Back on May 21st I wrote about losing two wonderful friends, Jim Baumgartner and Michael J. Kiley. Their passing was a blow to the Commander and now just a few months later I have again lost two more very close personal friends.
For several years five old retired local broadcasters have met for lunch every three weeks. Each time one of the gang would be responsible for selecting the site and we have enjoyed eating at a variety of different spots. We often referred to our group as The Old Farts. One member was the General Manager of the local ABC television station, two were General Manager or Station Manager at the NBC TV Station, and two were the top Executives from the local CBS TV Station and its owner.
While we were fierce competitors during our active days, we grew to become close personal friends over the years in retirement. The luncheons were lively and friendly and on occasion we even joined with our wives for dinner at the now shuttered University Club. The only thing that disrupted attendance was vacations, Doctor appointments, or advancing health issues.
Lately, our two buddies from the CBS Station were absent due to dramatically increasing health issues. E. Berry Smith suffered for a long time with ever-advancing Emphysema, but he continued to live alone and would always be the first arriving at the designated luncheon restaurant. Berry’s keen wit and intellect was strong and he always added humor to our gatherings.
Jim Freeman was the quiet member of our group, but his warmth and depth always added greatly to the meetings. Over the past several years, Jim fought valiantly through two different forms of cancer, the resulting chemotherapy treatments, dialysis, and increasing heart issues. He never complained and always felt he was going to beat the health issue of the day.
Over forty plus years, I was directly involved and got to know personally hundreds of people in the broadcasting business, both locally and nationally. Of all those individuals, I have never been privileged to know and work with two better broadcasters than Berry and Jim. They loved the business, their stations and the people under their direction. Both men truly believed that broadcasters had a significant obligation to their listeners and viewers and their daily leadership never deviated from that mission. No one ever met these fine men without knowing quickly their total dedication, honesty, and integrity, along with their devotion to faith, their families and employer.
In the space of barely a week, these two fine men passed and their long battle with illness was peacefully brought to an end. The remainder of our group will surely continue with our lunches and lively conversations, but it will never be the same.
I have lost two wonderful, close friends, but I am a better human being having known and shared a friendship with these two loving husbands, fathers, grandfathers, leaders, community servants, believers and the best friends anyone could ever cherish. Anyone of us would be well served living our lives with the integrity, humor and civility as these two fine gentlemen did. Both are in a better place now free of suffering, but I am certain they are lunching together and scouting out a good place for when we next meet. Those remaining here may rejoin Jim and Berry at different times, but we will look forward to our next luncheon with them. We will all arrive eventually, and I for one am truly looking forward to seeing them again. I am so glad that I had time to tell both of them that I loved them and would miss them until we meet again.