Saying goodbye to old friends


Pat Haley

Pat Haley


The fireplace crackled as the large grandfather clock in our living room slowly ticked away the old year. The old clock began to strike midnight as the Scotsman Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” came on the radio.

Burns’ poem reminds us how in the darkest times he still found moments of light. He said he wanted to hold his memories and the people who shaped and filled his life close to his heart.

Along with the joy of the new rear comes the sadness and sense of loss that is an unfortunate part of the human experience. We lose family members, friends and neighbors – that is life. A piece of us die with them, and we are never quite the same.

As we travel through life, we have the opportunity to meet many people. Some we know well and for a long time; others we may have interacted with only sporadically along life’s trail. But most, in some way, have touched us.

We lost a gentleman this past week that I greatly respected. Fred Cowman was a lifelong Clinton County farmer, who left our community only long enough to defend his country in World War II. He came home in peace.

His son, Mike, and I have been close friends for nearly 60 years. Recently, we reminisced about the time his dad drove us home from Washington Court House after one of our basketball games. It happened to be in the middle of one of the worst ice storms to ever hit our area. I remember how all the parents were worried for our safety. My dad only said, “They will be fine, Ellen. They are with Fred Cowman.” And we were.

Just a few days later, I read with much sadness of the passing of Chris Stephens, who lived in Virginia. Chris was a few years older than me, but he was one of the first friends I made when Port William schools consolidated with Wilmington.

Chris’ dad was a former mayor of Wilmington, who died when Chris was in the second grade. His mother and aunt raised him.

As I entered the seventh grade, Chris became the coach of the Celtics, an intramural basketball team. A few years ago, Chris and I met at a tribute to “Oakie” Waddell, and the first words Chris said to me were, “We would have won the championship if you hadn’t fouled out.”

We both laughed. A lot of water had flowed over the dam for both us, but Chris was a kind and gracious soul. With all of his personal successes, he still remembered a seventh-grade basketball game, and a young boy who considered Chris a hero.

It was a year or so ago when my telephone rang. Out of the blue, it was Chris. He had a favor to ask, wanting my help verifying whether a person here in Clinton County was related to his father. I followed up with him a few days later with the information he needed, and Chris was always appreciative.

He asked for Brenda and me to visit with him in Virginia. Unfortunately, we waited too long.

Richard Johnston of Blanchester died Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 at Clinton Memorial Hospital in Wilmington. I first met Dick when I was county sheriff and he was president of Peoples Building and Loan Company of Blanchester. We would often conduct sheriff’s sales together. He will be missed.

Another person whose life touched mine was Jim Foland, who also passed away last week.

He and I served on the Sugar Grove Cemetery Board of Directors together. We talked after the meetings, but I didn’t know early in his life he had he joined the Army and served for three-and-a-half-years during World War II. Jim was too modest to brag, but he had received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with many other honors.

“How are you, Jim?” I would ask.

“I am fine,” he would answer with a laugh. “They have me in the holding pen,” referring to his last home at a local assisted living community.

I didn’t know Dick Spinks well, but my brother, Jack, did. Dick often sharpened Jack’s lawnmower blades for him.

When I became county commissioner, Dick would call the commissioner’s office and ask for me. He would spend a couple of minutes talking about his business at hand, but more often than not the topic would shift to the Cincinnati Reds and their current status.

Dick was a patriotic man, a U.S. Army veteran who loved his country, having served during World War II, and loved the local Veterans Administration.

I had written an article not long ago about a friendly acquaintance, Boyd Lamb, the unofficial greeter at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant on Wilmington Pike in Bellbrook. Our lives had met very briefly one afternoon, but his good nature touched me. He died last month.

When we say goodbye to them all, along with Connie Harvey Paige, James Medley and sweet Connie McKenzie, another piece of our past fades.

The days are precious. Embrace them.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner.

Pat Haley
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