The phone call came at 2:20 p.m. today while I was working in my classroom. Dave Wright passed away last week while I was out of town. I had to sit down.
In the fall of 1988, at an extremely low point in my life, wondering what kind of profession I should pursue, I signed my first teaching contract at Arlington Lamar High School. I knew no one there, lived out-of-town, the 5A school was enormous, and I felt hopelessly lost. The first human being to reach out to me in genuine friendship was Dave Wright, the head custodian. I found myself frequenting his office for a cup of coffee, a sit-down, and plenty of laughs. Slowly but surely, he helped me find my bearings, and our friendship endured beyond the seven-year tenure I put in at that campus. We became fishing buddies, and I regret to find out that I have no photos of him taken with my digital camera–all shots were taken long ago with a 35mm camera. Once I went digital, I began photographing the fish we caught, but not the fishermen.
Dave was always needling me about my late-sleeping habits. He would arrive on the Lamar campus daily around 5 a.m. Coming from southwest of Fort Worth, I would occasionally set an early alarm and dash to the school, sometimes arriving there around 5:00, but **drat!** the lights would be on inside, I would enter the side door, and hear that familiar shout of his from the far end of the corridor: “WELL! IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU SHOWED UP!!!!” I would look to see him grinning and pointing at his wristwatch as though I were late, though I had arrived three hours before classes began. We would sit down to coffee and plenty of pleasant conversation (mostly about fishing). Incidentally, he never drank coffee, yet always felt he had to have the pot ready for anyone like me who happened to drift by the custodial office.
Dave and I drove hundreds of miles and fished so many waters around north Texas. He had a knack for getting us invited onto private waters for quality fishing, and we certainly pulled in more than our share of trophies. He was always good-natured, even when his health began to fail and he could no longer drive. I didn’t mind taking over the chauffeur responsibilities, and we managed to put in about ten more years together before he left this earth.
Dave was also a collector of my watercolors, and I suppose he has about 7-8 of them framed and hanging in his home. He always stopped by the classroom while I was at Lamar, and spent plenty of time in my home and studio, looking at what I was painting next. And I’ll never forget those surprises while I was lecturing in art history, looking up to see him standing inside my classroom door, listening and watching the slides we were discussing.
But most of all, we shared the fishing trips, and it is those that I will miss most. Dave had a profound love for the outdoors, for the water, and for those long quiet moments, waiting for a bass to strike. I have met few fishermen with his patience, and fewer more successful than he was in outwaiting the fish.
I cannot explain the hollowness that I feel this day, and cannot begin to know the profound hurt of his wife, son, daughter and grandchildren. There will never be another Dave. I’ll never know a school staffer with his wit, his gentleness and humor. And I’ll never know a fisherman cut out of his cloth. He was truly unique. And I miss him so.
Rest in peace, my Gentle Friend. Thanks for counting me worthy to be a part of your circle.