From Birth to Death, The Week That Was

By: Jason Colthorp
By: Jason Colthorp

I love the beginning of May.  With it comes Spring and a slew of birthdays across my family, including mine and my nephew's on May 4, and my mother-in-law's on May 5.  But this week, the birthday celebrations were tempered by a host of goodbyes.

On my birthday I attended my friend Denny's funeral.  he was only 52 and had been diagnosed with cancer about five years ago.  The doctors at Sparrow gave him nine months to live with the diagnosis, but Denny wasn't having any.  "Screw that," he said to me when he told me.  He went to hospitals around the country, tried different herbal remedies, and got hundreds of notes and recipes for different concoctions to battle this thing.  Some of it worked, some didn't.  But that and his overall attitude had this damn disease beaten a year and a half ago when he got tests back that could not find any cancer. 

After the winter, he didn't look good.  He said he didn't feel well.  When I saw him I knew.  Everybody did, including Denny.  Tests showed his entire liver was covered in cancer.  He died two weeks later.

My birthday was also the day I heard about Dave Machtel.  Dave was a news anchor for WJIM TV-6 in the 60's and 70's.  I only met him a few years ago at a community function and we hit it off.  I loved talking about how the business was when Dave was in it and he loved hearing about how it is now.  I'm the type of guy who enjoys hearing from folks who have already travelled down the road I'm on.  I didn't want to bother him with all my questions and things, but Dave loved it.  We began emailing back and forth about different things.  he'd comment on a show he saw and say something like, "We could have never gotten away with that!"  But I really got a lot of good advice from him.  He was a one-man focus group.

Two years ago, LCC asked me to do their semi-annual Christmas-time radio play. this time it was "Miracle on 34th Street" and I was playing the lawyer who defends Santa Claus AKA Kris Kringle.  I was thrilled to find out Dave was playing Santa.  We had a blast at rehearsals and the actual production, mostly because I was finally able to see Dave in action.  His voice was so polished and deliberate, with almost a gentleness to it.  I had a good time.

Dave had a stroke while in North Carolina with family and then another in the hospital and died a couple days later.  I met his daughter and sister at the visitation Friday and really enjoyed talking to them.  I learned even more about Dave that night.  Listening to the way his daughter, Deanna talked about him and their relationship, I realized I wanted to be the same kind of father to my daughters that he was to his.

Tuesday, I was looking in the obits to see when the funeral was for Dave, when I came across a familiar name: Margaret McKay.  She was a great friend of my grandma and grandpa.  Jim and Rosie spent a lot of time with Jay and Margaret-- especially out at their house on Rainbow Lake in Maple Rapids.  When I was young, we spent plenty of time there too.  Rainbow was the place, man.  It was always like the 4th of July there-- parties, water sports, cookouts-- you name it.  I was bartending at the Roadhouse for my grandparents the last time I saw Jay just before he died.  He had this funny sound effect he'd make when he talked-- like a mini-explosion-- PA-KOW!  He'd toss it in with jokes and stories and it would always crack me up or annoy me.  I didn't see Margaret much at all since my grandparents died, but I have played golf with her son, Mike a few times and hung out a little. 

Margaret smoked forever and that's ultimately what caused her cancer that killed her.  It was good to see Mike and his sister at the visitation Wednesday.  I know they'll miss their mom.  I even got choked up when I saw a picture in the middle of their collage that showed Rosie and Margaret with another of their old friends from years ago out at Rainbow Lake.

Friday evening, after getting back to work from Dave's visitation, my phone buzzed.  That put a little pep in my step since I was still in full-on love mode with my new BlackBerry.  Then I read the text.

"You heard Pat Murphy died, didn't you?"

It was from Mojo, the DJ at Q106 and former Lugnuts Emcee.  Even after the week I'd had, I was shocked.  Pat was the head concierge at the Lansing Lugnuts for a few years, including when I worked there as Stadium Emcee from 1998-2000.  That meant he handled all the folks who stood at the top of the section of seats and helped fans get to where they wanted to go.  He also kept a close eye on any and all other matters in the place.  If a fan got hit with a baseball, Pat was there with before first-aid.  If someone was trying to sneak in, Pat was there smiling at them.  If there was a lost child, crying and waiting for their parents, Pat was holding their hand. 

Pat was the greatest.  I would always grab somebody's walkie-talkie and try to fool him with some scenario when I was usually standing right behind him.  He had the earbud in and would click the cord on his chest to talk into his walkie, so I would mock him for looking so Secret Service-like.  His wife, Betty ran security for suite level.  If you were going to a suite, Betty stamped your hand.  If you got out of hand, Betty came down and calmed you down or threw you out.  Together they were a heckuva pair.  They were both retired and working the Lugnuts as a fun summer job.  Pat worked for GM for years.

That night I got home and checked obits once again to find out Pat's services were earlier that day.  I was crushed.  I wanted so much to offer my condolences to Betty.  Mojo called me the next morning and told me Pat was downstairs watching TV at their home in Grand Ledge when Betty came downstairs to find him not breathing.  She and emergency were unable to revive him.  I want to give her a call, but I think what I'll do is round up some of the old Lugnuts crew and stop out at their house and just talk about the good times.  That always made me feel a little better when I lost the closest people in my life the last few years.  It certainly helped this week.

Hopefully next week will be an uneventful one.

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  • by Deanna Location: Grand Rapids on Dec 6, 2009 at 10:42 AM
    Thank you, Jason....for your kindness and support. Dad thought so highly of you!
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