Feb 122013

My old friend Jeff Rybak died suddenly on Sunday.  He was 47 years old.  He leaves behind Amy, his wife of 23 years, and their three children (Nick, 20; Erica, 17; and Ian, 9).

You know what?  Jeff leaves behind everyone who ever interacted with him.  He was a special guy, with equal parts strength and grace.  He had a sense of humor that would lead him to do things like have a serious conversation with you and have you nodding, then end it with something absolutely ridiculous (but without changing his facial expression or tone of voice).  He’d enjoy you sitting there trying to process what he’d said, then let you off the hook with his big, big smile.

rybakI don’t know the story of the above photograph, but I don’t have to.  It’s Jeff bringing joy to the mundane.

Jeff and I worked as writers and trainers together at Intergraph, somewhere between several and many years ago.  By the time we crossed paths, we were the entire department.  Our boss trusted us to take care of business, so pretty much, working with Jeff felt a lot like hanging out.  With many common interests and similar values, we were fast friends.  He was a Renaissance man, who kept a reasonable humility about himself despite excelling at everything he ever tried (and it’s a long, impressive list).

He was the only true jock and true academic I’ve ever known.  We could move from poetry, to college football, to cars, to string theory in the space of ten minutes, all against a backdrop of Jerky Boys and cold beer.  One year a few days before Christmas, it was unseasonably mild, and we were caught up through the first of the year.  So we sat under the Intergraph flagpole and laughed our way through a six-pack of Molson Golden for lunch.  I still think of that day, and him, occasionally when I drive by the spot on I-565.  It was one of those moments in time that wound up defining that chunk of my life to some significant degree.

Jeff and his family had moved back to Bowling Green, Ohio several years ago, so our relationship had been one largely of correspondence as of late.  Still, he splashed with enough vigor in my life, and we bonded to enough of a degree, that I never know quite when he’s going to pop into my head.  You get connected with someone with private jokes, shared experiences, and so forth, and that happens.  You know what I mean.

We had a lot of laughs, but we had a lot of serious discussion too.  Jeff took his responsibilities as a husband, a father, a professional, and a good neighbor seriously.  I’m heartbroken for Amy, Nick, Erica, and Ian.  They have lost a giant.  I will hold them up in prayer indefinitely.  I cry for his parents.  I cry for his friends.  I cry for anyone privileged enough to have spent time with him.

I will miss you big-time, man.  You were one of a kind.  Godspeed, my friend.

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 Posted by at 5:45 pm

  13 Responses to “Godspeed, Jeff”

  1. Lovely entry, Bo. I’m so sad about Jeff. Even though it’s been years since I’ve seen him and Amy, I have such warm memories of them from my Huntsville days. It’s just heartbreaking he died so young. Beautiful man in so many ways.

  2. Thank you, Shelly. I agree. It wounds the world that he’s gone.

  3. Bo – your reflection was lovely and made me tear. Then I read about the Molson lunch and laugh. The world lost a wonderful individual. You nailed the true jock and true academic – the perfect description. Everyone who had the pleasure to meet Jeff liked him, and there’s not another individual in this world that I can say that about.

  4. Thank you, a friend, and good observation. I agree, and I don’t know that I can say that about anyone else in the world either.

  5. Fantastic posting. I was one of Jeff’s good buddies here in Bowling Green. Your words capture the EXACT man that he was. Your reflection could have been a word-for-word transcript of the conversation that Jeff’s buddies here in BG had last night over several beers – including a couple Molsons. He was one-of-a-kind.

  6. Matt, thank you. I’m so glad to hear I got it right in the ears of his current crowd!

  7. So sorry for your loss, Bo. He was so young. Was it sudden or expected?

  8. Marianne, thank you. It was definitely unexpected. He had a heart attack playing hockey. Jeff took excellent care of himself, and he’s the last person in the world you’d expect such to happen to.

  9. Bo – so well written!! It has been many years since I have seen Jeff. Since college days, but the hole in my heart will remain for years to come. He was a true renaissance man!! One in a million!!

  10. Thank you, Ann. And I know just what you mean about the hole in your heart. It’s a hole in the world. Beyond your personal affection for him, he’s the sort of person you’re glad’s out there.

  11. Bo, I’m fortunate to be able to communicate with a good friend of Jeff’s. However, first, are you able to tell me what is Alabama’s position on illegal immigrants? Second, is it true that in 2011, I believe, Alabama left a potentially lucrative fruit crop go unpicked because there was no one interested in doing that work? If seasonal workers were not permitted to pick the crop and, if no one wanted to do the work, then something is wrong with the law. Finally, why are we giving unemployment checks to so many people? I am left leaning, in my 70’s, practicing Roman Catholic who detests abortion, but tries to see the “bigger picture”; I find the hierarchy of the Catholic Church out of touch with the times. I am not opposed to same-sex marriage because a lot of heterosexuals have done a lot of damage to the sacrament of marriage. I don’t know what Jesus would have said about my leanings, but do believe he would have been kind to different groups of people. Thank you for taking the time to read and ponder my questions. Appreciatively, Biff Geiss, DePauw University, ’62, Purdue University, ’71.

  12. Biff, good to hear from you, and I’m glad to “meet” you of sorts. Jeff was an awesome guy. If I may quote your original comment:

    “In the 1980’s I taught Jeff Rybak a little about Spanish and pitching a baseball. Truly, one of Valparaiso’s brightest stars both in the classroom and one the ball field. Your comments about Jeff were very good.”

    On your other points:

    Alabama’s position on illegal immigrants is pretty strict—stricter than Arizona’s, if I recall. I don’t know anything about the fruit crop you’re talking about. I’m sorry. I do think that all reasonable definitions of “country” depend on secure borders.

    I have a very highly qualified pro-choice position. I think the central inarguable tenet largely missing from the national discussion is that abortion is sad. I think a person, of any position, who doesn’t acknowledge that lacks realistic and practical admission to the discussion. (I have a post on this coming soon, which is notable, because I never post about abortion.)

    I am thoroughly fine with and supportive of same-sex marriage, and have been for decades. For one thing, as you said, it’s not like us heterosexuals have been such fine stewards of the institution. For another, Jesus had a lot to say about a great many things, but he had not a single word to say about homosexuality. I tend toward the view that Jesus talked about what was important to Him. Nearly all of it has to do with loving, helping, and serving.

  13. […] of Jeff and Amy’s friends have organized Bowling for the Rybaks, an event to help their children Nick, […]

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