Remembering A Friend

Written on Saturday evening, March 26, 2011

Tonight, shortly after arriving home from the funeral home around 6pm, I received a call from an acquaintance, Cecil Atchley, who was at the funeral home to see me. He was calling from the “red phone” on the front porch and had come by to tell me our friend, Jimmy Evans was dead.

It is nights like tonight that remind me how important our work is, but that’s not what I want to write about tonight. I want to write about Jimmy, probably the first person in South Carolina that I ever spoke to.

It was late August of 1996 and I had just been hired by ECI and had ten days to move to Columbia, SC. It was chaos in the purest sense. My wife and I had been to Columbia only once….about two months earlier when the company flew us there to see where we were eventually going to live. The call came and we had ten days to move. Ten days?…We had three young daughters who were getting ready to start a new school year and that wasn’t all. During those ten days, we also had to deal with the Labor Day Holiday and Hurricane Fran heading towards the Palmetto State. How were we going to pull his off?

Alicia got busy trying to find a Catholic School for our daughters to go to and I was given the responsibility of finding us a place to live. The Internet was still slow with only dial-up connections and little content. I called several Columbia realtors and was systematically blown off by each of them….didn’t I know it was a holiday weekend?….and a hurricane was coming?

I recall speaking to my parents about it and they were upset because we were moving eleven hours away with their only grandchildren. I really don’t recall the exact turn of events, but my mom called me the next day and told me that her boss knew a real estate agent in Columbia, who was rumored to be a very nice guy. She gave me his name and number and suggested I call him. As I sit here tonight, a few tears in my eyes, I remember calling that number and the conversation we subsequently had. I have told the story many times and I hope to continue doing so for years to come.

I called Jimmy and got his voicemail. He had one of those Southern voices…the polar opposite of my NJ/Sopranos dialect. When he called back, I explained our situation and that my wife was frantic and I needed help to find a place to live in Columbia. We discussed the holiday and the impending storm. His words to me that afternoon were simple. He said, “Tell your wife not to worry, I will find you a place to live. Don’t worry about that. I might not have it when you arrive on Sunday, but I’ll find you a place.” That is all it took. We placed our faith in a man we had never met, in a city seven hundred miles away. It was a good decision.

He made arrangements for our arrival at a local hotel. The day after we arrived, he took us around and we found an apartment complex, near the school to move into. By the way, Jimmy lived directly across the street from the school our daughters started attending.

After we got settled a bit, we began the search for a home. ECI was great and the company was picking up almost all the expenses and paying the mortgage on the house in Pennsylvania while we were looking for a home in Columbia.

Jimmy had a calming personality. Even though there was little actual physical resemblance, I always thought he looked like Colonel Sanders…a true Southern Gentleman, but instead of all white, he was dressed out in Gamecock garnet and black.

There is another chapter of the story, the events of which placed Jimmy and I together in a bond that we both often spoke of. (Jay even talked about it tonight). We were going through the process of visiting a seemingly endless number of homes with Jimmy and as we were walking through one house, I wandered away from him and Alicia. As I walked through the master bedroom, I noticed a book on the nightstand. It was Al Franken’s book entitled “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot”, which I am sure will never be nominated for a Pulitzer. OK, They made their statement, now I was going to make mine. I walked back to where Jimmy and Alicia were and said, “Let’s go, we aren’t buying this house”.

They both knew something was up and asked why. I took them to the room and showed the, the book. I can’t recall the exact exchange of words, but from that moment forward, Jimmy Evans and I were friends. We were philosophically and politically congruent.

If I recall, Jimmy was born and raised in Columbia and as soft spoken as he was, he seemed to know and to command a great amount of respect from those in political circles and I am thankful for the many introductions he made for me. People from both inside and outside the sphere of politics wonder how me, a guy from New Jersey can be acquainted with so many political leaders in SC? It is only because of Jimmy. I guess I’ll never know why, but if he treated everyone like he treated me, I can understand why he was so well respected. Was Jimmy perfect? Nope. He had a few faults I knew about and probably some that I didn’t, but then, who doesn’t? But he was, as we would say in NJ…a stand up guy.

When Alicia and I moved to Aiken twelve years ago, Jimmy and I didn’t get to see each other as much as we would have liked to and we always parted, sharing the sentiment that we should do so more often. Sometimes driving an hour is just around the corner, but sometimes it is very far away….especially for busy, driven men.

Over the years, we have shared our ups and downs, victories and defeats and although I still don’t know the exact details of Jimmy’s death, I have visited him enough times in the hospital not to be surprised by his apparent, fatal heart attack this morning. That’s another thing; I rarely go to visit people in the hospital, as no one likes the undertaker to stop by when they are sick. I think that Jimmy is only one of two people I have visited in the hospital in the last decade. I suppose that speaks to my love of him. The last time we spoke was about two months ago when Cecil was at the funeral home for a visitation and like always, the discussion evolved into who had talked to Jimmy last and when were the three of us going to get together? Standing on the front porch of the funeral home, I pulled out my cell phone and we surprised our friend in Columbia with a call. We got caught up and as always, talked with anticipation of our next lunch together, the one that will never take place.

Tonight, I called the house after getting off the phone with Cecil and although it hadn’t really sunk in yet, when I spoke to Jimmy’s wife, Caroline, I could tell in her voice that it wasn’t a mistake, (Don’t we always hope that bad news is a mistake?) She quickly handed the phone over to their son, Jay, who isn’t all that much younger than me and we spoke of his dad and our mutual admiration of each other. He asked a few questions regarding the planning process and I offered to assist in any way I could.

I will watch for the obituary and will be at the funeral for my friend. I will cry, not for Jimmy, but for me, as I will miss him. I can’t imagine what my life in South Carolina would be like if it we not for Jimmy Evans. He is one of those people that I will tell stories about to my grandchildren someday, God willing. May he rest in peace and may his memory be eternal.

I have only one picture of Jimmy. It is a photo of him, me and some guy from Georgia named Newt. Can I find it to put in this tribute?…of course not, but I’m sure it will turn up in a few days. In the meantime, I pulled his headshot off the web.

About Ray V.

Living between Aiken & Charleston,, South Carolina, USA, I like to share what I am looking at, thinking about or listening to. I refer to this as the view out my window. Thanks for stopping by.
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11 Responses to Remembering A Friend

  1. Jim Quirk says:

    a very moving and honest expression of a true friend

    Like

  2. Jim Loftis says:

    I sit here with tears in my eyes after reading this. What a wonderful story and a wonderful friend. God Bless Jimmy Evans.

    Phyllis

    Like

  3. Bernie McGuire says:

    Ray, your touching words of tribute honor your friend very well. I’m sure others may feel as you do about him, but none will do so as eloquently. May Mr. Evans Rest In Peace. And may you find comfort in your memories of him, not now when the loss stings so, but later, when you fondly share those memories with those grandkids. Peace.

    Like

  4. Thank y’all for the thoughtful comments.

    Like

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  8. Beautiful tribute to a special friend.

    Like

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  10. Morguie says:

    Terribly sorry about your friend and comrade. It seems people like that don’t come but rarely into our lives. They leave a big hole when they leave us. They leave a lasting legacy and a cadre of wonderful memories, though; I suppose that’s what we each hope to leave of ourselves someday. The sort of person who in some small way had a very definite role in shaping the person we have turned out to be.

    Like

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