Eight years ago today, I had the honor of speaking at the funeral of my friend Calvin Gooding. That eulogy shows up high in a Google search for his name, but the blogging platform on which it was published will go dark at the end of this year, so I'm republishing it here.
Here's a subsequent newspaper column.
A Eulogy for Calvin Gooding
Christian Cultural Center, Brooklyn, NY, October 11, 2001
by Edward Cone
Calvin Gooding was one of the happiest, most joyful people you could ever hope to know, and he brought that joy to every friendship in which he took part. And few people had more friends, real friends, than Calvin.
When we were maybe sophomores at Haverford, Cal took a few of his friends to the Gooding's house in Queens for dinner -- a home cooked meal, that rarest thing for a college student. I still remember his mom made lasagna and salad. Another thing that really made an impression on us that night was that she slipped up once, and called him "Callie Boy." Of course, his father is Calvin, too, so it was a perfectly natural pet name for her oldest son, but we were highly amused, and Callie Boy immediately made the list of irreverent nicknames by which Cal was known to his friends.
And in the days after the Trade Centers came down, I found myself wandering around my house in North Carolina, calling out loud, "Callie Boy," because I just felt that he was lost to me, lost to us all, forever. And I guess that shows I was losing it a little, and I know a lot of us were, because of course it wasn't like he could have heard me if he'd been alive, at work at Cantor Fitzgerald or home with LaChanze and Celia, but there I was, calling it out, Callie Boy.
And then, little by little, he began to come back to me, to come into focus. I guess the first step in that was the recognition that he was really gone. I went to the bookshelf and pulled down the poem by A.E. Houseman, the poem called "To an Athlete Dying Young," and reread those famous opening verses:
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
That helped a little. In my first memories of Calvin, from first semester of our freshman year, 21 years ago now, he is a young athlete, and we are here today to set him down at that final threshold.
But after that the poem just falls apart for me. The athlete in the poem is almost lucky to have died early, before his records were broken, avoiding the fate that Houseman called the name dying before the man. That wasn't going to do it for Cal -- he had done so much yet was still building his name, he had done so much else in his life, moving from success to success, making it on Wall Street, becoming a husband and a father, fulfilling the promise shown by the young athlete he had been.
It was my wife, Lisa, who helped start the process of putting Calvin into some perspective. She picked up a picture of Cal and a group of guys at our wedding -- Cal has on sunglasses and a Hollywood smile -- it's a picture that has been in our family room for years, and she said, simply, Beautiful Calvin.
And in my grief and loss, I looked at her, and at the picture, and I said, "Beautiful? Calvin?"
Because no matter how much you love a guy, you have one breakfast too many together after a tough night of college, one too many breakfasts where he's got a do-rag on his head, and "beautiful" is just not the first word that comes to mind.
But Lisa was right. Calvin was beautiful. Suddenly I could see that. He was so many fine things, things that we sum up with the weighty words that are used in a memorial service or an obituary, or in describing him to complete strangers, as I've done so often in these past weeks--things that we know about our friends but that are too close to focus on, because we are absorbed with the actions and interactions that give those words their meaning -- in Calvin's case, we were usually having too much fun, laughing too hard, debating sports trivia or music or politics, to get that external view.
Let me give you an example: Character. Calvin Gooding was a man of character, strength, and dignity. We, his friends, may not have used those words as we watched Calvin onstage in our senior class show, made up and fully padded to impersonate a female dean, singing falsetto to the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz. (And LaChanze thought she was the only actress in the family...)
Character, strength, dignity -- Ok, so he falls asleep on the couch watching football, and it's just one time too many that he's sitting there with his head back, snoring lightly, so his friends just had to pour a little Kool-Aid mix into his open mouth -- but you can't get lost in that kind of detail.
You step back a bit and you see, for example, that Calvin was under enormous pressure in college, although you might never have known it. He was, for one thing, a star ballplayer, although he was always humble, never got a bigger head about it. He was the guy other teams keyed on and tried to stop. When Haverford went on the road, at Swarthmore, our archrival, the fans would chant his name when he stepped to the foul line or, worse, if he made a mistake. Cal-vin, Cal-vin, they would shout. But he didn't blink.
And obviously, as a young black man in an overwhelmingly white college scene, there were all sorts of extra pressures on him, but he handled them with grace and poise. He knew who he was, and he was ready to share that with anyone, without compromising it in any way. He was who he was -- a guy from Springfield Gardens who was a big man on campus at an elite college -- and he wore it all well. He didn't ignore the issues -- we talked about it all, I mean, it was college, we talked everything into the ground, but he never showed stress, never sweated it. He went to practice, he went to class, and he made it to every party and every road trip.
You're friends with someone long enough, it's not all smiles, no matter how happy that person is. Cal was with me, he was a source of comfort to me, on the day my father died -- he was learning to swim in the Kibel's pool at West Hampton that day, in fact -- learning to swim and learning to drive as an adult were two things he did that both impressed and terrified Cal's friends. And years later, at a time of terrible crisis in his own family, Lisa and I saw Calvin step up for his parents, his brothers and sisters -- he was a leader, and he was a rock. Character, strength, dignity, grace and poise -- these were the big words that Calvin embodied.
Calvin Gooding. If you read that name in one of those nineteenth-century novels we were supposed to read in college, you would roll your eyes at the obviousness of it. Calvin, the strong-willed, strong-minded man of God. Gooding, well, that one kind of hits you over the head, doesn't it. And make no mistake, Calvin loved God. His faith was strong, and pure, and I don't mind telling you that I learned from him on the subject. Once, we were riding in the back of Charles Kibel's car, on spring break in Florida, and we were having another one of those deep conversations you have when you are 20 about God and truth and science, and Cal just said, I know the science is true, but I know God is true, too. Simple as that. His grandfather had taught him that, he said, and I never knew him to forget it. Another big word. Faith.
And I know this is making him sound so bland, and too good, but again, it was all the underpinning, the stuff that was obscured by day-to-day life. Calvin was no plaster saint--he was so alive. On the very same trip where we were talking about God we were played a basketball game with our best friends that got so intense that fisticuffs almost broke out, and guys were driving up to Fort Lauderdale and we were watching the NCAA tourney on TV and we were water-skiing and goofing around in boats -- and that was before Cal had learned to swim.
Yet another big word: friendship. Calvin was a true friend. One of the guys on that memorable spring break trip, one of Calvin's closest friends, was Doug Gardner, his Haverford teammate and colleague at Cantor Fitzgerald. Doug died with Calvin, leaving behind his own loving family. And I mention Doug not because he was my friend, although he was, and I bring up all of Cantor's fallen at this service for Calvin, because I cannot imagine for a moment that Calvin would not have wanted us to remember them now as well.
Because Calvin was kind. He went out of his way for people. He listened to people. When Calvin hugged his female friends he didn't just hug them, he said, "Hello, gorgeous," and he didn't just give compliments, I think he believed them to be true. His college friends were mostly amateur insult comics, but he rarely spoke ill of anyone. In fact, we liked to say outrageous things just to hear Calvin say "Stop."
And I never knew him to have an enemy. That's even more amazing considering that Calvin had more friends than most of us have casual acquaintances. It was a standing joke among his housemates in college -- we were a very tight-knit group, we ate together and went out together, and Haverford and Bryn Mawr make up a very small community -- it was just a truism that if you saw Cal talking to someone that you had never seen before and asked who this stranger was, Calvin would say, that was my good friend so and so -- and he would mean it.
Just over three years ago, Calvin called me and asked if I would give the groom's-side toast at his wedding to LaChanze. He really knew I loved him, I guess, to trust me like that with an open bar and an open mike---and I still owed him for the warm and funny toast he had given at our rehearsal dinner in 1989.
And I told this story then at their wedding, so sorry if you've heard it before, but one night when I lived up on 99th Street, Cal and I went out and had a lot of fun, and he ended up sleeping over, and it was pretty late, and Calvin was stretched out on my bed, and he was talking in this dreamy voice about meeting the woman who would be the mother of Calvin Gooding Jr., and it was such a nice moment that I hated to remind him that he was Calvin Gooding Jr.and he said, Right, I mean Calvin Gooding Jr., Jr...but the point was that Calvin knew he was looking, even before he was close to settling down, he was looking for a special person to build a family with, and if you know his family, as Lisa and I have been so privileged to do in these past years, know his mom and dad, his twin sister Allison, his brothers Steve and Michael, his darling Jocelyn, you could see where that desire was shaped.
And then he found LaChanze, and his dream had come true. Women, I guess, didn't have trouble seeing that he was beautiful -- women loved Calvin -- but he loved one woman. LaChanze meant everything to him, and then his daughter Celia arrived, and he found room in his heart for another true love, and when we last spoke on the phone a few weeks ago, with the new baby due so soon, he was so happy -- there's that word again -- and excited, so settled into the rightness of what he was doing with his life. Big, big word with Calvin Gooding: Love.
And then his life ended, suddenly and shockingly. His daughters and LaChanze were robbed of him, but they will never be alone. Our love for Calvin will not die, and we will continue to share it with his family for generations. The name Calvin Gooding will outlive the man, and our love for him will endure. I love you, Cal.