We lost another friend yesterday. A colleague from work, Tom passed away after a short but valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. He was only 60.
We met 31 years ago when I joined the law firm and was assigned to an office next to his. We shared the same curse, both being diehard fans of Cleveland sports teams, and became workplace friends. Because I had worked for a few years between college and law school, he was already a seasoned associate when I was a raw rookie, and he happily served as a sounding board for the kinds of questions that inevitably arise when you start working at a new place. It quickly became apparent that he was extremely smart, a very talented lawyer, and somebody who was viewed by firm partners as a rising star. He invited me to join a group of older associates who went out for lunch from time to time and swapped stories about the firm at a place that specialized in apple dumplings, and it made me feel included, and a little bit more like a part of the firm. He didn’t have to do it, but he was just that kind of person.
After a few years in neighboring offices he exercised his seniority and moved to a better office, and we saw less of each other. He got married and we both focused on our families and things like trying to build our law practices, but he remained the kind of guy who would send along an article and funny observation about the latest crushing Cleveland sports disappointment or email a wry comment about national politics or a development at the firm. Since his death yesterday, several people have said that he had no enemies — and that’s true. He was a person who was happy with his wife, happy with his life, and happy in his work, content with his circumstances and satisfied with how things worked out.
And that’s one of the things that made the news about his discovery, only a few months ago, that he had already advanced pancreatic cancer so difficult to accept. It simply doesn’t seem fair that such a friendly, mild-mannered, fundamentally decent person could be taken so cruelly and never given the opportunity to retire and enjoy the fruits of his years of very hard work. But after you’ve seen untimely death take a number of good people, you realize that fairness really has nothing to do with it and stop trying to make sense of it. The key thing is to live a life that, when the time comes, hopefully leaves those who must move on with fond memories of a good person who will be missed.
Tom Ruby accomplished that.