You were supposed to receive this tribute before you made the transition. But I couldn’t believe you wouldn’t be around for a good long time. And I wanted to get the words just right. The lesson is loud and clear: Don’t delay! Even if it’s not perfect, don’t delay.
It seems I’m writing far too many of these messages, and this one particularly fills me with anguish. You were in the prime of your life, at the height of a stratospheric career, still brilliant, funny, and warm. As Marcia said, it’s all so unfair.
My first memory of you was the contributions you made to the general fun and games at the Ketchum household. The best ones occurred in the morning when I stopped by to collect Marcia for our walk to school. I seem to remember arriving one day when I had taken some time to create a new hairdo. You answered the door, took one look and said, “What did you do to your hair? It looks awful!” Just exactly what a younger brother would say. Marcia and I exacted our revenge, though, because we used to pin you to the floor and tickle you. I realize now you probably loved the attention.
Somewhat later we convened at my basement apartment in Middletown where you spilled red wine on the carpet until I wised up and bought white.
I didn’t have any sense of your brilliance until later, but it is evident in the family photo Marcia posted on Facebook. You were just a tiny tyke, but your expression says that you are calculating exactly what is going on inside that camera your mom set up before she raced to sit down with everyone before the flash went off.
We lost track of each other after your family moved away from Old Saybrook and we all went off to college. I did get a personal introduction to your brilliance when you and your dad came East, I believe so the two of you could receive an engineering award. Over dinner you explained the theory of using certain concrete structures to “hurricane proof” places around Cape Hatteras. I remember you drew a diagram on a paper napkin and walked through the process. It blew me away that this physics- and math-phobe understood and was able to ask intelligent questions.
Your ability to explain to the proletariat benefited everyone in the San Francisco Bay area when you appeared nightly on television to explain the process involved in rebuilding the Golden Gate after the Big One hit. (Well, not the Really Big One). Marcia called me and said, “I didn’t know my little brother was so articulate!” But actually we both did.
My last memory of you is my best. Marcia and I converged on you in September. First, you gave me sage advice on how to figure out whether I need to put high-test gas in my car. I haven’t tried yet because my driving habits are so erratic – a week of a mile here one day, two miles there the next. Then a week of one trip to Old Saybrook (twenty-five miles one way), followed by a trip to Hartford (fifteen-plus). Plus the temperature has veered between sub-Arctic and fifty, which messes with the calculations.
Your home was a true revelation. Its former life as a boarding house is evident and adds to the character. But you and Valerie have made it a true place of beauty.
After the tour, we went for lunch at a wonderful little spot a few blocks from your house. We were sitting at small table curbside. A car pulled into my line of sight and then disappeared behind me. I saw you glance over my shoulder. Without missing a beat, you said, “The Braille method of parking.” No explanation needed. Marcia and I continue to laugh and cherish that memory of you.