Friends Writing to Friends Remembering Friends

February 06, 2011 9:04 PM
My Dear Friend, Paul –
I received your email this morning and am immensely saddened over the deaths of Walt and Jack. Two great shocks to me.
Walter was always engaging and daring. One gorgeous Spring day in our Junior year, without a drivers license nor having taken a driving class, he borrowed Craig Middleton’s Ford convertible, drove it wildly through your proximate area, Rock ‘n Roll on the radio, and ended up crashing it into a tree on Peter Krumpe’s front lawn on School Street. I think I had been sitting with Jeannie Langlois in her father’s Impala convertible when Kathy Agnew stopped by (on foot) to let us know of the big crash. I ended up driving Walter around for the next year and a half….got so he’d complain if I didn’t show up on time for a scheduled double date. Through the laughter ( I can hear his “breakout” type laughter now), his engaging and overwhelming  personality, his love for Bobby Darin, his good-natured-ness about being so big, his daring, his bar-owning in New York and St. Croix, his speaking out on almost every topic imaginable…...and his intensity. 
I last spoke with him about 7 years ago when he called to tell me that Jeff Stone had passed and that he had spoken with Al Jerome. Then about 5 years ago he had called to tell me about  a John Wayne movie(The Searchers) he had seen on TV the night before…
he had always relished my impersonations of John Wayne and others). It was the last time I had heard from him.

It’s hard to believe that Jack has died. How did he die?  I concur with Jimmy Iannotti…”not Jack.” I admired Jack a great deal. He was a competitive athlete in Football (great center), Basketball and Track. He was a top-flight student. And he was special….everybody loved Jack. He had a solid, yet quiet-to-be around personality. We didn’t use this word then, but Jack was “sweet.” And he knew who he was. I got a glimpse of his lovely sense of humor when he would tease his sister, my high school sweetheart, Jeannie. His father, John Langlois Sr., had a pleasant, easy-going personality that almost beamed. I think he let me drive that 1960 baby-blue Chevy Impala more often than Jack would drive it. Jeannie looked like a carbon-copy of Mr. Langlois and Jack had his Dad’s settled warmth. I so admired the Langlois family, and I am sad for Jack, and for Jeannie as well  because she has lost two of the closest men in her life within the same short period. And, of course, now her friend, Walter. Lucy’s thought is sweet…you all ought to sit around a campfire when you meet and remember Jack.
When did Jack and Walter die? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day of the signing of our Declaration of Independence. Consider this: Both Jack and Walter were Presidents of their respective graduating classes, 1960 & 1961!
I’m sad about Chuck’s deterioration since you and I last talked about him at the 2006 reunion. I remember when he came out of the Peace Corps. He had a motorcycle which he parked in front of my Lexington Avenue apartment for a few nights while he stayed with me. I got him a job as a waiter at Maxwell’s Plum on first Avenue. That’s where he first met Susie. They fell in love right away and got married. 1969 maybe? I haven’t heard again from Chuck since then….maybe he didn’t like the job I got him? Funny how we all lost touch in those early years.
Jeannie Messing Sommer (I hadn’t written her in a while – she was my 6th-8th grade love and we’re enduring friends) wrote me an email this past week to say hello and tell me about the snow and ice storms on The Island and that she read a book and made soup and looked out the window at the beautiful snow. I became so sentimental about Long Island and our youth and wrote her back, in part which I share with you because of its’ remembrance of Long Island:
Yeah, I’ve been following the weather on Long Island….I remember looking out at the beautiful snow from my window on Stirrup Lane, surrendering to its dominion, and then how great it would be to be finally released outside a day or so later into the brisk air and the clear fullness of the winter sun. It sounds exactly like you that you would read a lot and make a pot of soup. Simply enjoyed, life is good.
Jeff Paverman and I had our great reading contests usually in the winter. The more snow we had, the more time each of us had time to read all the copious books we borrowed from the Bryant library. That was when we were around age 10-11…. and just a few short years later, Jeannie, we were competing for you!  In the winter of our senior year, Tommy Brescia and I made a good buck shoveling snow off of driveways in the RCC community. I also made a good living over three summers waxing cars of RCC neighbors, sweating my arms off while listening to Patsy Cline, Elvis, Johnny Mathis, Pat Boone amongst all the great mix of Pop, Rock ‘n Roll, Country and summer ballads filling my garage workspace from an old black radio with a dim, yellow plastic face and a long red dial that was permanently fixed on WINS AM.
Sometimes I would do 2 cars in one day and, as my work on the second car neared completion, my mom might come out to pitch in with cleaning the windows. Since it was usually late in the day my father, back from the city, would be walking up the driveway at the end of his trek from the Albertson train station around the corner from our home. It was remarkable how it would only take him a split-second to find a tiny, indiscernible speck of unpolished wax residue on a car that I had for mighty hours given all but my manhood over to, and which now stood there, but for that tiny speck, otherwise gleaming as though having been tapped by Tinker Belle’s wand.
My brother’s eyes would light up as he saw the piles if 5’s, 10’s and 20’s mount up on top of the dresser we shared. I’d give him a buck or two. After dinner, I would take the ’51 olds to meet my crazy friends for beer at the beach or the Picture Lounge. Mostly though, I’d go fetch my high school steady and we would enjoy our young time together under the summer moon on a warm and endless Long Island Summer night. Sometimes, looking back, I think I could have stayed there forever, with my life fixed as it was then on Long Island, and never have given a fig of a thought for what I might be missing or what I could be doing anywhere else but there.

Thanks for the foto of us guys at Monk’s wedding. Do you have any more? We were all such handsome fellows (still are). Our guy Walter looked magnificent. When exactly was the wedding? It was in Maine, yes? I seem to remember driving north for it. Merritt….jeez, he would always look out for me, give me his opinion, confidential and good advice and try to steer me straight….wish I had listened to him. Great guy. Pat Higgins lived around the block from me in Albertson when we were boys and later moved to East Williston on Williams Street to a bigger house for his 3 or 4 brothers and one sister. After he got out of the Marine Corps we met up when I was tending bar in Manhattan and he moved in with me at that apartment you will remember overlooking Lexington Avenue, which you and Bruce Lottman had previously shared with me. Pat and I were roommates for a few years and good friends. I knew the apartment was in good hands when I used to go on acting tours in the South.  He started law school (his Dad, Tom, was a lawyer) while still at the apartment and then quit law school and moved to 96th Street where he worked with Puerto Rican kids. A few years later….about the time I moved to Boston in late 1975….he came to Boston to attend a Jesuit Seminary, having decided to become a priest. Pat was and is one of the finest men I have ever known. He was as Irish-American as they come, a staunch, honorable man, and a steadfast friend. He always reminded me of the actor, Ward Bond who worked with the motion picture director John Ford as a strong featured player in many of the same movies that Ford made with John Wayne. I learned that Pat had left The Order….how did you know? He lives in the state of Washington now:

Mr. Patrick W. Higgins
Patrick Higgins brings broad experience to his work with the Rauschenbusch Center for Spirit and Action. He has served as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps, Assistant to the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Development during the Model Cities era, and as a Catholic priest and pastor in inner-city New York and Bolivia (four years as an Associate with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers). Since 1968, his career has been involved with Latino groups in locales of great diversity. He is bilingual. During his first two years in Washington State after 1992, he covered most of this and neighboring states recruiting migrant and seasonal workers for education programs at Washington State University.
Patrick is a parishioner of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Central District, and served the congregation as Social Justice Coordinator trained in community organizing by the Industrial Areas Foundation. As program coordinator and later Director of the Institute for Washington ’s Future, he has worked with communities, unions and non-profit groups on issues of taxation, community development and immigration reform. Pat has several years of organizing and fund development experience with the Comite Pro-Amnistia (immigration reform) and Archdiocesan Housing Authority shelters. His academic background is in Sociology (A. B., Holy Cross College ), and Theology (M. Div., Pope John XXIII National Seminary and M. Th. Justice and Peace Studies, Maryknoll School of Theology).

Paul…I’ve wanted to write you for some time, but I’ve been too self-absorbed I’m afraid. You are one of one of my most treasured friends. I will write again soon and will let you in on some of my none excuses for not writing more recently to you or other friends who have written me (Phyllis Ditkoff, Martino for examples). And I’ll also give you my take on the 2006 reunion at Wheatley as I had promised. But this particular email is not about me….it’s about remembering Walt and Jack. May they always be in our heart’s memory.

Thanks, Paul for letting me know the news….and for being persistent with me. Irishman that you are, you are a loyal keeper of the flame of friendship.
As always,
Mike Harvey

Paul writes back:
Great to hear from you, Mike. Your poignant reflections provide insights into everyone--Walt, Jack, Chuck and even, amazingly, Pat Higgins-- that are unique to you and your experience.
     And who knew that you were instrumental in Chuck meeting Susie at Maxwell's back in the day? Or that you and Pat Higgins, my neighbor in EW, was your apartment mate on Lexington Ave? Was that after the Lottman and Hennessy co-habitation, about which I have fond memories in three different apartments?
     To answer a couple of your questions: Jack survived a serious bout with liver cancer about five years ago, but it recurred as pancreatic cancer last spring. It was very sad since he seemed ready to return stateside after a very successful "second career" (he had a doctorate in Chinese History and taught economics at Princeton) with Morgan Stanley in Asia. The Wall Street Journal did a feature about him collecting bad debts all over China that ended with him asking "Why don't I just retire to Colorado?" He could have done that any time as he had a house on a mountain there, as well as one in Princeton.

     He came to our reunion in May (accompanied by sister Jeanne and her daughter Kathleen Kull)  looking surprisingly well, but went into Lennox Hill Hospital a week later and died there after about a month. We all visited him in the hospital and Martino wrote a sad but wonderful remembrance of that experience you can read in the memoriam section of our website. Having worked at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, I suggested more radical treatment (eg. a transplant), but Jack said the cancer was too advanced and he calmly and courageously accepted his fate.

     Your comparison about the two class presidents and Adams/Jefferson was very interesting. We hadn't made the historical comparison, but were struck by the fact that both class presidents were hospitalized at the same time several blocks from each other. I only heard last week from Camille Napoli that Walt died a couple of weeks ago.

          I also think some of your thoughts on life on Long Island, the Langlois family, and the presidential reference would be appreciated in the "reflections" section on our website so let me know if it's OK with you to include them. We'd like to invite you to our October gathering at Martino's in New Smyrna Beach and you'll hear from Col. M on specifics.. (We're also inviting Jeanne Kull, her daughter Kathleen, and Jack's wife, Hsin-I, who supported the gathering to celebrate his life, and probably Susie Shaffer.)
     I'll look forward to hearing further more about you and your life. We've all traveled different roads since those dashing dudes gathered (in Connecticut--Monk now lives in Brunswick, Maine) at the wedding. He'd be the source of additional incriminating pix.

     Much more to chew over, old pal, so let's stay in touch. Cheers,
Hi, Again Paul –
I weighed the risk of your going into shock by my uncharacteristically quick reply to your email today (and yesterday)… vs. the fact that you have been better than me in staying in touch in recent years. Since we’ve at times been competitive early on, I couldn’t allow you to get the upper hand in this; and so I’ve decided that soiling my increasingly Garbo-like reputation is a fair price to pay to get back in the game….provided, of course, that you will announce from here on in to anyone who wants to know… that Mike Harvey is tan, rested and ready for all comers!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about what I wrote you yesterday and for filling in the painful blanks about Jack. 
In the meantime, I will leave you with part of what I emailed Jeanne Kull after learning about Tom’s passing in October of 2009:

I remember Tom as possessing a roguish charm, an incisive perspective on people and a sardonic wit...all of which made him a magnetic and memorable personality. He never held back from speaking his truth to a friend if he thought that friend was less than self-genuine at a given moment. And he was fun. I remember one summer evening when my father let me have the car on the condition that I would not drive it more than 5 miles. I let Tom drive, and of course he drove more than the allotted 5 miles. At that point he had the idea that if we were to drive the car in reverse for a while, the mileage reading on the odometer would decrease. So, we spent over an hour driving backwards in the parking lot of the Roslyn Country Club. Sure enough, we eventually shaved off the extra miles. And there were dozens of other somewhat wild, sometimes crazy but always unique, youthful moments that made hanging with Tom a joy. 

Thanks for inviting me to your reunion in October, Paul. Naturally, I’d love to be there. I sure hope it’s not the same weekend as the Wheatley ’61 50Th reunion. ? (Editor's note-it is not-1961's 50th is a week before) Ok, Paul….I’ll be back to you soon.
Mike Harvey


Paul writes back:
I'm impressed with your rapid response, Mike, and appreciate your candor and willingness to communicate. I'll await your next communique with breaking news and/or your reflections for the website. All the info on our October reunion is on our web and I hope it doesn't conflict with yours.

     I also have so many recollections about Walt and will write up some of them--the way he organized whole buses of students into a chorus with Ompapahs on one side and Nah Nah Nahs on the other--he was one of a kind as musical director! And I remember his passionate singing of Mack the Knife with even the slightest encouragement.

     Monk recalls him with a frying pan in the locker room of wrestling tournaments, selling fried egg sandwiches to guys who'd been starving themselves to make weight;  Coach Stevenson getting on him after he pinned the Garden City heavyweight to win the match, but still calling him the "Great White Whale"; and then there was his massive presence by my side at a basketball game intimidating four or five Herricks  rowdies who seemed to think my commentary deserved an ass-kickin'.

     Enjoyed your Tom tale--a classic of how he'd find a bizarre way to get around rules/laws. I look forward to getting your next commentary.