Tom Cottle had this presence; this larger than life persona. If his immense height didn’t attract your attention, his long, Albert Einstein-like hair would. He was personable and charismatic. Simply put he was likeable. We got into this conversation and I told him I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.
“That’s easy,” he said. “Be the kind of person who makes you fall in love with yourself.”
“I don’t quite follow.”
“It’s one of the things that makes friends so remarkable; something about them just makes you fall in love with yourself. You’ll reach a point in your life where you want to steer clear of people who make you question your integrity. They should challenge you to improve and to see the world in a different light but they should never make you feel bad about who you are.”
“So are you that kind of person?” I asked.
“I try to be. When I teach, in my personal life, I try to plant seeds of worthiness in people. Because in the end that’s how people will remember you. That’s how I’ll always remember my friend Chuck.
“When I was in high school, I was on the basketball team. There was an important moment in this one game and a kid on the other team was about to score. There was only way to stop him from scoring: I flagrantly fouled him. He was furious.
“After the game I apologized for what I did. To my surprise he was very open and accepting of this. His mother then approached us.
‘Oh Chuck, you don’t know Tommy?’ After a shared look of confusion, she said ‘Your mother and I used to wheel the two of you in strollers together when you were babies.’
“As it turns out, Chuck and I ended up at the same college. We became close friends and roommates. He became my dearest friend in the world.
“So time rolls on, we both go through marriage, kids, he ends up moving to San Francisco. Plenty of phone calls, the occasional visit, we made sure we never lost contact.
“One night, I was watching Monday night football and I got a call from Chuck. After a the usual banter, he says to me ‘Listen, Tommy, I’ve been diagnosed with amyloidosis and I probably don’t have more than a few months to live.’ After a moment he goes ‘I’ve gotta go, we’ll, we’ll talk later.’ And he hung up. I was just stunned. I didn’t know what to say or do, I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Later that night I got another call. And this is the phone call that tells you who Chuck Olin was.
“‘Tommy, I owe you a terrible apology; I had no right to tell you that the way I did.’ That phone call for me tells the story of a man of such exquisite sensitivity, of such deep care, of such deep love, that in many ways shaped my notion of what a great man should be.
“In his last conversation with me, Chuck said ‘Tommy, don’t worry, I’m taking all your secrets with me.’ He knew everything there was to know about me. At pivotal moments of your life, there is always someone you turn to for support and how they react to what you’re struggling with will stick with you for the rest of your life. Chuck was always there to remind me that I’m a good person and gave me a sense of security I never got from anyone else.
“There was a memorial service out in Cali, one in Chicago. Both were jam packed, everyone there with a story to tell about Chuck.”