In the space of three days, I lost one old friend and found another.
At my age, old friends seem to be an endangered species. One after another, they exit into the wings and don’t return for the curtain call.
The most recent departure was Bob Scott, aged 84. I remember Bob principally as a performer—whether in front of his classes at Seneca College in Toronto, in the choir at Parkwoods United Church, or dominating the stage in plays and musicals put on by the local theatre group.
For decades, his rich and rumbling bass anchored the church choir. Admittedly, not all the choir directors appreciated his irreverent sense of humour or his boyish delight in puncturing balloons of pretension.
As a thespian, Bob starred in the play Inherit the Wind—the dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925—as the bombastic Matthew Harrison Brady. Although Brady’s theology was far from Bob’s own, Bob threw himself into the part with a passion that made Spenser Tracy look like a bumbling amateur.
Bob and I played rivals on stage, and became friends in life.
No one will ever be an understudy for Bob Scott.
And the old friend found again? That’s a longer story.
In 1971, I was sent to the impoverished African nation of Malawi, to help an ecumenical consortium of churches there develop print materials to help them solicit funds from European aid agencies. To learn about their work first hand, I was sent out in a station wagon with a driver, a photographer, and a young man named Sam Nazombe.
We slept on beaches under the stars, in borrowed beds, in stuffy tents. We tramped through shoulder-high grass to draw water from hidden springs and pumped water from deep boreholes. We hoed fields of vegetables, counted pills in ill-stocked medical clinics, and kicked soccer balls with shrieking school children.
Sam decided he wanted to be a journalist, like me. Two years later, he came to Canada for an apprenticeship of sorts.
The bewildered kid from Central Africa arrived in a snowstorm in January. He left in a snowstorm in April. During his three months in Canada, he never once saw a green leaf or blade of grass. But he wrote stories. He met other journalists. He boiled maple syrup in the bush. He rode a toboggan down a ravine.
After Sam returned to Malawi, we sent letters back and forth for about seven years. Then Sam vanished. I heard he had died.
Like singer Peggy Lee, I wondered, “Is that all there is?”
No, it isn’t. Sam’s son, Anthony, tracked me down through the Internet. Anthony now lives in Australia, with his wife and infant daughter. He wants to stay in touch with me.
It felt like a resurrection.
It confirms my conviction that relationships often last longer than the individuals who formed them. For good or ill, they will surface again, unexpectedly, unpredictably. And they will continue to affect lives.
Fare thee well, Bob. Welcome back, Anthony. To old friends, and new friends, l’chaim!