Gene Green's friends came by his house to pay their respects.
His golf bag sat in the foyer, some clubs protected by red and gray Ohio State University covers. He loved his Buckeyes. A few years ago, when they prepared for their national championship football game with the Florida Gators, Gene showed up for the weekly golf game at Beacon Woods wrapped in an Ohio State flag. The next week the Gator boys arrived with flags of their own after their team won.
Great fun, lots of laughs.
In 78 years before cancer invaded his spine and neck, Gene never had a serious health issue — only a hernia we swore he got from lifting that golf bag. It was heavier than most because Gene seldom lost a ball and fished many more out of water hazards. His bag held every conceivable item you might need on a course — extra clothing, pens, wire cutters, bandages, granola, a toothbrush, a shoehorn, pencils, the kitchen sink. One November when he knew he would be on the course during the Ohio State-Michigan game, he brought a battery-powered television.
Some years back, most of the guys in the Saturday morning group bought this fancy new titanium driver to get a few extra yards off the tee. Gene got one. And when I balked because of the expense, this is what he said: "They don't make hearses with luggage racks.''
Gene Green died Jan. 14, only a few days after doctors found the cancer. Sudden death of a friend makes us examine our priorities and whether we are fully appreciating and enjoying the time we have left.
Just a few months ago, it seemed, Gene was shooting his age. His game was the good kind of boring. He kept it in the fairway. He complained that age had weakened him and robbed him of distance, but from 100 yards out he could rattle the flag with a pitching wedge.
He always had a joke or story, but he didn't talk much about himself.
After the wake last week, his widow, Tish, filled in some blanks.
Gene was the only child of a window salesman in Youngstown, Ohio, with a country club membership. He started Gene early in golf and taught him to appreciate the history of the game and how to behave as a gentleman. Don't get mad and throw clubs. Don't cheat.
After college, Gene served in the Air Force from 1953-57. His superiors got wind of his expertise on the links and put him on the Air Force golf team. He traveled the world. Tough duty.
His friends assumed he would play professional golf, but he didn't have money or sponsors. So he sold cars in Ohio. He kept in touch with a girl he knew in school, Nancy, who lived in Orlando. They eventually married and adopted two sons. Gene sold insurance but his big break came when he invented a machine that cut perfect ovals for picture frames. Again he traveled extensively, but now to trade shows where he dazzled buyers with his showmanship. He lined up distributors worldwide.
Life seemed good, but like most families, the Greens had their share of tragedy. One son died of AIDS; the other found trouble with the law. In 1999, Nancy died of a heart attack. Gene retreated in grief but agreed to come to New Port Richey to help Tish, an old family friend, with some personal problems.
"He was bitter and angry,'' Tish recalled last week. "He had no friends over here. Then somebody invited him to play golf one Saturday morning with a group of men who played every week. That changed everything.''
Over the next 10 years, these men would become his friends. They came from vastly different backgrounds and could never agree on certain political issues. But they played a game together, and it trumped any political or philosophical disagreements.
The golf group gathered when Gene and Tish got married, and they gathered when he died. They drank his liquor and recalled his love of a good punch line. Just a few months earlier he had stood on the first tee and told the famous Henny Youngman joke about the man who came home early and found his wife in bed and a man in the closet.
"What are you doing here?'' the husband demanded.
"Hey,'' the man answered, "everybody's gotta be somewhere.''
Here's hoping Gene's "somewhere'' is in the center of a plush fairway and that he has a strong caddie to lift his bag.