Late last week, a dear friend was rushed to the hospital. This morning, he passed away. Just this past Wednesday, he had stuck his head in my office, coming out of a trustee meeting and on his way home. He simply wanted to say hello. O.K. Sheffield had been an Oglethorpe trustee for more than 15 years and I can’t tell you how many meetings he attended in that time. Hundreds I am sure. He hardly ever missed one.
O.K. graduated from Oglethorpe in 1953, the year I was born. He was born in ’28. Despite the difference in our ages, we were very good friends. Not a father-son kind of friendship which one might have expected for two men from different generations. We were just friends, pure and simple. We had breakfast together every month, without fail. Same place every time. He always ordered granola with skim milk and berries. I wasn’t nearly so consistent or good.
I got to see O.K. yesterday afternoon. He was still in intensive care but ready to be moved to a regular room in a few hours. And by all accounts, that is exactly what happened. He didn’t make it through the night, though. I don’t like seeing people I know lie in a hospital bed. Up until this year, 2011, O.K. had been the picture of health. I think he told me he had never taken any pill for anything in his entire life, or something close to that. He walked miles every day. Yes, the picture of health. Last fall, his dear partner Johnnie Lowry fell ill. She suffered a series of debilitating strokes before she passed this January and you could see a little life go out of O.K. But, just like one would expect of O.K., he came back. He was the most optimistic person I knew. This fall, his health started to go, for the first time in his life. A minor surgical event just never seemed to leave him. He lost a good bit of weight and slowed a step. When I saw him last week, though, it had begun to feel like he was on his way back again.
And it seemed that way yesterday as well. Despite major surgery just two or three days before and the loss of almost every drop of blood in his body, he was looking forward to 2012. 2011 was not his favorite year, he told me. He was ready for it to come to an end. We laughed together, as we always did. The nurse was about to give him some medicine and had to check his wrist band and ask him some questions to make sure he was the right patient. Date of birth? April 16, 1928. I told him I had always thought he was born in 1948. He smiled – I sure wish that was true. Name? And then I heard it. Not O.K. Sheffield, Jr., but his real name. All the way spelled out. For the life of me now, I can’t recall what is was. That makes me horribly sad. And no one here seems to have ever heard his real name. He was real careful not to use it.
I have never met anyone like O.K. I don’t expect I ever will. He said the nicest things to me. I will miss that. When I left his room yesterday, I leaned over and gave him a kiss on the forehead, I love you, O.K., I told him. He told me he loved me too.