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There’s nothing like old friends

Death has been hitting too close to home lately.

In the last three months, it seems as though more and more people I have known closely have passed away. I guess it’s a sign I am getting older as well as a wake-up call of my own mortality.

Four of those people I have known from the early beginnings of my journalism career in Picayune and all four had an impact in some way on my life. They weren’t just co-workers, but more like family members — as close as an aunt or uncle. They saw me mature and we shared milestone moments together — when I got married, became a father and got divorced. We all endured the effects of a natural disaster together, weddings, Christmas parties and funerals.

David Farrell was the crusty old veteran newspaper guy and former star athlete at the local high school who didn’t mind – and actually enjoyed – ruffling the feathers of the establishment. He was the one journalist who told me it’s fine to be friends with the politicians in town, but don’t be afraid to call them out when they need it.

Barbara Mizell was the dedicated employee who had tons of talent and could do just about everything but run the printing press. Barbara was the sweet soft-spoken lady who could design pages, design ads and had the ability to write incredible stories.

Both of their deaths were difficult to take, but the recent passing of Frank and Judy Gaupp is the one that has been the most difficult. These two were like my other parents, especially Judy. The two met and married late in life, but you would have thought they had been together a lifetime.

Frank was the Louisiana accountant type who enjoyed life and was already retired when I met him. He loved golf, LSU, the Saints, alcohol and fantasy football — pretty much in that order. But most of all, he loved Judy — and for good reason. Judy was a “Yankee” from Vermont who had the sweetest smile, voice and laugh; that is until you got her riled up about something. Then she could be as feisty as a lion. Her growl, however, was much worse than her bite.

When I first moved to Picayune in 1990 to take the job as the Sports Editor at the Picayune Item, Judy was one of the first to welcome me with open arms. And it was a genuine welcoming. She looked out for me like a mom would look after her child. She would scold me too when I needed it.

And I know for a fact she loved fantasy football as much – if not more – than Frank.

Well before the fantasy football craze began, I, and a group of co-workers, which included Frank and Judy, formed our own league in 1992. This core group of people continued to play every year since, with the exception of the Hurricane Katrina year of 2005. In fact, this past Saturday we got together again and prior to our “draft,” said a prayer for Frank and Judy. It was great to get together again, but it wasn’t the same.

Judy, who had been battling cancer for over a year, passed away Tuesday — just two months after Frank.

I had an older friend in his 70s who is a member of our fantasy football league joke with me Saturday when he told his son about all the funerals he has been attending lately. The son replied that his father should get some younger friends. That would be funny if it weren’t so very true. Younger friends are great, but they don’t have those moments that last a lifetime like “old” close friends.