I was honored to deliver the following thoughts at a good friend’s funeral this morning.
If Mark could sit up right now and see me standing in front of his massive extended family, his oldest and dearest friends, and his own wife and children — I know exactly what he would say:
And he’d smile that huge smile that seemed to be as wide as his last name was long — then he’d skewer me for addressing you today sans tie and wearing tennis shoes. Sorry, Mark, I guess I just wasn’t prepared. And without you around to loan me a tie and dress shoes, well it was the best I could do.
“Fine, just don’t screw it up. . . .And don’t you dare mention the Pin!”
I’ll see what I can do, buddy.
I met Mark at JMU in the first semester of my freshman year at the AXP house. I can’t say I recall the moment we first met or anything, but I remember being immediately struck by Mark’s clean-cut appearance (and his goofy octagonal specs).
You see, our beloved fraternity was known for many things. But attracting mature, conservative, clean cut young men was not one of them. And yet here was Mark. A banker among hippies.
Thankfully, Mark’s banker was only skin-deep. As is often the case, the good stuff was just below the surface. And with Mark, I mean – like – just barely below, and often bursting at the seams.
Mark knew how to have fun. In fact, he approached the matter with an academic rigor and depth that was downright old school. Be it a fine cigar, a smokey old single malt, or perhaps just some dashing cuff links, Mark’s whimsys were well studied and executed wholeheartedly. He was a gracious host, perhaps the world’s best wedding guest, and, as Frank Febbraro put it, “wherever a group of people were laughing loudest, Mark was at or near the center of the ruckus.”
But the best part about Mark is that he would bring that same gusto to a simple late night session of Star Trek, Next Generation with some close friends. Of course, with Mark around, you rarely got to watch the show. His running commentary was legendary and hilarious.
Short as it turned out to be, Mark’s life yielded countless memories for all of us. Here are three.
A couple years ago, Bill and Wendy Turenne hosted a few couples for a Valentines
Day dinner at Congressional Country Club. Upon arrival, it became apparent our table was, in this particular context, generationally challenged.
But while I pondered ageist wisecracks, Mark was schmoozing with the table next to us. Now, I may have been over-served a bit that night myself, but at one point, I am certain I saw Mark and Jennifer Foxtrot past me on the dance floor then, not 30 seconds later, Mark Samba’d (or maybe it was swing) back by with somebody’s grandmother. By the time we left that evening, Mark was on a first name basis with at least half the room.
I was actually reminded of this last night. We used to have a weekly poker game at Frank Febbraro’s place. There were 4-5 regulars and a steady stream of guests and fill ins. One night, Mark joined us.
On the first hand, he went all in and lost. Maybe it was the second hand. No matter, he re-upped and repeated soon after. He couldn’t have played more than 20 minutes of poker that night, but stayed more than three hours, making fun of us and our damned rap music.
In 1991, Bill Turenne transferred to JMU after, as Bill puts it, two years of underachieving. Standing in the book line, Bill struck up a conversion with a puckish little dude sporting a Morning Dew T-Shirt. Soon after, Matt DiStefano led Bill over to the AXP house. In Bill’s words, “Mark met me at the door and welcomed me right in.” Didn’t take very long for Bill and Mark to realize that,coincidentally, their families owned homes in the same part of New England. To hear Bill tell it, Connie would cook breakfast for 30 or so kids, cousins, and stragglers during these family vacations.
I never visited the Van de M summer house, but the look in Bill’s eyes as he recalled those days made it clear it was a place of warmth and comfort.
Just a few years later, Frank Febbraro was fresh out of school and moving to Alexandria. Mark’s casa was Frank’s casa for a few weeks while Frankie got settled and got a place.
For me personally, Mark’s acceptance came in the form of a note in my pledge book. Next to his points and sig, Mark noted, “You are so much cooler than your older brother!” For those who don’t know, Joe is my older brother, is also an AXP, and is here today. Sorry Joe.
Many years later, I learned we shared a much deeper bond. In addition to having the same first and middle name, Mark and I shared the experience of suffering occasional bouts of depression. We only spoke of it a few times, frankly. I wish so much we could have shared a little more.
In conclusion, this sucks. There is no other way to put it. Mark’s passing leaves a void where his life exuded bounty. So we will grieve, and we may grieve for quite some time.
And yet, in this grief, we are forgetting the thing Mark wanted the most. He wanted us to be happy. He wanted you to be happy.
So I think we kind of owe it to him to do everything we can to make that happen.
In that spirit, I’d like to close with two thoughts on hope.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption
by Stephen King
I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.