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Cheryl Hughes: Friendship

Two weeks ago, my friend, Gary Beagle, passed away.  At his funeral, several people spoke about the kind of person he was, the kind of brother, the kind of colleague, the kind of friend.  You could feel the crowd in attendance nodding in agreement with each speaker.  I could have written everything that was said that afternoon from my own personal experience.  He was that kind of person, that kind of friend, one who made every one of his friends feel as if he or she were his best friend.

               I met Gary B. (as my family called him) twelve years ago when we both worked part-time jobs at Walden bookstore, in the mall, before it closed.  We both leaned toward an irreverent sense of humor.  I think that’s what drew us to one another.  At the time, he was teaching at Western, a professor of English.  At his passing, he was teaching at SKYCTC, still a professor of English.

               To be a friend of Gary B.’s—and we were many—there were only two prerequisites.  Tell the truth and treat others with respect.  You could disagree with him, you could challenge him, you could argue with him, as long as you told the truth and treated him respectfully while doing so. 

               Gary B. could not abide stupid people.  He did not have a problem with someone who was legitimately ignorant of a situation, but he did not suffer fools, and he could sum up the measure of a fool in under thirty seconds with that biting wit of his.  I looked forward to reading his posts on fb.  One of my favorites was: What Will the Priest Say at Your Funeral?  The meme pictured a priest, standing in front of the congregation saying, “Gary only used sarcasm, because slapping stupid people is illegal.”

               If you were a friend of Gary B.’s, you knew what friendship was all about.  He was there for my daughter, Nikki’s, wedding reception and my daughter, Natalie’s, wedding shower.  He never missed my birthday—last year, he gave me a NASCAR mask, only because he had not been able to find a Kyle Busch mask (my favorite driver).  Gary B. lived in Bowling Green, but he would drive to Morgantown to get his oil changed, because Garey and I own a quick lube.  That was the kind of friend he was.

               Gary B. loved giving gifts, and he shopped all year long for his friends and family.  He always found a bargain.  I used to tell him he had the anointing of sales.  One night he went to the grocery store at 10 pm to use a $1.75 off peanut butter coupon, because he noticed it was going to expire at midnight.

               He loved teaching and he loved his students, albeit he never put up with half-hearted effort or late assignments.  Occasionally, he would read the student comments that were posted at the end of the semester to me.  One of his favorites was: “When I signed up for this class, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake.  I quickly found out that I was the cake, and Mr. Beagle was going to eat me for breakfast.”  The student went on to say how much he had learned from the course.  It was no surprise to anyone, when Gary Beagle was nominated for the “Outstanding Service to Students Mentor Award” at the end of the 2021 spring semester.  He was so proud of that award, because it was student-voted.

               Gary Beagle was a devoted son to his mom.  Many times, when I met him for lunch, he would bring Martha along.  I loved her, because her personality was just like his.  Martha resided in an assisted living facility, and Gary B. would visit her several times a week, bringing her meals and playing games or putting puzzles together with her.  About eight weeks ago, she became ill and had to be hospitalized.  Often, he would text me and say things like, “Please pray for Mama, she’s not eating, and I’m worried about her.” 

               Martha developed dementia and became very disoriented.  It broke Gary’s heart when he and his brother and sister had to face the inevitability of putting her in a nursing home.  That was three weeks ago.  Gary B. would have a heart attack one week later, on September ninth.  His mom would pass away one week after her son, on September sixteenth.  None of us were surprised.  Their bond had been one of the strongest between two people that I have ever witnessed.  They were buried on the same day, September 24th, side by side, like they had lived their lives.

               Gary Beagle was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, decent human beings I have ever known.  I miss him now.  I will miss him forever.  But I am so grateful for the opportunity to have known him.


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