A Little Melancholy

Got the word today that my grad school advisor died from pneuomnia, the old man’s best friend. I talked to his wife and have spent the night talking to all the people I knew in grad school. We’re all just devastated.

Other than my dad and my CO from the military, he was one of the most important men in my life. He was flawed, as we all are, but I learned so much from him. He was a gruff man with an imposing demeanor. As my advisor, he was in his 60’s, but he was 6’4″, and a lot of people were afraid of him. I never was, and loved him from the time I met him.

In actuality, the three most important men in my life have been my dad, Jim my advisor, and my CO while I was on active. They all shared many of the same traits- gruff exteriors, lots of knowledge, fierce loyalty, and a sense that bullshit walks.

From each of them I learned different things. From my dad, I learned to defend those who can not defend themselves, and to help those who can not help themselves. I remember when he was still teaching before he retired, and there were other faculty members causing a fuss and attacking the women in the department, my dad said “fuck this” and went all in in their defense. He did everything he could to defend people who otherwise would have been alone. I’m not suggesting women are defenseless, so please do not flame me, but this was a different time. He always stood up when people were being attacked unfairly, and made sure the bullshit was directed at him. Why? Because he could take it. As a young teen, I watched him do that, and that is why whenever one of my friends is being attacked, I will go after the attacker like a pit bull and try to get the focus on me, because this honey badger doesn’t give a fuck. He also did everything he could for people in need, but this is another story.

My CO, Captain Franchek, was also one of the greatest men I have ever met. I’m still friends with him on facebook, and while he hates my politics, he knows I still love him. While I was on his tank, he gave me book after book after book to read, and wanted me to go green to gold and attend West Point. I read About Face and hundreds of other books because of him. I was an ignorant PFC/Spec 4, but he took his time and saw potential and made me read. He also wrote me the greatest letter of recommendation I have ever had, which I still keep in my safety deposit box. I used it to get into grad school, saying “this is what people thought of me six years ago, compare it to the recommendations you got from last week, and you will notice a consistency.”

Once in grad school, I met Jim. Don’t get me wrong, he was an asshole. And we are/were so very much alike. He was one part drill sergeant, one part teddy bear, one part Don Rickles, and all machine. We would hit happy hour on a Friday, drink until midnight, and at 7 am the next morning he was calling me to see if I had put the research proprosal together that we had talked about 8 hours ago. He was a beast, but at the same time he was the most generous man I have ever known. He took me under his wing, was a great friend and mentor, and I have spent the night crying and laughing.

Rest in peace, Jim, and FSM bless all the wonderful men and women out there who serve as mentors like the men I have described above.

70 replies
  1. 1
    Big R says:

    Z”l, and may you be comforted with all the mourners of Jerusalem and Zion.

  2. 2
    Tod Kelly says:

    God bless, John. To you and yours.

  3. 3
    arguingwithsignposts says:

    Condolences on your loss, Cole. It’s amazing the ways people influence us when we look back on it.

  4. 4
    Elizabelle says:

    So sorry, John. Just glad you had someone like Jim in your life, when you needed him, and sad that he’s gone.

    gruff exteriors, lots of knowledge, fierce loyalty, and a sense that bullshit walks.

    Gawd, I am trying to think who this reminds me of …

  5. 5
    sharl says:

    That is a fine tribute, John Cole; my condolences to you and others for whom this man meant so much.

  6. 6
    Elizabelle says:

    Link to the David Hackworth book, About Face, does not work. Here’s another.

  7. 7
    RobertDSC-PowerMac 466 says:


  8. 8
    jacy says:

    Condolences. And remember that true immortality is the good that is passed on and lives inside not only all he touched, but all they touch too.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Genine says:

    My condolences, John. Jim was a good man in the company of other good men.

  11. 11
    JasonF says:

    My condolences on your loss, John.

    It’s funny — I was literally just reflecting on the fact that, outside of my parents, the man who most influenced my sense of right and wrong is a man I have never met: Stan Lee, who is today (Saturday) celebrating his 90th birthday. May he celebrate 90 more.

  12. 12
    Suzanne says:

    Wow. He sounds like he was quite a man. You’re very lucky to have known him, and I hope you find that comforting right now. Condolences.

  13. 13
    cbear says:

    I’m sorry for your loss.
    Peace, John.

  14. 14
    Sphex says:

    My condolences for your loss. My advisor is a woman who sounds much like your Jim, and I am grateful every day for her.

  15. 15
    freelancer says:

    Condolences John. Funny how the people you remember the most and remember the best were those with true courage. They were decent everyday people, and they weren’t chest-thumping douchebags about it.

    The best people are people that have decency and compassion running through their veins, coupled with the courage and confidence to not give a fraction of a fuck what the indecent or cruel may think. That, and the strength of character and wisdom to know when to put up a fight, beats the shit out of any Hallmark card or Kipling poem’s assessment of what it takes to be close to perfect in this or any world.

  16. 16
    wasabi gasp says:

    Sorry, John.

  17. 17
    Alison says:

    So sorry to hear it, John. Sounds like you’ve got some great memories to carry with you…

  18. 18
    James E Powell says:


    Yeah, I was thinking the same thing and I’m sure most everyone else was too.

    My condolences John Cole.

  19. 19
    MoeLarryAndJesus says:

    Wait, honey badgers let fat cats and weird little dogs rule their lives? Really?

    Your gruff gurus made a big softie, Cole. Admit it.

  20. 20
    Anne Laurie says:

    Condolences, John.

  21. 21
    Less Popular Tim says:

    Sorry to hear it John. I’m glad, though, that it sounds like your CO got over the election enough to re-Friend you, if we’re talking about the same person. It seemed like that stung you quite a bit at the time, and after this I can see why that was such a dark part of an otherwise great night for you.

  22. 22
    Betty Cracker says:

    Rest in peace, Jim.

    May all who loved him find peace and strength in their memories of a fine man.

  23. 23
    Raven says:

    @Less Popular Tim: I don’t think it’s the same guy.

  24. 24
    donnah says:

    My condolences, John, to you and your family.

    Our Christmas was spent sitting in Hospice with my dad. He’s in the process of dying from cancer. He went into Hospice a week ago and is still hanging in. Our family spent the holidays on shifts, so let’s say it was a difficult Christmas.

    He is a good man, served in the Marines in Korea, and was a great father. We kids learned a lot from him, and life will never be the same without him. Yes, death is a fact of life, but it’s so hard to say goodbye.

  25. 25
  26. 26
    Less Popular Tim says:

    @Raven: Ah, roger that. Ok, that guy is still dead to us, then…

  27. 27
    Less Popular Tim says:

    @Raven: Ah, roger that. Ok, that guy is still dead to us, then.

  28. 28
    Less Popular Tim says:

    @Less Popular Tim: Ok, I am a moron on various grounds– regret the poor choice of words. Tried to delete, to no avail. My apologies and again, my condolences.

  29. 29
    Sarah says:

    I’m sorry to read about your loss, JC. It impresses me so much how deeply you love the people in your life, stay connected to them, and honor them. Take care.


  30. 30
    JPL says:

    @Sarah: ditto
    John, I am so sorry for your loss. You were both lucky to know each other.

  31. 31
    Raven says:

    @Less Popular Tim: he doesn’t read this stuff

  32. 32
    IowaOldLady says:

    I hope his end was peaceful. Your grief is a tribute to him.

  33. 33
    Elizabelle says:


    Thinking of you, donnah. Wishing you strength and your dad a peaceful passing.

    Very glad you got such a good dad, and that your family can be together with him and each other now.

  34. 34
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    That sucks. My condolences, John.

  35. 35
    bg says:

    John, very sorry for your loss.

  36. 36

    Nice eulogy, John. I’m sure Jim would be touched. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor.

  37. 37
    Antonius says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, John.
    Sometimes the family we meet are as close as blood.

  38. 38
    Punchy says:

    Ah, the dreaded no-mo’nia. Once you get it, yer no mo’. Sorry to hear it claimed a loved one. At least it wasnt a drone strike.

  39. 39
    gnomedad says:

    So sorry for your loss, John.

    My CO, Captain Franchek, was also one of the greatest men I have ever met. I’m still friends with him on facebook, and while he hates my politics, he knows I still love him.

    I’m still trying to get my head around having positive relationships with people with noxious politics. I have them, and I’m glad I do, but I don’t really understand how they work. I’d love to hear the story you tell yourself about this, if you have one.

  40. 40
    Trinity says:

    Condolences to you John.

    You wrote a beautiful tribute.

  41. 41
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Me and Tunch round out the top 5, if anyone was curious.

  42. 42
    Drunken hausfrau says:

    My condolences… The thing I hate about getting older is how often this starts to happen…losing loved ones, chapters ending in our life stories, happy memories tinged with sorrow, bouts of melancholic drinking more often than bouts of delirious partying…

  43. 43
    handsmile says:

    Condolences on the passing of your friend and mentor, John Cole.

    Most of us, I surely hope, have had the great good fortune of having similar such figures in our lives. Reading your lovely tribute made me reflect upon my own, and I thank you for that.

  44. 44
    MikkiChan says:

    I am so sorry for your loss! You mentioned a wife, did they have children? I hope his widow has a strong, loving support system and they help each other through this. My own parents wedding anniversary was yesterday-his fourth without her. I could tell he had wept before coming to breakfast, but otherwise he was his usual self. Please let her know that as awful as it seems, she will get through this.

  45. 45
    sweaver says:

    Sorry to hear that, John. I feel, now that you mention it, like you have the voice, online, of the men you described. It’s why your blog is always a good place to be. RIP to Jim.

  46. 46
    Lojasmo says:

    Sorry for your loss, John.

  47. 47
    Anya says:

    Sorry for your loss, John.

  48. 48
    Poopyman says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, John. But like @sweaver: alluded, he served as a wonderful model as well as mentor to many people besides you, I’m sure.

    There’s no better legacy than that.

  49. 49
    gbear says:

    Sorry for the loss of your mentor, John. Why is pneumonia ‘the old man’s best friend’? I’ve never heard that phrase before.

    In my small work group, two of my coworkers have lost fathers this month, and I lost mine this time of year six years ago. We took up collections and passed around a card for the two co-workers and this morning we all got a thank you notice for the flowers and kind words from one of the coworkers who had lost their father.

    When my dad passed away six years ago, I didn’t get so much as a card from my department. My group of coworkers has changed for the better over that time, but not the supervisor. The passing of my coworker’s fathers has brought up old memories (which always come up every holiday given that dad died in between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and I’m finding I’m still bitter and pissed that my work group did nothing when my dad passed away.

  50. 50
    Raven says:

    @gbear: Because it is a gentle way to go.

  51. 51
    thalarctos says:


    I’m sorry, John. My condolences to you for your loss of your mentor. I’m glad you have your good memories for consolation.

    Why is pneumonial ‘the old man’s best friend’? I’ve never heard that phrase before.

    Because when one is old, it can provide a (relatively) quick, painless, and peaceful death, compared to other ways, or compared to hanging on in pain and impairment.

  52. 52
    John M. Burt says:

    My condolences, my envy (of your CO and your graduate adviser) and my jealousy (where do you get off having that father? That’s my father you’re talking about, I ‘d know him anywhere!).
    In complete sincerity, I do know something of what you are feeling, since my father died just last year. Recently enough to still feel the sting, long enough for it to have sunk in.

  53. 53
    kindness says:

    OMG! John outs himself as an asshole.

    Join the club John. Also, tell us something we don’t already know. Love you anyhow.

  54. 54
    the Conster says:

    Terrible way to end a year, I’m really sorry to hear. But, could you please change ‘piece’ to ‘peace’ in the last graf? It’s a better image that I think is more worthy of Jim.

  55. 55
    ArchTeryx says:

    A fine tribute to a great mentor, John. There’s reasons why I put people like this into my fanfics (and why they are a staple of Hollywood) – not only are they among the most decent (and helpful!) human beings you’ll ever meet, they’re all too rare in the Real World.

    And it’s always a great loss when they pass on.

  56. 56
    Cermet says:

    Very sorry for your and the Prof’s family loss; you were lucky to have such a good advisor – mine was a nice guy who decided to let me hang out to dry for the crows to feed upon my flesh … or is that thesis? Still, partly understand since I put both him, and some of the committee members to shame for their own contributions to science (I refused to write a Nature article since I didn’t think my research deserved it nor would be accepted; big mistake in all senses of the word.) Does not pay to make a committee of self-important academics lifelong work look of minor consequence.

  57. 57
    Brachiator says:

    Related to this, a story I heard on the radio this morning, about a dying teacher, David Menasche. Losing his memory partly because of cancer treatments, he has traveled, visited former students, and asked what they most remember about him, asked the question, “Did I make a difference?”

    He thought it might have been something that he said, something that he taught.

    But one of the biggest things is that he listened.

    As careers go, it’s been a short one, only 15 years. But David Menasche has spent every minute of it teaching English at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami, where his former students number nearly 3,000.
    Now 40, he’s battling stage-four brain cancer. After three surgeries, 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation, he is losing his battle against cancer. So in his final months, Menasche is doing what most teachers only dream of: He’s traveling the country, visiting his former students and asking: Did I make a difference?

    More on the story here.

    Dying teacher’s quest: Did I make a difference?

    For me, there have been a number of memorable teachers, among them two of my high school history teachers, my high school chemistry teacher and most of all, my elementary school teachers, Mrs Grey, Mrs McCain and Mr Thomas.

  58. 58
    HRA says:

    My condolences to you. John and your friend’s family.

  59. 59
    Jim Coffey says:

    Thought your CO defriended you on Facebook.
    What is the TRUTH

  60. 60
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    John, my condolences to you on your loss. The things that your mentor stood for live on in you. No better monument.

  61. 61

    John, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. My sincere condolences.

    I have not had that many mentors in my life and there were quite a few times that I really needed one. The problem always was and still is that the two fields I have worked in (Law Enforcement and IT) were both male dominated and there was a dearth of women to be mentors. Those that were available either acted like ruthless bitches who were 100% tougher than their male colleagues or they were hyper-sexual barracudas wielding their gender like some kind of magic grease to get ahead. Neither type would help their own grandmother cross the street much less another woman who they always deemed to be a threat. Not that they were all like this mind you, but enough of them that the decent ones were inundated with potential mentees.

    I resorted to some male mentors but then that caused problems (the inevitable ‘you’re sleeping with him to get ahead’ or ‘he’s favoring you because you are young and pretty’ BS). As I got older and “less pretty” those accusations faded and as much as I hate to say it, it is a relief to not have that be a part of the equation any more.

    For those of you, like John, that had good mentors, I’m happy for you. Now turn around and do the same for others, regardless of gender, and don’t let anyone denigrate your mentee or your efforts with ugly and stupid accusations. As John indicates, you have the ability to affect the lives of others in very profound ways.

  62. 62
    CaseyL says:

    Condolences on your loss. What a wonderful tribute; though the way you live your life is the best tribute you could give him. You’re a good man.

    It’s really hard, when the people we grow up looking up to start to leave us. It feels like the universe is becoming deconstructed. At some point, we become the ones holding up the world, and that is … unsettling.

  63. 63
    MazeDancer says:

    The men feel real and impressive just from your descriptions, John Cole. How wonderful that you have known 3 such remarkable people. And so sorry that one is no longer here in body. But if your words about him can be so moving, one can imagine that the impact and spirit of such a man will remain always.

    Many condolences.

  64. 64
    Batocchio says:

    Condolences. A great remembrance.

  65. 65
    Violet says:

    Condolences on your loss, John.

  66. 66
    LanceThruster says:


    Los Perditos (To the lost)

  67. 67
    Frivolous says:

    Condolences, John. Sorry for your loss.

  68. 68
    Mary says:

    What a beautiful tribute this is.

  69. 69
    Trixie Belden says:

    @Less Popular Tim: I don’t know – according to this post it sounds like the same guy and you were right the first time.

  70. 70
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Well said, Cole. So sorry for your loss.

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