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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Taking a somber trip down memory lane

I've used this forum in the past to reflect on the lives of some special people whether it was coaching legends Kay Yow or Pat Summitt or former colleagues, mentors and close friends Dave Solomon and Paul Marslano.

Today it is a little different as I am recalling the life of a person who has no ties to women's basketball and (to my knowledge) has never sat on press row at a UConn women's basketball game. However, there are times when somebody's life deserves more mention than a few paragraphs in an obituary and this is one of those times so hopefully you will indulge me with this trip down memory lane even if this is not the ideal forum for such a piece.

If you asked me to place a number on how many people I have interviewed since arriving in Connecticut 31 years ago, I don't think I could even come close to an accurate guess. I can, however, recall the first.

As a matter of fact, she was on my mind as I made the familiar drive through I-95 in Milford en route to DeLuca Field in Stratford on Sunday. I actually left much earlier than necessary so I could catch up with UConn softball incoming freshman Katie Koshes who earned all-tournament honors at the eighth annual Women's Major Softball National Tournament. For those wondering, the story on Koshes is slated to run tomorrow. I've gone to Stratford to cover at least one Brakettes game every year since 1991 but never did I experience the flood of emotions that I did on Sunday. The closest experience to that was probably when I was assigned to cover the Chalk Talk event with the football coaches from New Haven, SCSU and Yale shortly after Dave Solonon's death. I remember plenty of eyes being on me when I teared up during a moment of silence in Dave's honor. It was a much different deal this time. Pretty much everybody in the room at the 2011 Chalk Talk event knew who Dave was but I'm not sure how many knew or had the pleasure to cross paths with Megan so I kept my thoughts to myself except for those on my facebook page.

Sadly, my focus wasn't on the former Amity High All-State pitcher, or even tournament MVP Megan Good of the Brakettes on that day and I hope that wasn't too evident in the quality of the stories I wrote. Perhaps it was because I drove through the city where my dear friend lived for the last 20 years or covered an event in the town where she worked for about 20 years before being diagnosed with cancer. Maybe it was because I remember when she was on the other end of the phone during her time at WICC radio taking information for results of previous Brakettes national tournaments but I had flashbacks of that interview with Megan O'Connell Albright back in the fall of 1985 more than once on Sunday as well as some of our other meetings. Then I read an online tribute to her saying she is somebody that once you meet that you never forget. Truer words have never been written.

I was taking my first journalism class as a college student and my professor at Southern Connecticut State instructed us to interview somebody about how they were impacted by Hurricane Gloria. Still new to the area after arriving from a two-year stay in Miami, I did what most guys my age would do and asked the most beautiful girl in my classes that semester to sit down with me for an interview. Megan, who took a history of philosophy class with me, graciously obliged and spoke about helping move some boats from the water to help a friend. We would share a table in either the library or student center probably more than a 100 times by the time our college days came to an end. Sadly, I would have one more face to face conversation with her after my college graduation. I have regrets for some of my actions but never as much as I stumbled upon her obituary late last week. The reality that I could never clear the air with her bothered me because she deserved better. What really tugged at my heart strings is that her three children, husband, family members and friends must be reeling so much from her loss. I was also struck by the fact that her youngest child and only daughter is 13, the same age my oldest sister was at that time we lost our parents. I remember one time telling Meg that I wouldn't wish the fate of growing up without your mother and/or father on anybody not knowing that 30 years later it is something her family would have to contend with.

This is the second time this year that a 51-year-old mother with three children who I was close to has passed away. In March it was the wife of my former roommate who passed away after a valiant battle with multiple sclerosis. Now tragedy has struck again with the loss of my friend Megan as a result of breast cancer.

I thought of Megan earlier this year when I was assigned to do a story on SCSU track star Shatajah Wattely. I walked out of the parking garage (which wasn't there when I was a student at Southern) and passed the street that I used to take when I walked her to her car. When I would return to speak to SCSU journalism students and would park in another part of campus where I walked with her to where her car was parked on other occasions, I would remember some of those conversations. When I would see stories or promos for WICC's Greatest Bluefish Contest on Earth, I would also think of her because shortly after returning to the Register after 18 months away back in the early 1990s, my boss asked me to drive to Bridgeport to do a story on the results of that year's event. I got to Captain's Cove and walked towards the tournament headquarters and was about five feet from a familiar face when she turned around and said "oh my God." Yes, I guess she remembered me. I interviewed her for the second and final time that day. She suggested I call her in about a week to verify the results which I did. Little did I know that 60 or 90 second call would be the last time I spoke to her.

I actually included her in a blog post that unfortunately is gone. I think it was 2007 and I wrote about my high school (Alvirne in Hudson. N.H.) checking out a UConn practice. I remember writing about when I was in college and Meg would see somebody that she went to high school with and I joked with her that "funny, I never seem to run into one of my old high school friends." She would just shoot me this look and without uttering a word, would get her point across. I cleaned out many of my early blog posts due to issues with the blog page so that is one of the ones that is no longer available to view.

Perhaps my favorite story came when I was a sophomore and I rode my bike to school. I was coming down with a major cold and she suggested I take Nyquil. I never took that medicine before and didn't pick up on the meaning of the "Ny" in Nyquil so I took a swig of it around noon. When it came time to go home in the late afternoon I was ready to pass out and not sure how I didn't fall off my bike. Next time we had lunch together I told her the story and she laughed so loud that every single person in the student center turned around to look at us.

As a former reporter and then a promotions director at a prominent radio station, she is prominent enough to warrant a look back at her life and I suggested to our editor that they considering doing just that. However, there was so much more to her life than that decade or so in the journalism business. She became a realtor right around the time she was going to start a family so she could be there for her children. I saw her name listed among Connecticut's Five Star Real Estate Agents in 2014 by Connecticut Magazine. It didn't surprise me because when she was in college she was working three jobs and was a part-time college student 30 minutes away from home leading me to ask her one time 'Meg, when exactly do you sleep.' She looked at me and deadpanned "sleep, what is that?' Oh, did a mention that both of her sons were recognized with a national award for their volunteer work in a span of three years getting honored in ceremonies in Washington, D.C.? Or she would have her picture taken by a Hartford Courant photographer helping an injured man en route to witness Pope Francis' mass in Philadelphia last year. I saw a social media post saying that Meg gave advice to a friend's son on how to deal with cancer treatment even as she was fighting for her life. I think now you understand why I feel compelled to share her story.

I am sure when I am at the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena that I will once again have flashbacks to my remarkable friend from college. I won't be alone that day as so many people in attendance will reflect on those who have lost special people in their lives to cancer. I still think of Dave Solomon when I pass the part of the highway where he lost his life just over five years ago and I'm sure something will trigger the memories of my many meetings with Megan during my college days will remain fresh in my mind as well.

Now it's back to what I consider my normal life with an Ivy League football teleconference to jump on in a few minutes. Tomorrow will be my first UConn football practice of the summer with a few Olympic basketball updates sure to be posted on this blog.


Blogger ctkaiser said...

Terrific story Jim.

2:14 PM 

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