Today marks the third anniversary of my dear friend Jack Hunter’s death. But he’s as much with me today as he was during the few brief years we knew one another.
It started when I was a Hospice volunteer for his wife who was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. I was Jack’s confidant during those grueling months as he watched his beloved Tommy slip away from him. After her death, we continued our friendship. I was divorced from my first husband and living alone for the first time in nearly 30 years. He was alone for the first time in nearly double that amount of time. I’m certain others thought we had an odd relationship – Anna Nicole Smith was much in the news those days. We were connected for certain and our friendship was one of the most beautiful ones of my life. He knew of my loneliness and wished for me to find the perfect partner. He knew that person was out there just waiting to love me as much as I deserved.
I remember so many things he told me and not just about my writing. He was an accomplished author; his most famous book was The Blue Max. He taught himself German as a young boy because he wanted to read the books on German airplanes from World War I, but they were all written in German. His fluency with that language took him behind the lines in Germany in the waning days of the second World War where he led a counterintelligence team. He painted aircraft and landscapes even though he was color blind.
When he was born in 1921, the doctor thought he was a stillborn. He told me he remembered his birth clearly. He recounted that he was placed on a cold hard surface and covered up. While the medical staff tended to his mother and ignored the blue baby, somehow Jack mustered the breath to start howling, and there was born one of the most influential people in my life and in the lives of many others he touched.
Once when I was bemoaning some difficulty in my job as editor-in-chief of a magazine, he listened sympathetically, and then got down to business.
“Wear the hat,” he said. “In the Army, I had to give orders to guys much stronger, tougher and taller than me, and I had to command their respect. My supervisor told me, if I was going to lead, I needed to wear the hat. So wear the hat of editor.”
I’ve never forgotten that advice and remember it every time I’m faced with a task I’d rather not do. So I put on the hat and get down to the business of my life.
Most of all he taught me about loving myself. His confidence and encouragement in me and all that I did, gave me the courage to continue despite my deep loneliness and unhappiness at the time. Then and now, he serves as the hand on my shoulder, the wind at my back, and the whispers in my ear, to move forward with grace and always, always wear the hat.
Eleven days after he died, my husband Robert swept back into my life after a 36-year absence. Despite the miles and situations that separated us, we managed to come together.
And to that, I say, “Thanks, Jack, for wearing the hat of matchmaker.”