My father and three close friends died this past year. Jeff Schmahl was a colleague, confidant, frequent golf partner, and the father of HuskerVision; Weyland Beeghly was my roommate at Bethany Theological Seminary who entered the foreign service and served at the American embassy in Moscow while writing and singing songs about pig farming; Harold Andersen was the former publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, a lover of poetry, Augusta National, and one of the most generous and welcoming people I ever met. My father was my mentor, best friend and the foundation of our family.
I had the privilege of talking with Jeff, Harold Andersen, and my father shortly before their deaths. Weyland had suffered Parkinson’s disease for the last ten years that he believed was caused by the former Soviet Union shooting radio waves into the American embassy over several years. He had a disarming wit, and in my mind was one of the unsung heroes of his country, quietly going about his work of estimating the crop yields in the countries he was stationed. My last conversation with Weyland was in late October, and he was growing more frustrated as the disease prevented him from doing simple tasks even though his mind could recall the smallest details of our friendship. He died on December 10 from complications in surgery. We walked down Michigan Avenue together in 1968 protesting against the Democratic National Convention powerless beyond our choice of shoes.
Jeff died of pancreatic cancer, and in his last year and a half wrote a powerful blog titled “The Last Train” about his passions, his family, and his battle with the “Big C.” His work ethic, his values, his commitment to his family and friends were inspiring. The toughest thing about Jeff’s death was that chemotherapy had seemed to give him a reprieve until everything turned at the end. In our last conversation, two weeks before his death, we set a golf date for September.
I called Harold Andersen on my way to the Final Four in Omaha. He had just been released from the hospital, and he answered the phone with a strong, enthusiastic voice. We talked about the movie “Spotlight” which I encouraged him to see with his wife Marian because it focuses on the value of investigative journalism. We talked about poetry and the chances of Nebraska winning a fourth National Championship in volleyball. We agreed to talk again soon, after the championship.
He died the next day and his obituary noted that he was considered a “giant” in the newspaper industry. The University of Nebraska had no better friends than Harold and Marian Andersen who gave continuously to provide for a better university.
My father died of a weakened heart at 93 with my brother Jack and I in the room and my daughter Emma having held his hand for most of the morning. He was a remarkable man. Anything that Jack and I learned about coaching was through his mentoring. His wisdom was exceeded only by his humility. When he was in pain during hospice we wished for his death to come soon, but as soon as he passed I wanted to talk with him and continue to do so. Without his presence, I have gone through weeks of not quite knowing who I am.
What these four people had in common was a love of face-to-face conversation. They loved language, ideas, and they didn’t have to have the same opinion as the people they had coffee with or played golf with or went for long walks with. They didn’t see themselves as the center of the universe but they didn’t suffer fools either. They considered themselves lucky and when I was in their presence I did too.
— Terry Pettit