Archive for December 3rd, 2010

The Worst Call: Steph Hamner, a Great Man

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Today was hectic at work. Since I came back to work on Wednesday it was hard to get back into the flow of things. We had monthly data that was due today as well as the vacation coverage that started yesterday. I had all I could do to stay focused and plow through the piles of paper on my desk.

I had to stop at my buddy John’s store, so I figured I would make that my last stop before heading home. It was relatively slow in the store so we had time to catch up on things in between customers coming and going.

Around 4:35 I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I looked at it and was excited to see that it was my good friend Steph Hamner from Maine. I hadn’t spoke to him in a while so I couldn’t wait to bust his chops. When I said, “Hello” there was nothing but silence. I could hear a little background noise, but nothing more. I said hello again.

At that point I could hear a woman’s voice. She asked for me. After I responded she told me that she was Steph’s wife which I already knew because I knew the call was coming from his phone. I figured she was calling me to order a book for him for Christmas. Before she had a chance to speak I said, “I saw that it was Steph on my caller ID and I couldn’t wait to talk to him.”

She broke down at that point and I instantly felt a few tears trickle down my cheek. I was in a public place and I couldn’t hold them in. His wife went on to tell me that Steph had died of a heart attack. I was speechless and felt helpless all at once.

She was having a very rough time talking. I could feel every ounce of pain through her voice and it settled into my chest. She told me how much Steph talked about me and my dad. She went on to tell me how proud he was to be our friends and that he had shown her my website.

It was extremely hard for me to absorb. My mind exploded with thoughts after our brief conversation which lasted no more than a few minutes.

I can still remember to this day the very first time I met Steph. It was on a hot, humid day in Pine Hill, Rhode Island during the summer of 1995. It was the final leg (archery) of the IBO Northeast Triple Crown. I was in the top peer group and Steph was in the second group.

He was a big man and talked a lot of smack. He tried to intimidate people with his size and looks as well as his mouth. Since I’m rather passive I looked him up and down and smiled. He commented “I’m going to get you before this is over.”  I politely responded, “Give it your best shot.”

The tournament was one of the toughest ones that I had participated in up to that point. I held my own and gained a lot of points on the second place man, who was Al Lane from New Hampshire.  When the smoke cleared and everything came to a close, I took home third place overall in the Northeast Triple Crown, and Steph was right behind me. From that point forward, we had a mutual respect for each other, and our friendship blossomed.

Although he was a good 15 years older than me, he always treated me with respect. I introduced him to my dad and they hit it off immediately. We all became pretty tight over the next 5-7 years. We traveled all over together and routed each other on while pestering each other at the same time.

A few years after the incident I just wrote about, we were all at a big shoot in Fall River, Mass. At the end of the first day we decided to go out to dinner.  When we arrived at the restaurant we couldn’t find a parking place. Steph had volunteered to drive because he had a fully dressed van that would easily accommodate all of us. As my father rode in the passenger seat, he spotted and empty place near the back of the lot and pointed it out to Steph.

Steph said, “Charlie, there’s no way I’m parking that far away. Reach in the glove-box and grab that thing in there for me.” Dad said, “What thing?” Steph laughed and said, “You’ll see it.”

Dad pulled out a handicap sticker and said, “This thing?” Sure enough that’s what Steph was talking about. Dad started ribbing him about it. Steph told us he had a bad back and he used the sticker in situations where he wasn’t sure his back would hold out.

Dad laid the sticker on the dash and all eight of us piled out and headed for the restaurant door. From that day forward we never stopped busting on Steph about his bad back and handicap status.

Although that was only one event, there were many more just like it over the years. He used to always make things up, too. I could never tell if he was being serious or if he was joking. I’m pretty sure he should have been a professional poker player or a spy…….he was that good.

One thing he was never shy about was his family. We used to always jab him about his wife. We asked how she could ever put up with him. We were convinced that she must be a saint. One thing that he said repeatedly over the years was that he never deserved anyone as good as his wife. He said that he couldn’t even begin to understand how she was able to put up with him. It was blatantly obvious how thankful he was for her and his family. I loved him for that because many men would never tell you that and mean it as sincerely as he did. He was truly thankful for his wife, and he loved her with everything he had. I’m not sure if it was obvious to anyone else, but it was really obvious to us.

I’ve struggled with the news for most of the evening and I’m sure I will for some time to come. Although I didn’t see Steph very often, I considered him a good friend. I know that he would have done anything for me if I ever needed something.

Although the phone call this evening was horrible, it also made me realize something. I must have had some type of positive impact on his life as he has on mine. If I hadn’t, I don’t think his wife would have contacted me. I’ll be forever thankful that she reached out during a horrible time for her and her family just to contact me and tell me the news. In some crazy way, it made me feel really good inside and somewhat special.

He had a voice that I will hear for the rest of my life. He was as unique a man as they come. To be honest, I can’t remember when the last time I saw him was, but I know that he was a guy that crossed through my thoughts on a regular basis.

We played phone tag a few times over the last year. Unfortunately we never connected, which is why I was so happy when I saw his name on my caller ID today. I knew that I was finally going to be able to chat with him for a while. I knew that he would bring a smile to my face, and I would surely get a few laughs. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

Instead, I felt a lot of pain in the voice on the other end and it instantly entered into my body. We’re all going to the same place at some point in time, but it seems that some of us go way too early. Steph was a great man and had a lot to offer anyone who was willing to get to know him.

I still remember the summer I saw him four years ago. Everyone around me didn’t know what to say or how to handle things. I was in the bottom of the barrel from my divorce. Most people tried to walk lightly and give the normal “keep your chin up” comments. I appreciated all of them. The one who took the big step was Steph. I hadn’t seen him in a while. We were shooting a practice round before the IBO World Championship in Indiana. He put his arm around me and said “I know it sucks, but you have to take control and make the best of it now. You have a new start, and you can do anything you want to now. I know you’ll do ok because you have it inside of you.”

That was all he ever said about it, and it’s all he needed to say. He was a true friend, and he spoke his mind as he saw fit. I respected him for that and learned a lot from it.We never spoke about it again, and from there, I went on to write and publish my first book.

We meet a lot of people in our lives. Some of them are insignificant while others play very important roles. Steph had his own place in my life. He was a man that I knew would take me in, in the bat of an eyelash, if I ever came on rough times. He was a good man who stuck to his word. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life. If you respected him, he gave the same respect in return.

I’m not sure where my life will go from here, but he will always be a part of it. He made me a better archer by breathing down my neck in tournaments. He let me know and made no bones about it that I would have to bring my A-game to beat him. He made me want to win even more than before.

I even remember one day that he was driving his 18-wheeler through town. He stopped at the archery shop that I shot out of just to say hi. I respected that and realized that I had a true friend.

I’ll always hear his voice and see his smart-ass grin when he knew he got me with one of his tall tales. I always remember shaking his hand or trying to. He would hold his hand out and pull it away at the last second. He would always make up for it by sticking it out, grabbing a hold of my hand and pulling me close to him while patting me on the back with his other hand. He always said the same thing over and over, too, which always stuck with me and does more than ever tonight.  He always said, “I love ya man, I love ya” and he would end it with a hearty laugh.

Well Steph I wish this wasn’t the way I had to do it, but it will have to be ok until I see you at a later date on my journey. I love ya man. I really love ya.

You will never be forgotten. In my world, every day from here is one day closer to you, not a day further away. God bless and goodnight. I’ll see you down the road good buddy.

Steph\’s Obituary