Words of Remembrance for Don McGillis (1946-2020)

(Don McGillis was the former Editor of the Berkshire Eagle and a long-time reporter for the Boston Globe. He was also my friend. He died last week after spending the night stranded on Mount Katahdin in Maine and suffering a 50-foot fall. His family invited me to share some words at his memorial service yesterday) 

It is good to be here with you all, to grieve together and to remember together our friend Don McGillis. In this crazy Covid-19 world we are deprived of our usual consolations of touch, of hugs and handshakes, but it is still good that we are together, even social distanced.

Before I left Boston for Maine to start at my first parish, one of my wise professors said to me, “When you arrive make friends with the smartest person in town who doesn’t go to your church!” Since I came to Pittsfield in 1982, I have often thought of Don that way, as my much-valued conversation partner on a myriad of subjects, from sports and politics to grandchildren and hearing loss. He was someone I loved to talk with. I loved his intellectual curiosity and his commitment to the truth. When he asked, “Is that true?” it wasn’t a challenge. He really wanted to know. When he said, “That can’t be true!” that was a challenge!

Another dear friend and conversation partner of mine died recently, and at his memorial his son described him as someone who had “a life well-lived.” I think that fits Don as well. Don’s life was a life well-lived.

He was deeply-loved by his family and friends and widely admired by his colleagues. Each of you will have your own memories and stories of Don. I expect some will be told today.

As you know, Don had a dry and often irreverent sense of humor. I have one anecdote I want to share that I think captures this. Alec has given me permission to tell it.

A few years ago, Don and I were having lunch together and he was extolling the joys of being a grandfather. He knew that both my son and daughter had been married not long before. 

“No grandkids yet?” He asked. “Not yet, but I look forward to them someday,” I said. 

“What are you going to do about it,” he asked and I said piously, “That, of course, is their decision.” 

“You’re being too passive,” he said. “Your job is to cajole them, to move them along.” 

I was taken aback and said, “How would I go about that?” He answered, “I questioned my son’s manhood. It worked pretty well, too.” Then he smiled that Don McGillis grin we all know and love. For the record, I never followed up on his advice, but I do now have four grandchildren.

I’ll miss my conversations with Don, our hikes and musings about the world and all that is in it. He’s gone too, soon, but I’m thankful to have known him and for his life so well lived.

(For a video of the service go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcJ0aoJKHos&feature=youtu.be)