Last week I briefly mentioned Jon, an agronomy grad student I met playing bridge at Illinois. I think we met in 89, at the nascent student bridge club started by my good friend Mark, a fellow math grad. Jon and I played together occasionally over the next couple of years, both on campus and at the club in town. We were both close to rank beginners, but I fancied myself the better player. My recollection is that he’d gotten interested in the game through his mother.
I occasionally gave Jon rides back to his home, and it was then that the conversations would turn to music. As I said earlier, he’s the one who suggested I listen to Jane Siberry’s No Borders Here, for which I’m still exceedingly grateful. He let me borrow some of his disks/tapes (perhaps I reciprocated–it’d be like me to do so). I distinctly recall his choice for favorite album of 1990: Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints (mine was Kirsty MacColl’s Kite). Jon was always upbeat; nothing seemed to get him down, not even my much-too-harsh carping about his card play. Katie called him “Smiling Jon.”
I’ve thought about Jon occasionally over the years, wondering what happened after he finished his degree (he wrapped up a year before I did). I hadn’t taken time to Google him until last Monday, and I was stunned to find his obituary. He’d wound up in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Arkansas, where he was a highly regarded teacher and colleague. What I found in poking around a little bit indicates he completely loved his work and that he made some real contributions to his field. He passed away in late May 2013, a couple of months after he turned 54 (it’s not lost on me I’ll be reaching that moment in my life in mid-April).
Jon and I weren’t close, but I feel some loss and regret nonetheless. I would have enjoyed reaching out to him last week, hoping that he remembered me. It’s another reminder of the need to be more present, more conscientious about relationships.
One of the albums he lent me back in the day was Stan Ridgway’s Mosquitos; he highly recommended it. I didn’t make a recording, but a couple of its songs have stuck with me through the years. Here, in honor of Jon, is one of them. Cheers, to an old friend and more importantly, a genuinely nice person. Rest well.
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