Monday, April 18, 2005

My Friend Rich

Last night, the Lord decided to take the life of a dear friend of mine, Rich Keyes. His passing was sudden and unexpected and leaves a large void in my life and the lives of others.

I have known Rich for most of my life. He was my brother Don's best friend. With him and Don being 11 years older than me, they introduced me to a lot of things at a very young age, including . . . beach music, golf and a love for Carolina football and basketball.

Rich will always have a special place in my heart. Even though he was Don's friend, we grew closer after I became an adult. He was a groomsman in my wedding. We had season football tickets to Carolina home games together for nearly 20 years, and he would from time to time make my day by offering me a basketball ticket so that I could see a game in the Smith Center every now and then.

I'll always have fond memories of tailgating with him and his wife, Nancy, on fall Saturday mornings in Chapel Hill. Nancy can cook up a storm, and Rich’s smile, good humor and sunny disposition would quickly ease any burdens or troubles I brought along with me down I-85 that day. Later, our tailgating group expanded. First, a wife for me, then a son for him and Nancy, then a daughter for me and Tammie. We became one big extended family on game days.

And then there were the road trips to away football games and bowl games. Sometimes as a group and sometimes just him and me. I'll never forget the time we went to a game at Clemson. The night before the game, we sat in a nearly empty hotel bar in Greenville, South Carolina, watching a small group of locals trying to do "The Electric Slide." After that, "it's electric" became our rallying cry whenever things got too exciting for us two unadventurous types. Then there was the special time the Keyeses and the McLeans had in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl over New Year's 1993. Not only did we experience great food and fun—not to mention an incredible come-from-behind win for the Heels over those annoying cow-bell-ringing Mississippi State Bulldogs—it was our last game together as childless couples, as Jack Keyes came along nine months later, just in time for the beginning of another football season.

There was also golf, both as spectators and participants, although the two of us had not had much opportunity to play together in recent years. However, when it came to watching golf, we did a lot of that. In 40-plus years, I have attended many a GGO, as I still prefer to call it, with Rich. Since he moved to Raleigh in the 1970s, the tournament gave him a chance to get back to Greensboro and reconnect with people like me and my brother. We didn't get to go together this past fall, and I regret that. But since I was able to get tickets to this year's U.S. Open, I was looking forward to heading down to Pinehurst with him to see the game's best do battle, but now, that won't happen.

Yes, we had fun and many good times, but in all those years of attending sporting events and traveling together, there's one thing about Rich Keyes that made a lasting impression on me. He had a particular unwavering character trait that distinguished him: his kindness. Rich was one of the kindest people I've ever met. He lived "Love your neighbor as yourself" probably better than anyone I know. I rarely saw him angry with anyone or anything. And I often saw him go out of his way to do something nice for someone, or to help someone in need. He was a peacemaker and he had a big heart, and yesterday evening, as he and Jack watched another golf tournament wrap up on TV, that heart just gave out.

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