Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CT and Me The Rest of the Story

At our conferences, I made sure that a place was reserved for CT in a good location, a place that he could reach easily and sit comfortably for twelve hour stretches. Yes, for twelve hours a day, four or five days in a row, sometimes longer, CT would commiserate with fledgling and successful reps, explaining how to succeed in the business of financial planning. 

CPA’s, CFP’s, CFS’s, attorneys—all licensed stockbrokers, sat in rapt attention interspersed with lots of laughter as the man with a tenth grade education explained the secrets of his success. There was just really one secret—well, maybe two. 1. Never put your interests ahead of your clients. 2. Your job is to help people.

CT had a gift for illustrating these simple secrets with anecdotes that the most inexperienced rep could understand. I liked to watch the lights come on in their eyes. I called those gatherings The University of CT.

People soon forgot that CT was handicapped. He had the appearance of a strong, athletic and virile man—a real outdoorsman. He was all those things, but an accident crippled him in his early adulthood, forcing him to wear a brace and walk with a crutch. He used a motorized cart when the pain got too bad. And yes, there was a lot of pain—constant for over four decades.

After the accident, he started over and failed several times. Finally, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and his one good leg and embarked on a journey of self-education. He started a new business doing tax returns. This one worked.

I never knew about the pain until I had known him about five years. He suffered in silence. He took me deep sea fishing in his own boat and spent the better part of the trip patiently untangling my reel. We sat in a little seaside bar somewhere (Padre Island, I think) and had rum and coke. We never discussed constant pain.

When I told him I was leaving the business to pursue the next chapters in my life, he understood, never accusing me of abandoning the ship he had risked everything to come aboard.

We remained friends after I left the business. I have been in his home many times and know his family. He and Maggie Jo made a six-hour, pain-filled journey to my home to help me celebrate the launch of my first novel after all business connections between us were in the past. Not many friends like that. My books occupied an honored place on a shelf in their living room.

Painkillers ate a hole in his digestive organs and he almost died from kidney failure. I did not know until he was out of the hospital. We talked a few times each year on the phone and exchanged a few e-mails, but all those years on the phone had given me phone-phobia and he had the same distaste for e-mail, though he was technologically advanced.

If we had not lived six hours apart, we would have had coffee every day, I think. But there was that six-hour distance. When he recovered from the near-death experience and his fishing friend died, putting the boat in the water became onerous and painful, so he took up hog and deer hunting, mostly hogs.

He promised to take me because I really wanted to see how a man who had only one good leg could manage successful hog hunts. He did manage it, however, with the same gumption that he managed everything else. What I really wanted to do most was to come to the little house he had on Padre Island and ride down the coastline in his Jeep.Then sit around and absorb CT's aura of goodwill and optimism.

Seventeen years after he called me that day to ask what I was doing at the new BD and twenty-four years into our friendship, Maggie Jo called to tell me that CT was dying. Cancer.

I was having coffee with a new friend when she called. I am sure the new friend was shocked at the look that came over my face and the clouds in my eyes. I told Maggie I would need time to absorb that, to get my arms around it. Forty-eight hours later, I was on his doorstep.

We talked for hours—with him still remaining calm and poised in this crisis to end all crises. There was a pain pump, installed after that episode two years earlier. I had not known. He was upbeat and his voice was strong, but his eyes reflected the hurt. Even CT was having trouble managing this level of pain.

When he tired too much and it was time for me to go, I knew it might be the last time I saw him alive and I wanted to cross that bridge that men seldom set foot on, that chasm between what we feel in our hearts versus what comes out of our mouths.

I am sure my effort was stumbling, inept, as I struggled to say what this friend had meant to me and how much I admired him, to form into words the sum of a man’s life from the viewpoint of someone other than family.

He set the bar high; he served without expectation of reward; he was humble; he was prosperous without losing frugality; he was generous without taking credit; and he knew the value to oneself that comes from helping others. To me, he was a true, good, and loyal friend. They should build monuments to people like CT.

CT died a few days after my visit (Feb 8, 2009). We just passed the fifth anniversary of his passing, and I am still very sorry we never made the hog hunt and that Jeep trip along the coast.   

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