Yesterday I said goodbye to a great man. His name was Jack Ellis. At age 16 my mom was divorced and working very hard. My brother lived with my Dad in Olympia Washington. While I was not what you would call a juvenile delinquent I was failing to meet what school councilors would call "my full potential".
Then I was introduced to Jack and the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. In his 60's at the time Jack had already had 5 other little brothers who he had mentored. At that age Jack wasn't like a big brother or even a father figure. Instead he was like the grandfather I never had. It would take 10 pages for me to recount all the things I learned from him both directly and indirectly. If I am a good person today, it is in part because of his guidance.
In his last few months he was eager to go. He didn't want to hang around, dying by inches."I've had a great life, not one complaint!" he said. He got his wish, passing in his sleep.
I was surprised at the turn out at Old Stone Church. People Jack's age have already said goodbye to many friends and family. But the aisles were full of people, old and young. The little brothers were there. But also cousins, friends, neighbors. The pastor knew Jack, even though Jack hadn't been able to come to the church in years. Jack had called him up to welcome him when he got the job 2 years ago. When he decided to visit Jack at his apartment downtown he knocked "C'mon in! It's unlocked!" and it was. It always was.
Gary Klesh gave the eulogy. Gary is now a billionaire. But in his teens he lost his parents and was living out of his car when Jack gave him a big hand. He got Gary a place to stay and helped him pay his tuition and bills so he could stay in college. Gary flew himself and his entire family to Cleveland from Europe. He said of Jack "I have known Presidents, Kings, Princes, Prime Ministers and Oligarchs. I place Jack head and shoulders above them all". I couldn't agree with him more.
I thought I'd be alright, that I could handle the memorial. But by the time the bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" I was a wreck. At first I couldn't figure out why. After all, Jack had a great, full life. I guess it's because the world really needs more guys like Jack.
After the service I got to reconnect with some of the other little brothers as well as some of the people who's lives had been touched by Jack. That helped me pull it together a lot. We swapped stories and laughed.
Eventually I had to get on the road. I had to get back to work. I didn't want to. This season hasn't been exactly awesome. All manner of BS and obstacles have been put in our path this year. But as I left the Church I remembered two things about Jack that stood out. The first is that I never saw him angry. Ever. The second is that he saw every experience, both good and bad, as a learning opportunity. "It's all part of your education" was his mantra.
I'll miss ya Jack. I really will.