55 years and counting

Tribute to Lester D. Garrett

by Sheryl Hutchings

First, let me thank you, Janice, you, Tessa, and all the rest of the Garrett family for allowing me to participate in this celebration of Lester’s life.  I am so deeply honored.


Approximately 61 years ago, back before there was dirt, Lester and I became classmates and friends as 7th graders at Corwin Junior High School here in Pueblo.  We were on the precipitous threshold of adolescence, and we learned and laughed and lunged through those awkward early teen years together.   Lester and I, for some reason, bonded as good buddies...I can’t really explain why.  I guess we were just sort of kindred spirits...the tall, sort of goofy gangly ones who just wanted to be friends with everybody and who both saw life through rose colored glasses.  As “Sputnik Kids,” members of a group who were identified as having potential in math and science, we were thrown together in almost all of our core classes, and our friendship grew.  In high school we remained good friends and spent more good times just hanging out and growing up in the way that high schoolers do.


Then we graduated, and Lester walked out of my life and into the Navy to serve in that awful war that our generation was chosen to fight, a war where he proved his valor while serving his country patrolling the swampy backwaters of the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam and breathing in a great deal of Agent Orange as he did so.  Sadly, I lost touch with him completely, and our lives went on in totally different directions.  Our friendship was not rekindled until just about five years ago when Les reached out to me.  He tracked me down, invited me to lunch, and walked back into my heart again, thank God.

In this oh too brief period of time, I was blessed to enjoy his friendship again in several different ways. 
—-We played some rounds of golf together (even though it was difficult for him to grip a club because he kept losing parts of fingers to that creeping contamination that Vietnam had deposited in his body tissues.
—-We celebrated our 70th birthdays together along with other old classmates in Las Vegas (even though we all were scattered around at various locations in and nearby Sin City). 
—-We shared several pleasant meals together, (even though nothing much tasted very good to him in the last several months because of his ongoing chemotherapy treatments). 
—-We worked together on our reunion committee to make more memories happen (even though he often couldn’t attend meetings as his condition deteriorated). 
—-And, he, Janice, and I spent some time together in his new dream home in Pueblo (even though I would have rather he had stayed closer to me up North). 

In short, we got to know each other again, and we discovered that we still really liked, no...really LOVED each other in the way that good friends, friends for life, do.

I am so thankful I had these late in life times with Les.  I will be forever heartbroken about his loss, but I am even more heartbroken to have learned that, for a good portion of our adult lives, we most likely lived within a mile or two of each other in Aurora and, had we kept in touch, we could have spent so much more time together had we only known. 

I think that when Les contacted me five years ago, he sensed that his time was short. He had survived a heart attack, colon cancer, and multiple other health problems, and it was important to him to reconnect with people who were important to him, for one reason or another, when he was young.  That, really, is the only way that any of us can stay young at heart...by staying close, if at all possible, to those with whom we were young. 

We all come with an expiration date...it just isn’t clearly stamped somewhere on our packaging.  Les knew of late that his expiration date would be sooner rather than later.  He knew, and he chose to face death as bravely as he had faced his life.  I am so proud to have known him and to call him friend.  Watching Les in the last few months, especially at our recent 55 year class reunion, I could not help but think of the words of a poem I used to regularly teach in my high school literature classes.  The words of Dylan Thomas tell us NOT “to go gentle into that cold night, to rage, to rage against the dying of the light.”  That is exactly what Lester Garrett did...he lived as much as he could as nobly as he could for as long as he could, and he chose to go home from the hospital on October 16 and expire in his own bed when his time was up.

Now I find myself missing Les again, just as I did so many years ago when the currents of life’s oceans pulled us apart.  I will continue to miss him, but I won’t ever forget him.  Nor will any of his fellow old classmates here to honor him today.
Let Les’s leaving us be a reminder to all of us that we need to stay in touch, we need to stay connected, we need to stay committed to each other for as long as we possibly can.  Relationships are really all that really matter after all.

I am so blessed to have enjoyed an enduring relationship with this wonderful man.  Sail on, good and faithful friend, and God speed you on this next part of your cosmic journey.