And suddenly, he was gone

It was during a fall rush event that I met him. Initially, there was nothing that stood out about him … he was just another awkward freshman in a sea of awkward freshman, visiting fraternity houses, looking to find a house that was right for him. But he had come around a couple of times — and I had talked to him a lot. His name was Sam Gresock. He was from Punxatawny, land of the groundhogs. He was obscenely quiet, but when he spoke, he spoke quickly and with an obvious intelligence. I didn’t have to explain the banter or the more obscure jokes that I threw out — he got it right away. And in an era where I didn’t really like a lot of people, there was something I just liked about the guy.

The Classic Sam pose.

He showed up to every single rush event. When I talked to the other brothers about the possibility of him getting a bid, most of them were uncertain. It turned out that many of the guys had never really met him. So the next day at an event, he took up his usual wallflower post in the basement and lit up a cigarette. He had a certain Sam pose … usually a drink in his left hand, right hand hooked into his jeans pocket, usually with a cigarette, head slightly cocked to one side. He always looked like he was just a good ole country boy waiting for stuff to happen so he could amble on over and join in.

So, the rush chairman (Brian Coyne, damn glad to meet you) and I pulled him aside. We told him he needed to get out there and talk to people. He needed to open up a little bit more. He can’t be so quiet. The guys who he had met and chatted with liked him, but he needed to talk to more of the brothers — as we were sure once he did, the others would vote to let him into our house. He listened to us intently, eyes wide open, and simply nodded his head and said, “I can see that. OK.”  We joked and laughed a little to make sure he knew this wasn’t life or death, but this really was something he needed to do.

After that, he left his wallflower post and never looked back.

Sam went on to be one of the great brothers of the fraternity. He became one of the great mixed-tape makers for the party music (which, in those days, was a true artform). When he heard the phrase “… if it was up your ass, you’d know,” he used it so often that when ANYONE said it, the proper comeback became “OK Sam.” As we all got to know him better, you realized how funny he was, and how creative he was. He and others would write spoof lyrics to songs, and they were great. He had the unfortunate habit of having all of his worst, stupid drinking nights become hilarious stories — none of which I will put in here — but whenever the brothers got together, they would be told and we would laugh so hard that we would be on the verge of crying.

Those were some great days, and let’s face it, we were all pretty stupid.

Like pretty much everyone in my life, I lost touch with Sam when I moved to Florida in 1993. But before I left, Sam pulled me aside at a party and thanked me. He said without me, he didn’t think his life would be the same as it had become. I wasn’t exactly sure how I had impacted his life in such a way. I mean, I was just one of the guys who held the door open for him — and I wasn’t exactly role model material. Clearly, he took it upon himself to become the man he was. But instead of telling him that, I simply told him the best way to thank me was to remember it and return that same favor to someone else. We toasted with our cans of beer, laughed and rejoined the fun.

When I would return to Pittsburgh for vacation, he was always among the guys who would come out to see me. He had become a journalist. In time, he got married to a woman named Billie, who I never had the opportunity to meet (honestly, I was too poor to fly up for the wedding). And by the time I had moved back to Pennsylvania, life had taken them to South Carolina where he continued his career in journalism. But with the advent of social media, I was able to reconnect and chat with Sam almost daily. We rolled laughing like the old days in the fraternity basement, so much so that other folks who I know friended and chatted with him, too. Honestly, despite it being years of being apart, conversations flowed as they always had. Our lives may have taken us in different directions, but nothing had changed. He was still the same great guy I had known from college.

In fact, just on Saturday, I was having beers with friends, and a few of them and I were chatting about Sam. They told me how hysterical they found him to be. I told them some of the old stories, he tweeted us back, and it felt like Sam was there, laughing and drinking with us. We told him that the next time he was in Pittsburgh, we were going to get together, to which he whole-heartedly agreed. Later, I told them about what a great guy Sam is, and how out of the many friends who have come and gone over the years, Sam was one of the guys I wish lived closer to us. He was one of the few really good friends from the old days that I never got to physically hang out with in the past 15 years or so.

That was the same night that Sam passed away from a heart attack.

I got word around 9pm Sunday from my friend Corey, in the middle of my shift at work. I sat stunned, thinking this had to be a cruel hoax. I listened to the message 3 times before it actually sank in. But as the word of his death spread and I got an email from his wife,  I knew it wasn’t. Suddenly, in all of our lives, Sam was just gone.

But as the Sam tributes and stories started popping up among the folks who knew him, I realized something about Sam: He hadn’t forgotten that lesson that I had somehow imparted to him along the way. He had indeed passed it on to others — and not just one or two — but to a great many people.

Sam was a rare individual, an outstanding brother and a great friend. I will miss his banter, his laugh and his chats — as will a great many people.

Rest in peace, my friend.


5 Responses to “And suddenly, he was gone”

  1. September 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    This rocks, Art. You captured him and his infectious spirit. I hope he stays up all our asses from now on. 😛 … but seriously though… my heart aches for you, for us, for the world. Thanks for posting.

    • 2 Christopher D
      September 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      man you’re good at that Arthur

  2. September 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    He was a really special guy — the wallflower image of him really hit home for me. Thanks for posting.

  3. September 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Art – thanks for this great post. Honestly I hadn’t thought about Sam, sitting against a wall, cigarette lit and his eyes slit against the smoke… beer in his left hand… maybe his foot propped up against the wall… just watching it all happen. And then all of a sudden… the quiet guy against the wall would come out with something hilarious, ludicrous, intelligent, memorable or profane. One of my pledge brothers…and maybe the best of us.

    Thanks for the great post Art.


  4. September 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

    What a great tribute to your friend. It seems like he was a pretty awesome guy, and I’m glad I got to know a little piece of that by reading this. I’m so sorry for your loss.

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