into Piccolo’s chair while he was required to sing his college fight song. The humor is as much a part of the relationship as the competition and kinship.They both made the team and the coach changed Piccolo’s position, so both could start together in the backfield.

The reason for the story goes beyond the friendship, though, as Piccolo started losing weight and kept running out of steam. It turned out he had cancer. He would go on to battle it courageously, but would eventually lose the fight. Sayers, would be by his side and spoke on his behalf at the behest of Piccolo’s wife. The story received additional notoriety when Sayers was given an award for coming back “courageously” from an injury. During his acceptance speech, Sayers said the award belongs to Brian Piccolo, who showed him what courage was all about. He would go onto say, “I love Brian Piccolo.”

Even knowing the ending does not detract from the powerful story. It is not unlike the movie “La Bamba” where you know Ritchie Valens will go down in the plane. The movie is still excellent. It is also leveraged tremendously by a very poignant piano theme song, that gives me chills every time I hear it.

If you have never seen the movie, please check it out. If you have, I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections. Below is a link to various clips.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=brian’s+song&qpvt=brian%27s+song&FORM=VDRE