Fall Passings

I’m beginning to develop a love-hate relationship with autumn. Last year about this time we lost my father and two friends. This year, stresses at work and various health issues have had us at bay. Then today I found out that another long-time friend had passed away last week.

Robert Ridgeway was one seriously unique individual. He was an undisputed genius, having graduated from Furman three years earlier than he was supposed to. During and after Furman Robert shared many adventures with our close cadre of friends. There were rock-climbing and rappelling excursions. Back when I was in better shape, he and I did a quick hike to the top of Table Rock, then come down the 3 mile trail in a flat out run. There were also trips to concerts, and long discussions about politics and just about any other topic. Robert was not afraid to explore controversial ideas, and express those among his close friends.

Robert was a master strategist. We spent long nights playing board games and various war simulations until the early morning hours. More often than not he would win. When Robert was winning, one of us would call, “House Rules!” Robert thought that meant that from that point no one would drink any alcohol. What it really meant was that we would gang up to get him out of the game, even if it meant that we would lose. His megalomaniac tendencies during these games made us come to another pact – if Robert ever achieved any real power in the real world, we would have to assassinate him. Didn’t matter if that was just head dog catcher. Somehow he would be able to parlay that into Evil Overload status. Those jokes now seem very crass given the current situation.

In the last twenty years or so I started to lose track of Robert. He stopped by our house once to try to sell us water filters. Author George Singleton wrote a short story called “Impurities” which was included in his book “The Half-Mammals of Dixie“. Laura and I swear that George heard of Robert’s visit to our house and wrote about it. In the short story, a long lost friend from Furman shows up on the antagonist’s doorstep to sell him water filters. The initial descriptions are too close for coincidence.

The last time I saw Robert was about 10 years ago. He was back in Greenville and working for the Greenville News. He had previously worked for the Nuclear Emergency Planning Section of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (which should have triggered our assassination clause, had we known about it.) He had also produced a film entitled “Y2K: Nuclear Meltdown” and had authored a comic book entitled “The President’s New Clothes: An American Fairy Tale” about Ronald Reagan.

I also got to be friends with Robert’s parents. His father was an engineer at Flour Daniel, and his mother was from Germany. Robert himself had been born in Mainz, Germany. I hate that I lost touch with Robert. He could be intensely annoying, but also thought provoking. He was one of a kind, and will be missed.

Robert wasn’t the only long-lost friend that I seemed to have lost permanently. My cousin, Phyllis McNeely succumbed to cancer in late August, and Myron Taylor passed away a couple of weeks ago. Myron, or “Pete” as he preferred to be called, spent many a day at our house, and I at his. I hadn’t seen either of these cousins in many years. Finally, a classmate from high school, Cecelia Hall Dunleavey, lost her battle with cancer two weeks ago. We had reconnected at our high school reunion, and I had kept up with her through Facebook.

These fall passings have dampened the season, but I guess as we age this will happen more and more frequently. I love fall, but I’m really ready for a normal season.

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Comments (4)

  1. Mr. Russell

    You captured Robert perfectly with “seriously unique individual.”

    Reply
  2. ken Cothran

    A remarkable read.

    Reply
    1. Dwight

      My best memory of Robert: I was sitting in an empty movie theatre (maybe it was 1985) waiting for the Terry Gilliam film “Brazil” to begin. In walks Robert. I should have expected him. We enjoyed the movie together—it’s remained one of my all-time favorites.

      Reply
      1. Tom (Post author)

        Dwight – I think one of my favorite memories was when you, me, Alan, and Robert did a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Athens for a free REM concert. I think we need to get together and tell Robert tales at some point.

        Reply

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