Tuesday, July 15, 2008


A man I went to college with, Rick Tibbott, died the other day. He'd been battling cancer for some time, and the cancer finally won. Rick was older than me, by a year or two or three. That means that he was too damned young to go.

Rick and I were more than acquaintances, although we were never really friends either; we shared some good friends in common, but he and I were never particularly close. Sometimes I even got the feeling that he plain didn't like me all that much, which frankly wouldn't bother me, given what I know of the person I was in college. To this day I'm amazed to have reached graduation with a number of friends and a future wife.

Rick and I were in the band together, and we were both music majors for a time (before I switched to Philosophy). We shared the trumpet as our major instruments, although our band director had the odd habit of converting a trumpet player or two to the euphonium if that section was hurting for players, so as far as the band went, Rick was our lead euphonium player. I don't much recall that I ever got to hear his trumpet playing, but I recall him being pretty decent on the euphonium.

(For those only familiar with symphony orchestras, you've likely never seen a euphonium before. It's kind of an odd instrument, meant I suppose to add another voice to the brass choir in the typical concert band or wind ensemble. It is sometimes called the "baritone", and that's pretty much what it is: a valved instrument whose sound is a sort-of cross between a trombone and a French horn.)

I'm trying hard to come up with stuff to say about Rick. He's a person I knew, and I well remember his face and his voice. He was the director of the college Pep Band for the time he was there, and he used to get freakishly angry with me when I would ignore his tempos and charge ahead on my own; the rest of the band would follow me because I was the loudest player there, and Rick would fume and fume and fume some more. (With good reason, obviously. Like I said above: in college I was, putting it mildly, a putz.)

Rick was also the utter stereotype of a small-town Iowa kid. He wore overalls a lot, and when I started wearing mine as well a few years later, more than a few people asked me if I was going for the "Rick Tibbott look". He also was the small-town person who had never been to a large town of any sort until his college years. When I was a sophomore, our annual band tour's itinerary was announced one day, in some detail. That year we were touring mainly in Colorado, with a couple of stops on the way in Nebraska, the first of those being Omaha. Our day in Omaha was to include a visit to the Omaha Zoo, and on the itinerary, the guy planning the tour, who was one of Rick's best friends, had written: "Ricky has never been to a zoo before! Wheeeeee!" Upon reading that in the band rehearsal, Rick immediately raised his hand and insisted that he couldn't possibly be the only member of the band (eighty or so members strong) to have never been to a zoo. Rick was not amused when the show of hands he demanded failed to materialize. He really was the only person in the band who had never seen a zoo before. I think he enjoyed it. It was more than eighteen years ago, but at that time at least, the Omaha Zoo was pretty impressive.

I don't really know what became of Rick after he graduated, aside from that he became a music teacher somewhere in Iowa. I think I saw him last the next fall after his graduation, when he returned for Homecoming. Maybe once more too, but I don't know. For some reason he always found it important to try and remember the name of my hometown (Allegany), and when I saw him that Homecoming, he greeted me: "Allegany, right? I found it on a map!" I was never sure why that interested him so, but it did. I think that Rick was genuinely surprised that the town I came from, in New York, wasn't much bigger than the town he'd grown up in himself. My town was closer to more stuff, and that's pretty much the entire difference.

Over the last week or so, I've received a number of forwarded e-mails from people in Rick's circle that his health was deteriorating, that he'd entered hospice care at his home, and finally, on Sunday afternoon, that he had finally died, also at his home. He died too damned young, but he at least died surrounded by people who loved him. So, in the end, Rick Tibbott got about the only real consolation prize this life of ours offers.

So long, Rick. I'll think of you next time I'm walking around a zoo.

(Since writing this I've filled myself in on details from Rick's life from his obituary. I didn't know he had three children. Sigh.)


Anonymous said...

What awful news. I remember Rick, although I barely knew him at all.


Roger Owen Green said...

There was this a****** I knew in high school named Stuart. Thought he was smarter than everybody - possibly was - and let everyone know it. Saw him at a HS reunion; he was the nicest fellow one could imagine. He was also dying of AIDS.

This has absolutely nothing to do with your post except that it triggered the memory. Sorry for the self-indulgence.