One of my best friends, Richard Stringer died today of cancer. My father also died from cancer, but when I was three years old. Although my mother remarried when I was seven, my step father wasn't a sufficient substitute for father. Not that he was a bad step-father, but he wasn't an adequate match for me. Richard, however, had many qualities similar to my father: intellectual interests, he was a political and historical afficianado, he had a passion for travel and geography, etc. Like an excellent father, Richard encouraged me in my life. Sometimes these encouragements came as suggestions, but often by just giving me permission to do what I wanted to do. He would explain to me how it was alright to be myself--something no one else ever did; my step-father would do the opposite.
I met Richard when I was twenty-five, working in the investment business and not very happy. At the time I was occassionally going part-time to college for a finance degree, but had no hopes of finishing. I was in a career I hated, but didn't know I had a choice. I was struggling to do what the world wanted me to do, but not making myself miserable and no one else happy. To quote Thoreau a bit, I was leading a quiet life of desperation. Richard didn't try to change me, though. Instead, he listened to me and saw something that others missed or chose to ignore. He in turn presented me with other ways of looking at life and all that it had to offer. It took many years, but in time I began to let go of philosophies and methods which were not natural to me. In time I changed my attitude on politics, did a tremendous amount of charity work, and began to see people in more liberal and understanding ways. I attribute these changes very much to Richard's influences. At the same time, Richard subtly encouraged me to return to college and to major in something I would enjoy, rather than what I thought I was supposed to study. As a result, in a short period of time I earned my bachelor's degree in English. Eventually, I went on to work on my Master's degree in English, as well. Simultaneously, I quit the investment business and took a job working with computers. A few years ago, when the computer market was slow in New Orleans and I found myself unemployed, I tried my hand at writing articles for computer magazines to make some money while I looked for a job. Richard assisted me in pursuing this line: he edited several of my first articles, helped me to construct emails to editors to sell my article ideas, and was involved in strategies for my first book deal. Basically, he helped me to be a better writer and was essential in starting my writing career. When almost everyone else in my life criticized me for pursuing my passions, Richard understood and helped me to find my way. This is why I dedicated my first book to him. Without him, my writing career would not have happened and the Nutshell book would not have been written by me. This gives you an idea of who he is to me.
A year or so ago, Richard was diagnosed with cancer. After many months of despair, they managed to determine the type of cancer he had--one that typically is not curable. A doctor at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, however, was able to get him enrolled in an experimental treatment that seemed to be having good results. Within only a couple of months, the cancer was contained. After another month of so they were seeing reduction of the cancer. It was looking like he was going to be cured after just a few more months of treatment. This was in August of this year.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans at the end of August, it caused a great deal of damage and disrupted many lives. As y'all know, I was there for the storm, but left three days later. I caught a ride to Birmingham where I found myself with no money since my bank's computer system was under water and offline. Boel and the ladies in Accounting at MySQL, sent me a pay advance check overnight. Richard who was in the midst of his exodus elsewhere in Alabama with his wife Anne and elderly mother (who's in her 90's), took the time to track down his cousin who lived near Birmingham to come to my hotel to cash my check. I went on from their to Boston for a month and then fled to Italy to hide and to recover for a while. Meanwhile, Richard and the women in his life made their way to Atlanta and he installed his mother in a new retirement home their near another cousin of his. A few days later, he and his wife then managed to beat their way back to southern Mississippi, near New Orleans and his wife's daughter and her grandchildren. It took some doing, but Richard pulled together enough of his medical records and found another doctor who could give him his treatments--the Tulane doctor still hasn't returned to New Orleans like eighty-percent of the residents. After another couple of weeks, Richard and Anne began making trips to their house in New Orleans to coordinate workers to begin the process of removing carpeting, stripping walls, and throwing out furniture since their house had been flooded with about half of a meter of water.
The result of the stress that came from helping others (e.g., his mother and me), chasing behind doctors and the like, dealing with the mess in his house, and everything else became too much on my friend's system. Various internal workings of his body began reacting and failing. He fought the cancer, cursed it, and continued to plan for his future, but unfortunatley he could not win.
I talked to his wife on the telephone at the hospital last night. We both were tearful and had difficulty speaking. She said that she wished things had been different. I eeked out, "Things were great! I just wish it would last longer." She agreed. Although I love my father and my step-father, Richard was another father for me. He was the father I needed and loved the most. Below is the dedication from my book:
To my friend Richard Stringer, for encouraging me in literature, liberalism, and writing, and for helping me to become the person I was meant to be.