True friendship, like life itself, takes nurturing

MARTY ROCHESTER

A dozen years ago, my twin brother Stuart passed away. At his funeral, in my eulogy for him, I noted that I had just lost “my oldest and closest friend.” In July, I lost another very close friend. Unlike my brother, who lingered for months with cancer, Andy died rather suddenly. In both cases, I was reminded of the profound importance of friendship and what that loss entails.

If you knew Andy, you knew he could be a tad ornery at times. But you also knew he was among the most generous people you could ever meet. For example, he traveled all the way to Washington, D.C., from St. Louis to attend my brother’s funeral, an exceptional act of kindness I will never forget. 

Before Uber, there was Andy. He could always be counted on to make himself available for schlepping to and from the airport, night and day, in the wee hours or whenever. There were many other instances when he went the extra mile in showing consideration toward me and others. 

Andy was also possibly the single funniest guy I ever knew. He had a habit of refusing to call anyone by their real name, instead inventing nicknames for every acquaintance. He labeled himself “The Rock.” I was “FLOPS” – a tribute to the fact that at our son’s Lubavitch wedding, my wife and I were responsible for paying for the flowers, liquor, orchestra, photography and the sheitel (the wig).  My wife, Ruth, was “El Rufus.” And so on. 

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One of his funnier routines was when he accompanied me to an International Studies Association conference where I was participating on a panel with some CIA officials. During the Q&A session, Andy, an actuary, pretended to be another foreign policy scholar in the audience (from “Clayton University”), asking a seemingly deep, weighty question of me and the “spooks.” They proceeded to take him seriously with a lengthy response while I could barely withhold my laughter. 

His wardrobe was rather unique. He almost invariably wore a Hawaiian shirt with jeans or sweatpants, no matter the season or occasion. It was topped off with a Rocky and Bullwinkle cap. I am guessing it not only was intended to disguise his ample girth but was a fashion statement of sorts signaling that neither he nor anyone else should be accorded any special gravitas. He had little tolerance for pomposity or pretentiousness.

Largely because of COVID, I saw Andy only twice in the past year. It so happens my wife and I saw him the Sunday before he died. It was July 4 and, as was often the case, Andy had found some piece of arcane local history to explore. He was a proud, native St. Louisan, always happy to give us non-natives a tour of obscure neighborhoods and hidden gems we would otherwise never encounter. 

We spent the Fourth visiting Oakland House, a beautifully restored antebellum mansion tucked away in Affton.

Although I rarely saw him recently, he was always a larger-than-life figure, hard to put out of your mind given his outsized personality. Whether discussing the Cardinals — he loved and hated them — or any other topic, he could always be counted on for interesting, irreverent observations. He will be missed, for sure.

I am at the age when more and more friends are falling by the wayside. When each passes, there of course are moments of sorrow, but also recollections of happier times and wonderful memories. 

In Andy’s case, I recall our two families traveling together to Hawaii, New York City, Memphis, Tenn., New Orleans, Bentonville/Eureka Springs in Arkansas and elsewhere, along with annual walks we took on Memorial Day and Independence Day punctuated by brunch at Kopperman’s or some other eatery. I recall, also, the Rosh Hashanah, Passover, New Year’s Eve and other holiday gatherings we spent together. 

You may remember the line from the movie “Godfather, Part II”: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” (Actually, it is credited to Sun Tzu, the 2500 B.C. Chinese general who wrote “The Art of War.”)  

I prefer being close to my friends. I have some friends I may see only once or twice a year, due to geographical distance. Whether far away or nearby, there are probably no more than about a dozen truly close friends, that is, special folks (aside from family) whom I can count on in a pinch to help in any situation where I am in need of help. 

How many do you have? 

Never take these relationships for granted. One must always work to sustain them. One never knows when they might end. 

J. Martin Rochester

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of 10 books on international and American politics.