News & Views from 465 California Street

The Passing of Clay and Mike

Clint Reilly

Recently, I experienced the death of two friends.

One was my next door neighbor, Clay Thomson. Active until the end, he collapsed after stepping off his treadmill at 79 years of age. He seemed much younger and his passing occurred too soon.

He wanted no funeral or formal service, so a group of us sponsored a Saturday afternoon party in his honor. The memorial event was attended by many retired doctors who had worked with him throughout his long career as an anesthesiologist. Friends from decades past also filled the room to help his still grieving wife celebrate his memory.

I met my neighbor when I bought my house more than 20 years ago. He and his wife immediately invited me to dinner and introduced me to other long-time neighbors.

They patiently endured a disruptive remodel of my house and even though they were staunch conservatives, they good naturedly attended the large Christmas Party I held every year which attracted Democratic politicians from throughout the Bay Area.

My new neighbor became a true friend. In 1995 I was married. My wife was living in Los Angeles and worked for Mayor Richard Riordan. She had grown up in Sacramento, but she was new to the Bay Area.

Our neighbors quickly embraced her and arranged a dinner party to introduce her to the neighborhood. When our children were born, they too were singled out for special gifts at Christmas and birthdays.

Meanwhile, our retired friend and his wife led volunteer campaigns for a well known museum, skied at Lake Tahoe, spearheaded a local tennis club and participated in efforts to preserve the quality of life in our neighborhood.

As one speaker after another rose to offer their memories, three phrases kept recurring 1) Excellent doctor 2) Loyal friend 3) Private person.

He had drawn the admiration of peers in the medical profession. He had touched the lives of many through simple kindness regularly extended. Yet he never sought the limelight for himself.

In this respect, he was a stand-in for all those quiet heroes in our nation who act nobly and transform the world by leaving their own small corner of the universe so much better than they found it.

My second loss involved a classmate from my high school and college days in the seminary who passed away last week in Reno, Nevada. His name was Mike Kennedy. He died of colon cancer not long after the same disease claimed his wife.

About a month ago, I went with our fellow classmate Steve Dells to visit him at his home and met his two grown stepdaughters, both of whom obviously revered him.

He was very calm as we reminisced and laughed our way through the day remembering old teachers, recalling hilarious teenage experiences, and considering moments that had shaped the rest of our lives.

He read the comments he had made at his wife’s funeral. It was hard to believe that not only was he dying but in a little more than a month, he would be dead.

As a young student, he often struggled. As an athlete, he was never the best. His personality was never charismatic. It was often harder for him to achieve less than many more talented peers in academics or extracurricular activities.

And yet he was respected for his tenaciousness and guts and admired.

As an adult running a business, I remembered the lessons he taught me decades before: Many are given great gifts and misuse them – or never use them at all. Some are given fewer gifts but through hard work and grit, they flourish.

As we were leaving, my friend introduced us to his next door neighbor – a brain cancer patient – who he was helping to buy a wheelchair. He was giving to his very last breath. That was his secret.

“Do I dare disturb the universe?” the poet T.S. Eliot asked in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, his famous poem about growing old and dying.

Clay Thomson and Mike Kennedy disturbed the universe.

Comments (4)

  • Clint, what a wonderful tribute to two very fine individuals. I particularly like the use of Eliot.

    I’m sure each must have been very proud to have had you as such a longstanding friend, and you have done the rest of us a service as well by introducing them to us here. Thank you. -lewis

    Posted by: lewis shepherd | June 16th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

  • Clint,
    Like my old pal Lewis Shepherd whose comment appears above, I was heartened by you depiction of these two special human beings whose lives were so important to all those they touched. Earlier today, I learned that John Stearns, father of Jim Stearns, had passed away last month. Knowing that Jim is a Connecticut native, I accessed the Hartford Courant and located John Stearns’ obituary. As I read it, I realized how special John was and what he provided to his family: a love of the outdoors, skiing in the winter, hiking in the non-snow months and the serenity of a second home in Vermont, probably harvesting maple syrup and most especially a commitment to volunteerism and public service. It made my letter of condolence so much easier to write. Thank you for providing the families of Clay Thomson and Michael Kennedy with such a loving tribute. It’s now part of family history.

    Posted by: Gerry Crowley | June 23rd, 2009 at 9:48 pm

  • Clint,

    Dennis McQuaid just forwarded a copy of your article regarding your neighbor and Mike.

    As they say, ‘good stuff’. I think you truly captured Mike. About 15 of your classmates honored Mike at alumni day–it was really moving. Mike had written a note to be read, and the M.C., Dennis McQuaid, read portions. It was very funny. I still remember Mike as an able member of Miraglia’s Marauders!! He did indeed use what he had well!

    I’m glad that you and Steve got to visit Mike–all of you guys provided a wonderful tribute and statement.

    Take good care, Murph

    Posted by: Jim Murphy | June 24th, 2009 at 8:57 am

  • I was a co’worker and good friend of Clay thompson. It was very heart warming to hear you speak of him the way you did. I too, remember him that way. It has been a long timr since I have seen or spoke to him. My friend told of your article. Thank you. Mary

    Posted by: Mary Mashek | June 25th, 2009 at 6:15 pm

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