We have all had it happen, or will. I know I am not the first or only one, but a week ago one of my best friends died suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack, at age 57. I found out by his daughter texting me the night it happened. She had found his body. I spoke to her later that evening to express my disbelief and deep sympathy. Her mother, My friend’s wife was in shock and did not want to talk to anyone.
Richie and I had known each other since 1978. He became one of my best friends over the years and was an usher in my wedding in 1990. We got to know each other when we worked together at a bank in Boston in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He said he wanted to learn how to play golf, so we, and another friend, went out a bunch of times in the 1980’s. Rich enjoyed it quite a bit. I sold him my old set of clubs when I got new ones and they helped him. Through golf I got to know him more on a personal level than from work.
In the early 1980’s I was able to hold his first daughter Lauren when she was only a few months old. I was scared. In the mid 1980’s he and his wife Betty had another little girl named Katie. While not as scared this time, I held Katie as a baby when she was home from the hospital only a couple of weeks. In 1986 Rich set me up with his sister for a date. I don’t remember why it never worked out, it just didn’t. But all through this time Rich and I got to know each other better. And he was a really good guy. Loved his wife, LOVED his girls. I had left the bank in 1982 and he left the next year.
In 1989 when I was planning my wedding Rich was a lock to be an usher. He had a real good time with all the wedding festivities. My wife got to meet Rich and enjoyed him best of all my friends.
In the fall of 1992 Rich and I were invited to the Eagle Scout ceremony for the son of Don, our other golf buddy. Toward the end of the reception the son came over to Don Richie and I and said why don’t we all go golfing next weekend. It was Labor Day weekend so that would be perfect. It never happened. The night before the golf date I got a call from Betty, who is one of the quietest people I have ever known, and she said Rich had had a heart attack that morning. At age 37! He was at Boston Medical Center. I went to see him a couple of days later and he looked like nothing happened. Turned out it was a very bad heart attack. He had been clinically dead and the EMT’s had revived him on the way to the hospital. Lucky. OK, so Rich needs to stop smoking, and eat healthy. He had never been a drinker so that was not a vice he needed to cut out. He smoked, a lot, and never saw a piece of fried food he did not want.
I spoke to him or saw him pretty regularly over the next year or so and he cut way down on unhealthy food and cut back to about 2 cigarettes a day then quit altogether a year or so later. He said later that my quitting a few years earlier had been something he thought of when he was quitting.
Don stopped playing golf over the next few years as his marriage went south during the mid/late 1990s. Rich and I played golf a few times a year. One time we went with one of my neighbors and were behind a really slow group. It took us something like 5 ½ hours. We all got in trouble with our wives for taking so long. Well that’s the way it goes sometimes.
By 2000, Rich had been at a bank for a few years and had been supervisor of Mortgage Service and originator. A little of everything you might say, but he was working a lot but not getting paid a lot. He had never gone to college so he was in some ways stuck with his career. He regretted that and hoped his girls would go when they had a chance. He encouraged both to continue school and both girls got their Associate Degrees.
A few times in the 2000’s we got to play golf with Don but not as often as before. In 2006 I called about golf and Rich was all cocky. His oldest daughter was now married and Rich and his son-in-law had been playing golf every weekend for the first couple of months of the year. He said he had brought is score down about 10 shots to the low 90’s. We could not arrive at a date for several weeks but we talked a few times in the meantime. He was really “talking trash”, something he had never done before. I had told him I had not been golfing or even to the driving range that year so I was not expecting much from my game. He was saying how he was playing every week, and that he was going to finally beat me. (In 25 or so years of playing he had never come close to beating me. We just played for fun and winner buys the drinks.)
So the day arrived, and he and his son-in-law arrived while I was hitting my first few shots on the practice range. Some small talk and an early call to the tee meant I only hit about a dozen practice shots. I was expecting that he would either beat me or it would be close as his new average score was about where mine had been the previous year. Result, I shot an 80 to beat him by 12. It was his best round of golf against me ever, I was just in a zone shot a real good round. When we finished he shook my hand, gave me a hug which was not characteristic of Rich, congratulated me and we headed for the clubhouse so I could buy the drinks – Cokes. He also told me he would never talk trash to me again. I am sad to say that was the last time we played golf. The following year he was laid off in a bank merger and was unemployed for a year or so, then underemployed for another couple. By the time he got a good job again I was unemployed and we never made it to play in 2012.
We spoke often over the last year, once a month or more. We talked about getting together for lunch since I was off many Fridays. Something always came up. Rich got 20 extra years of life after his first heart attack. He got to see his grandchildren, whom he adored, and love his family. He really loved his wife and girls.
For 30+ years he had the same greeting on the phone when he called me. “Hey Ed, this is Richie.” It is painful to me that I will never hear that again.