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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cherish Your Friends While You Have Them

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Today a departure from my normal stock in trade. I got an abrupt an painful lesson in how quickly death can come to one you cherish, suddenly and without warning, leaving nothing but loss and pain behind.

I got word yesterday that one of my oldest and dearest friends died suddenly in a terrible industrial accident on CTA's Green Line in Chicago. I won't go into details, I know some young people read this blog, but it was covered in yesterday's news about the service delay at Clinton Station.

You read these stories from time to time, and go past them, and after awhile become somewhat immune to them, forgetting that for some, these deaths represent the loss of great and important people, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, co-workers and in my case, best friends.

Jim Mulqueeny and I have known each other since high school, where we got to know each other through doing theatre and have stayed friends ever since, standing up at each other's weddings, and spending countless hours together.

For a number of years Jim and I even worked together, our desks only feet away, then later when we were in different departments, would lunch together 2 to 3 times a week.

The last two years we have had to rely on phone calls mostly, but he has remained my good and loyal friend. Our two families getting together regularly.

If my postings are less frequent for the next few weeks, I hope you will understand.

But if there is a message in this, cherish your friends and the ones you love, for we know not when they will depart this mortal coil. Goodbye good friend. I will miss you forever.

Prayers for Jim's family and friends are welcome. Especially for his family, for whom the loss of this magnificant husband and father is a shattering and horrible loss.

A few days have passed since I wrote this first message. Jim's wake and funeral have come and gone and I have had some time to think and reflect on him as a person, a father and a friend.

When you have known someone well for 33 years it is almost impossible to encapsulate their life in a few words, and to say that Jim was a great father, worker and friend, though true, says nothing of the charm, intelligence, honesty, faith and integrity of the man who I was lucky to call friend for all these many years.

Jim is and was not my only friend. I have been very lucky in that regard. Exceedingly lucky both in the number and kind of friends who have come my way over the years, and for those friendships I am very greatful. I have been lucky in family too, coming from a very large extended family - a family tree with both roots and branches that are dense and full of happy and interesting people. It is nice and warm, without being hot, in the shade of that tree.

However, Jim has been a friend who has been special in many ways. Not the least of which is that he was always there for me. Always willing to share his life and his stories and to tolerate at least a few stories where our interests did not cross, and very enthusiastic to hear about the things in which we shared the greatest interest: transit, Mac, comic books (though neither of us collect them in any sizeable numbers any more - we both have wives you know), theater, music, family, religion and of course his Red Prius Hybrid which he used when he couldn't use public transportation, bought well before the gas prices soared.

Jim was one of those people who had no doubts that I ever saw that God was real and an active part in our lives and that faith and actions based on that faith we good for the person and the world. Jim believed in service to the church and service to the world and he expressed that in his actions in his faith community and in his work.

Jim was a joyful person and was at his best when he was making a joyful noise unto the Lord. When our friend Andy had to point him out to his wife amoung the people in the choir one year he said "Jim is the one with the voice like a bell.", "Oh!", she said, "I know just who you mean."

Jim had a pure tenor voice that when he was happy rang out and floated up above the other voices in the choirs he sang in, I liked to think, creating a stairway up to heaven for their voices to float up on. I remember singing with him some weekends at St. Daniel the Prophet in Chicago in the late '70's, I would take the buses from Beverly down Western to Archer and up Archer to, say, Narraganset to join him and the cute girls singing at the mass on Sunday. Jim and I were to only two male voices, bass and Jim as tenor, and with the girls there was quite a sound, that helped the parishioners accept the "newer" music of the St. Louis Jesuits and other groups we were bringing to the table.

Jim was gifted in his ability to play guitiar and understand musical theory. I remember being amazed when we did "Adrift in New York or Her First False Step" and we were both cast as "Honkytonk Singers" for the filler added to make it a musical and flesh the mellowdrama out so to speak.

Jim acted as the musical director for our numbers so to speak, taking one part scores for "Daisy" or "Ta Ra Ra Boom-di-ay!" and breaking them out into four part harmony on his guitar and rescoring them on his own sheet music. Not a bad trick for 14. An old fashoned melodrama with a villian :Hiss: :Boo: and a hero :Hurray: and bad puns :groans: it even had lines scripted for an audience heckler :that's what you think!: whom the audience was only very gradually, if ever supposed to learn was in on the act. The heckler was Jim's mother and she came close to stealing the show. :Close but no cigar!:

One of the great things about Jim was that his friendship came with 2 of the greatest parents I had ever met. I am sure he must have gotten in trouble at one point or another but I'm darned if I can remember it during his time at Ignatius. Jim was very motivated to succeed and very, very happy at Ignatius, a melting pot for the brightest in the city. They were funny cheerful and willing to spring for breakfast or whatever for thier only son's friends after a show or mass. Very good people who should not have had to bury thier son. Please keep Jim and Collen in your prayers.

Of course Jim Sr., had the coolest Job in the world. He was a mini-cam operator for WBBM-TV, Channel 2, the CBS O&O station in Chicago. Also the cameraman for the news and at some points Donahue, Jim Sr., the man with the Red Hat, was known well in Chicago as one of Chicago's best cameramen, and if I was lucky I would see him on another Channel's news since he was rarely on his own station for obvious reasons.

Of course commuting from Beverly to Ignatius by CTA had its benefits and limitations. On the one hand, it took a long time. On the other, you eventually got to know a lot about the city, CTA and how it was organized. I began to realize a freedom and understanding about getting around in Chicago that my neighborhood friends had no idea of.

Jim loved using CTA to get to school too. He tended to come in on the Archer bus, but it was just the doorway to a world of adventure.

Commuting so far, I at least could no longer be effectively grounded, at least not on weekdays. On our way home Jim and I would some times cut through Circle Campus, take what is now the Blue line from Halstead, and get off somewhere, go through one of the tunnels in the paid area, wind up on the what is now the Red line which Jim would get off to pick up a 62 Archer and I would pick up a 22 Clark to begin our long treks home. That was just one of our ties of friendship. Riding the CTA together.

Over the years we rode many miles together. When I first started working with him, there were many times when fieldwork required going out in the field together and we would stand at the front window and Jim would point out dozens of details about the tracks, signs, signals, and hot dog places viewable from the tracks. As a former summer ticket agent working the extra board, Jim knew the location of nearly every hot dog place within a 10 minute walk of an El station in the system.

Jim's contributions to the convenience of CTA's customers were many. His eye for detail and memory kept many mistakes from being made, kept much work from being needlessly done or repeated, and, avoided needless confusion and delay.

He often put his two cents in giving many dollars in value instead, eliminating many mistakes from the system map before it went to bed each edition (not his job, but he did love to look for and find those errors before the map went to press and was glad to do it for many years). His comprehensive understanding of Chicago's streets and routes helped eliminate many of the errors from the automated bus stop announcement system. And if Chicago's automated farecard system rolled out on CTA rail without the trauma and delay experienced in New York, it was in part because Jim was involved in the quality control testing of the equipment before it was introduced to the public and the system. Yes, he was one of many, many people that made that project a sucess. But Jim made it a point to be one of those people on the team making it so, because he loved the job, loved the work and did it until he died.

Unknown to nearly all of his co-workers, but not to me, Jim fought MS for the last 15 years and Jim had started a high dosage of a new medicine the day he left for work. We was seen to be in high spirits in the office minutes before his death on the tracks below the CTA offices and so it is likely that his fall on the third rail was due to complications between his MS and vision problems and the medicine itself.

In any case, his death was a great tragedy to all who knew him. As the first three weeks have passed I find myself adding a little more to this story from time to time. But it will never be really complete for me because our friendship lasted so long and we had so much time together that attempting to tell it all is just about impossible.

Jim was a close friend, someone to be admired, very different from myself, yet in some ways very much the same, we had some very strong, very common core beliefs, and at the same time some interests that could not be farther apart. Yet in all of that we managed to be friends to each other for 33 years. I suppose it is greedy and low of me to feel miffed that I did not get another 33 years out of the friendship. That was my intention. But it didn't work out that way.

See my title. Having said that. Please remember Jim's family, because for all of my being a great friend, they are the ones who can use the prayers most.

Jim Mulqueeny Obituary

Jim Mulqueeny Legacy.com Guest Book

Donations can be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

I have several fond memories to close with.

I am really glad that Jim got to see the White Sox win the World Series. He was a Sox fan through thick and thin and this was his year and he enjoyed it to the fullest.

After a long break, Jim had started to do plays again and I got to see him in a number of plays especially two of my favorites, My Fair Lady and The Music Man.

Finally, after months of not seeing Jim in person due to my own lesser medical problems, my son and I got a chance to see him just before Christmas. Now 3 he remembered that "Uncle Jim" had showed him his ornament train collection the year before and he and Jim had the fun of going over it again.

It was just a rare chance to we got to see him early this year. We might have missed it completely this year. But we did not. And for that, I am greatful. Still, when you know someone, and appreaciate someone, and have the love of long friendship with someone so much, even in death, they never truly leave your heart.

Keep a box seat warm for me Jim, though I hope not to need it for a number of decades.

Your good friend,


Pete
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3 Comments:

Anonymous jay said...

peter!you r just like me.i lost my best friend year back,just like you.peter ,only those persons
could feel this message who really
know what a true friend means.
i really like this message
god bless you.

1/18/2006 11:46 AM  
Blogger Levois said...

My condolences.

1/24/2006 5:55 PM  
Blogger Hill Country Home said...

Peter,

This morning I was reminiscing about growing up in Chicago and googled Jim's name .. I was shocked to find he had passed away.

We attended Jr High together at Kinzie ...

Thank you for the wonderful tribute you gave Jim. You captured his essence perfectly. I lost track of him after Jr High - but have often thought of him .. He was truly one of the most intelligent fellows I'd ever met .. and while I was a vapid brat at the time - I'm sure his unflagging friendship, optimism and intelligent wit help me set a standard in choosing a husband..

My condolences to you and his family .. and thank you again for making me smile at the rememberence of him..

8/08/2010 8:52 AM  

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