John Brock: When a good friend dies, a little of us perishes as well

  • Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To paraphrase what the poet and essayist John Donne once wrote: Man's death diminishes me … Each is part of the main … when someone dies a little of me dies with him … So, send not to know for whom the bell tolls — it tolls for thee.

The longer I live, these words ring truer and truer. I have lost a number of good friends in recent months and I feel a little of me perished with each of them. One best friend of over 50 years passed away several weeks ago. I first met him when he befriended me when my wife and I, as newly weds, moved to his town.

Charles “Chuck” Heath was the kind of friend that makes life worth living. Chuck had his own strong personal convictions and attempts to change them would prove more difficult than taking the spots off a Ladybug. But his thoughts were well-founded and most often proved to be right — on the side of truth.

He developed my own thinking in many ways. I was a self-impressed young, twenty-four-year-old newspaper editor who needed to be brought down a peg or two. He was just the man for the job. In fact, he was my first Sunday School teacher in our new hometown.

My friend started his life in the oil fields of Oklahoma. He once told me that most of the kids had dogs but he had a pet coyote that ran beside him as he bicycled through his hometown. Chuck served in the US Marines in WWII. He remained to the end an embodiment of the idea of “Once a Marine — Always a Marine.”

Chuck was truly a Renaissance Man. He had many talents and founded a continent-wide natural gas consulting firm that remains large on the energy scene today. I edited a newsletter for his firm in the 1960s that accurately foretold the energy woes that the world faces today. We also published a general newsletter of a political nature under the title of Freedom Forum Press.

Chuck was truly an American patriot. One of his essays won a principle award from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He shared the honors that year with astronaut John Glenn. I later served as a member of the national awards jury for the group representing the US Jaycees and Chuck was as pleased with my selection as he was with his own prestigious award. He was that kind of friend who took pride in his friends as much as he did in his own efforts.

Chuck was the author of a half-dozen books as well as scores of essays and articles. He dedicated one of the books to my wife and me. I helped with the editing of several of them and my wife furnished the title for one. He was a conservative before Senator Barry Goldwater waded deep into the conservative stream. He was among the very first to promote Ronald Reagan for president — years before being named the nominee.

He was also well-known in political and government circles. I have been in his office when we were interrupted by a call from a US Senator seeking his counsel on matters. I was with him on Capitol Hill visiting with Senator Strom Thurmond's right-hand man, Harry Dent, when the Senator came in and told us first-hand of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I have been with him in DC when we would go into Senators' offices unannounced. He would lay his clipboard down on their desk and say, “Senator, I just want to get a few things straight.” There was nothing timid about my friend Chuck.

On one occasion he was walking down the street in front of the White House as a group of anti-war hippies were protesting the Vietnam War. They had marked a number of blocks with chalk on the sidewalk and were “selling” the spaces for folks to write their own condemnation of the war. Chuck asked how much the spaces were going for. They said they were five-dollars apiece. He said, “I'll take five.”

He stood in the middle of “his” marked-off spaces and shouted at the top of his voice — first to the North and then to the other points of the compass — “BOMB HANOI! The hippies about had a hissy. But that was Chuck.
We had numerous interesting experiences throughout our friendship — enough to fill a book. With several others, we once leased the mineral rights on 92 million acres in Australia — an area about the size of South Carolina. He and I even waded into the notion of motion picture production and co-produced four feature-length, 3-D movies. Both projects were much less successful than we had hoped.

Not only were we good friends, so were our families and we enjoyed many happy times with each other. We raised our children together but they and my own kids are spread across the continent and we don't see each other very much any more. Chuck loved his kids and his grandchildren. I feel especially sad for his children because they also lost their Mother, another fine individual, within just a few weeks of losing their Dad.

It has been said of many folks that they were “one of a kind.” It can certainly be said of my friend, Charles “Chuck” Heath. His death has assuredly “diminished me.”

I miss him terribly.

John Brock lives in Georgetown County and can be reached by mail at this newspaper or via Email at: brock@johnbrock.com.

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