By Dan McCue
It’s commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease; officially it’s known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A heart-wrenching disease that slowly robs the muscles of your body from the outer extremities of your arms and legs and eventually lodges in the lungs where it enervates all you have left.
My brother Kevin has been a frequent contributor to this column. He has written several articles about family members – our father, our Mom, our grandmother and a favorite aunt – all extolling their contributions to our formative years. It’s time someone wrote about him.
He was a gifted writer with a flair toward the bizarre. His favorite writers were Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. His favorite holiday was Halloween. He could take an innocuous sentence and twist it ever so slightly as to make you giggle. For example, referring to our favorite Aunt Betty, a wildly funny lady who liked to dress to her own tailor, he wrote: “She looked like Lily Munster, pale skin, bright red lipstick and a beehive hairdo darker than the arctic night.”
His humor extended into his everyday life as well. A lifelong Catholic, he decided that it had been a while since he’d been to confession. He told the priest that he was sorry for his past sins, but he said, “Father, I hope you don’t mind, but my attorney is right outside and I would like him to join us so I don’t incriminate myself.” The priest couldn’t contain his laughter.
Kevin, a 1981 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, studied creative writing and communication. In 1980, while attending an award ceremony given on behalf of our father, he became infatuated with the speakers he heard that night. He immediately sought out Toastmasters, a wonderful group that promotes and encourages the art of public speaking. He jumped in head first. He soon acclimated to the rhythm and nuances of putting your point across with a dramatic flair. He would spend hours rewriting and perfecting his craft. He excelled in his pursuit of public speaking, traveling all across the country, more often than not garnering first prize. I counted 41 trophies in his bookcase.
He later turned his hobby into a vocation. He became a trainer for the Catholic Health System. While working there, he wrote a book titled “Fear-Less Public Speaking.”
Kevin was also a pretty accomplished guitar player. He studied at the famous Berkeley School of Music. He played with the same three guys for years under different band names – the Riddlers, Hugo and the Linoleum Tiles and the Outlyers – in venues like Nietzsche’s, the Continental and the Crystal Beach Ballroom.
It was this activity that led him to seek medical help. He could no longer grip the instrument like he used to. After his primary physician ran a battery of tests that proved inconclusive, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic broke the devastating news to him. That was six years ago. And like everyone else in his shoes, he went through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. And to no one’s surprise, he handled the final acceptance part of the deal with his usual style, saying, “Maybe now I’ll get to meet Lou Gehrig.”
Kevin was a very good baseball player, and in an ironic twist of fate, several years before his diagnosis, a good friend of my father gave Kevin a baseball hit by Gehrig in his fifth-last game against the Washington Senators. And to further the irony, Gehrig gave his famous, “I’m the luckiest man alive” speech on the Fourth of July.
Kevin died on the Fourth of July. His funeral was held on July 15, the feast day of St. Bonaventure. Kevin loved sports cars, music, writing and life.