TIME TO SAY “I LOVE YOU”

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In the end, it comes down to that.

Some folks think the worst things about growing older are losing good health or losing good looks. For me, it’s losing all those wonderful friends on the e-mail directory. The older we get, the more often we find ourselves removing folks from the list. These last two years have been particularly sad as I’ve eulogized three and lost a half dozen others, all far too premature.

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This past week, we attended the grave side service of a close friend of more than twelve years. We had lunch with Marvin Schild and his devoted wife, Jean, just two months ago in New Smyrna Beach. A champion tennis player on the senior circuit, Marvin gleefully announced that doctors had pronounced his cancer in full remission. The remission didn’t last long. He was 79.

A past president of the Florida Bar Association, Marvin was also a former municipal judge and city attorney who practiced many years in the Miami area before moving to Maggie Valley, N.C. where we met. He was a delight to argue with, me on the right, he on the left. We dispelled the old adage that the twain shall never meet, because it did on many occasion. Often, he awakened me to the logic of a different position, while he maintained an open mind to my points of view.

Marvin Schild was a deeply caring person who always pulled for the underdog. I will miss him deeply. I only wish he had known that. Shoulda told him when I had the chance.

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Jim Duckworth (Jimmie Dee) and I attended the police academy together in 1960. This man was not only a great cop, but a vigorous stalwart for police officers in general. We worked Homicide together through the early 1970s and remained good friends for life. An ardent athlete, it seemed nothing would ever bring him down. But it did. I visited him just hours before he passed and whispered into his ear, “Love you, Jimmie.” He was 74.

Jim Duckworth left behind three grown kids and grandkids who also adored him, and of course, his devoted wife, Fran.

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I met Don Argo at a book signing in Melbourne in 2003. We became instant friends. Not to be deceived by a deep Arkansas drawl, Don was one of the most respected math teachers ever at a local college. Because of his unquenchable thirst for knowledge, some folks called him a genius. His tenacious research was evident upon reading his historical novel, “Canaveral Light,” which told of the early settling on the eastern shores of Florida after the Civil War. We critiqued each others work head-on, voraciously.

Like Jim Duckworth, I visited Don just hours before he passed. He sputtered his final words to me from the edge of a bed, “Don’t … forget … to finish Orville T. Madison.” (Protagonist’s name in my new novel) To the end, he thought about others. He, too, left behind four children that loved him and devoted wife, Kathy.

Privileged to be called his friend, Don Argo was a man who I admired greatly. Damn, I shoulda told him that when I had the chance.

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George Gilbert Reincke and I were juvenile delinquents together in the 1950s, and never ended our buddy relationship over 55 years of trials and tribulations, dual police careers, broken marriages and plenty of wild days and evenings, some too racy to tell about here. George and I were always there for each other during tough times, much like brothers would be.

We were on the golf course in the North Carolina mountains in the summer of 1985 when he started feeling sick. Diagnosis: Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He went in and out of remission several times during the next 22 years, before the cancer finally won the battle. My wife and I were at his bedside when he passed, along with his ex-wife, Bobbie. George was 68, leaving behind two grown daughters who he cherished.

I really loved that guy. Damn…why didn’t I tell him when I had the chance?

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The beat goes on.

Harry Wendler, top cop and long time administrator with an acerbic sense of humor and wicked golf swing, passed away last year. Delete.

Gary Arbeiter, old high school chum, died suddenly on Father’s Day at age 70. Thank goodness we had a reunion among the old gang two years ago. Delete.

Ray Eggler, stand-up cop and former Homicide detective who worked with and for me during the 1960s and 70s. A hard worker and strong supporter of the PBA, Ray was always there for those who needed him. Delete.

Mike Hammerschmidt, J. B. Johnson, Art Hill, John Coogan, Bill Sampson…all good cops who I worked with over a period of thirty years, have passed in the last two. Delete.

Ray Beck, former Marine, trained me to be a homicide detective in 1966. He was one of those “do it right, or don’t do it at all” people. In later years, Ray worked under  my command. Twas most uncomfortable, me supervising Ray Beck. He fought lung cancer for many years. I received a surprise call one day when I was living in North Carolina. Obviously in great pain, Ray struggled to speak. “Just…wanted…to… tell you…you were like a son to me. I love you. Goodbye.” Three days later, he was gone. Raymond J. Beck, class act. Delete.

Say it, folks. Utter those words. Regardless of sex, political leanings, religion or color, let those people who are especially close to your heart, know how you really feel. While you can. You may wish you had.

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 That dreaded key.