Seven months ago, as we walked along Hudson Beach and the cold wind turned our cheeks red, I wondered why my old friend Jan Glidewell would bother fighting terminal cancer. Now I know. He did it for us.
Jan gave us time to say goodbye, and we didn't waste it. We called and visited and found each other on Facebook, an army with one particular thing in common: admiration of a fascinating and original character, a fearless journalist, a good man.
He became our common denominator, a reason to connect and attempt to give him something he gave all of us so often — joy.
When the end came on Monday, we were prepared and confident that he — and we — had made the most of his final days. It didn't stop the tears, but in this newsroom and I suspect many other corners of the world, we shared a good laugh.
You can't be sad for long when Glidewell is the subject. He succeeded famously at humor writing, placing him in rare company among journalists. It's hard to be funny, and Jan could make you laugh out loud. But he could just as easily make you cry or inspire you to dig into your pocket to help somebody in need. And lest anyone forget, in his younger days he proved his mettle as an investigative reporter, digging into political corruption and even serial killers.
But readers loved him most when he poked fun at authority, including "Boss,'' a title I wore proudly for half of Jan's 30 years with the Times. They approached him in restaurants as if he were an old friend and we accused him of stacking the audience even though we knew better.
He could be difficult to label. He was a high school dropout but a prolific reader of all literature and an authority on complex subjects like religion. He served in the Marines in Vietnam and then spent the rest of his life wearing long hair, a beard and tie-dyed T-shirts. He followed the Grateful Dead and even resembled Jerry Garcia. He spoke openly about legalizing pot. But he also had a way with cops and appreciated the danger they face. He earned their trust.
He never ran from his liberal philosophy, but he respected other points of view with the notable exception of the "mouth-breathing morons'' he pilloried for their racism. He was among the first journalists I knew who openly and aggressively supported gay rights.
He was a nudist and in such proclamations invited you to "insert joke here.''
He was a Buddhist equally comfortable in a fancy restaurant or a biker bar.
He marveled at Florida's sensitive environment and dearly loved the troubadours who write and sing about it. They, in turn, embraced Jan as a brother.
Jan shared intimate details of his life, from battles with depression and obesity to his use of Viagra. We endured his pain with the loss of Lee, the woman known in his column for more than two decades as simply "Wife.'' We rejoiced when, years later, he found Betty.
Last year, before his own grim diagnosis, Jan spent many days with his 47-year-old son, Sean Holland, who was nearing the end of a 12-year fight with cancer. They had not been close for years, but the circumstances drew Jan to his side. He admired his son's courage and wrote about the importance of finding a way back into his life.
Jan's words are powerful, a perfect illustration of his depth and evidence of his journalistic greatness. As it was my honor to be his friend, it is also my honor to give him the final say in this column, graceful and inspirational sentences that bear repeating:
I write this with his and his wife's permission because all of us know there are other people who need to reach out to a loved one and don't know how.
The answer is simple: Do it. Make the call, knock on the door. Write the note.
You may be rebuffed or you may discover the type of wealth we have.
You can't lose. The worst that can happen is that you will break even.
And maybe you will get to do what we do: look each other in the eye and say "I love you."
Twenty years or more ago, in a column about another subject entirely, I wrote a phrase that was picked up by Reader's Digest and has wound up in publications all over the world. People found something in it that resonated with them and I have been flattered and honored by that.
"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present."
Now I know what it means.