Monday, July 28, 2008

Pete Foster (1963-2008) Rest in Peace

My partner, Pete Foster, who passed away on July 8, 2008, left us very suddenly and without warning.  What follows is a copy of what I said at Pete's memorial.

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our heart and we are never, ever the same."

I came across this quote written on a scrap of paper while I was going through the desk of a co-worker who had passed away suddenly of a heart attack. In order to tell you something about my partner, Pete, I have to tell you about my co-worker.

His name was Bob Streeter, and when Pete and I enrolled in Bryan Career College's travel program, Bob was one of our teachers. Specifically, he was in charge of teaching us the sales end of being a travel agent. Pete, whose step-father had been a used car salesman, told Bob on the first day of his class, "You have nothing to teach me."

But as the class went on, Pete found that Bob did, indeed, have something he wanted to learn. From him, Pete learned how to present himself as a professional and to raise "selling" to something respectable by filling the client's needs instead of just filling a sales quota.

This was a new concept! And Pete, after he left that school, became a very good travel agent. Luckily, I was hired by the school and Bob became a friend of ours.

The post-script to the story is this: When Bob unexpectedly died, I came home to tell Pete about it. He was so upset that he slammed his fist into our refrigerator, leaving a huge dent. More importantly, he broke his hand. I had to rush him to the emergency room all the while keeping him talking so he wouldn't pass out. He spent 3 weeks in a cast, which made it hard to type in reservations!

Pete, you see, cared deeply for his friends and family. And he wasn't above adding someone to his "friends" list that he originally felt "had nothing to teach him." In fact he often adopted people he cared about, calling them part of his “family of choice.”

Pete respected good teachers a great deal. A funny thing to say, perhaps, about someone that punched a history teacher in the face. We later ran into this teacher at the Kansas City Free Clinic, working in the office. Pete struck up a conversation with him and they laughed about the incident.

You see, our Pete didn't know a stranger. To him, all the world was filled with potential friends. He just hadn't met them yet. And when he liked you, he watched out for you.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, he took it upon himself to ask me for the number every time I took a blood sugar reading. When it was too high, he'd look disapprovingly at me and wag his finger. Because of that, I stayed on my diet.

That same level of caring also caused him to take the loss of a loved one very hard. When, in 1999, we lost both his mother, Pat, his brother Michael, and my own mother, Pete struggled to deal with the loss. No doubt he is happy to be with them now.

Pete loved to cut up and have fun. He was a good mimic, and loved to tell funny stories and jokes. His favorite practical joke was the "bink." To bink someone, you find a moment when they're not looking or don't see you coming and you tap them between the eyes, at the same time yelling, "BINK!" Try it sometime. The victim's eyes will go cross-eyed and it looks really funny. The few times I was able to do it back to him, it really confused him, which was the funniest thing I've ever seen.

More than anything, I'll miss cooking with Pete. He made the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. Food was an important part of his life. Just as he didn't know a stranger, he also would never turn you away if you showed up at his door hungry. And if you left his table still hungry, he'd by God know the reason why!

When the Food Network came on the air, he was in cooking heaven. He loved to watch Emeril Lagasse and we often cooked together, trying new things. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they were "interesting." That's what he called anything that didn't taste right or was too tough or burned or salty. I will miss cooking with him. When we were in sync, it was almost a ballet. It had to be in some of the kitchens we had!

When we went truck driving over-the-road, he could never pass a claw machine without trying to get me a toy. He was so successful that I have several boxes and a trash bag full of stuffed animals. And although he always said that he didn't like kids, when a child who had spent several dollars trying to get a toy watched him get not 1, not 2, but 3 toys out of a machine, he handed one to the kid. He told me if I told anyone he'd deny it.

Of all the things he had done in his life, he was the proudest of his involvement with Kansas City's AIDS service organization, the Good Samaritan Project, in the early days of the AIDS crisis. When he worked with them, he had not been diagnosed with AIDS. But having been trained as an emergency med tech, and with a mother who was a nurse at Trinity Hospital, he recognized the need for people with AIDS to get help.

Later, when he got his own HIV diagnosis, he always tried not to use the services of GSP, preferring to leave their resources free to help someone that might be more deserving.

Music was another big part of Pete's life. He was never prouder than the day his mother asked him to give her away and to sing at her wedding. When he sang, there wasn't a dry eye in the place, including his own. Pat's wedding was one of the happiest days of his life.

And I knew that I'd found the right guy when this big, tough truck driver revealed that he loved Disney's "The Jungle Book." He was especially fond of Louis Prima & Phil Harris' song, "I Wanna Be Like You," that had a lot of scat singing. He also loved "The Music Man," especially the barbershop harmonies of The Buffalo Bills and Robert Preston's slick-talking salesmanship in "Ya Got Trouble." He knew every word of all those songs and loved to sing along.

During the 80's he worked as a limousine driver and bodyguard and was blessed to carry Shirley Jones in his limo. He was awestruck. He told me that she was just a beautiful then as in "The Music Man," and that she was very kind. So, he said, was Roy Clark, who gave him a large tip.

However, he noted that, with the exception of Hulk Hogan, most of the professional wrestlers were pigs and that the singer Tom Jones obviously stuffed a sock in his pants, not to mention he stiffed him for a tip.

But his favorite story was from the time when he drove for Dom Deluise. Deluise was so large a man that the first limo Pete brought to pick him up at KCI didn't have a large enough doorway and he had to call for a different car. But even funnier, at the end of the evening when he dropped off the entertainer for his flight at the airport, Deluise, noting that Airport Security was close by, opened the door and then called back over his shoulder, "Thanks again for the cocaine, man. It was awesome." Pete was mortified and amused at the same time.

These are the footprints that Pete left on my heart He was a wonderful partner, friend, and companion. He took care of anyone he could, fed anyone he could, and loved to laugh. And when I remember him, it won't be with tears, but with one of his recipes, one of his songs, or one of his funny stories. And with footprints like these, how could I ever be the same without him?