Monday, June 13, 2011

TB's Friend Jeb

TigerBlog has a friend whose 70th birthday is today.

Sadly, TB will not be talking to that friend today, not after he passed away a little more than three years ago after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Three years later, TB still can remember the sound Jeb Stuart would make as he'd shuffle down the balcony with his cane, approaching the OAC. He can still see Jeb's face and hear Jeb's voice, and it hardly seems like three years have gone by since he didn't have to close his eyes to do so.

TB first met Jeb when TB was in the newspaper business and Jeb owned the local weekly paper, Town Topics. While TB doesn't exactly remember the exact time and place he met Jeb, he'd guess that it was in the press box at Palmer Stadium.

There are few people who spent more time in that press box through the years than Jeb Stuart. His father was the public address announcer for decades, and Jeb himself covered the Tigers for the newspaper and for the alumni weekly.

He was a Princeton kid who attended Princeton, and it wasn't until years later that TB learned that Jeb had actually graduated from Columbia, not Princeton.

Eventually, after his long career at the paper, Jeb retired, sort of.

In an effort to stay involved in Princeton Athletics, Jeb came to the OAC and volunteered to work here. No job, he said, would be too small.

And so Jeb spent the last 10 or so years of his life working in the back room of the OAC, in what is now a separate office on the other side of a wall that has since been put up.

Jeb would come in, sit back there and do things like string credentials or clip newspapers (back when clipping newspapers was something that the OAC did, or, for that matter, when having newspapers delivered was something that the OAC did). He researched requests, wrote historical stories for game programs, made copies of game notes, helped out at games.

Mostly, though, he talked to the people who worked here, people who were in some cases nearly 40 years his junior. He'd talk to them about his life, their lives, his experiences, their experiences. They'd talk about Princeton games, Princeton coaches, Princeton athletes - all current or past.

He'd laugh with the people who worked here. He was their friend.

And he only asked for two forms of compensation for his work. First, he wanted a parking pass for the athletics lot. Second, he wanted a email address.

He got both.

Jeb at one point walked with a lively gait, standing up straight and moving quickly. After radiation treatments for his cancer touched a nerve, though, he moved slowly, eventually walking with a severe limp and ultimately a cane.

Still, even as his physical ability slowed, he never did. He still came to work every day and loved every minute of it.

It would take Jeb about, oh 10 times longer than TB to walk from the parking lot to the building, but TB would wait for Jeb and walk at his pace.

Jeb stayed that way for years, until the cancer returned and spread. He tried experimental treatments, chemo, everything there was until it was too late.

TB visited him twice in the hospital before he left with the men's lacrosse team on a trip to Europe in June 2008. The first time, Jeb was talking about getting out, talking about the next football season, talking about the things Jeb talked about.

The second time, a few days, later, Jeb didn't even recognize TB, and it was then that TB knew the end was near. TB got word that Jeb had passed away while he was on the trip.

Jeb's memorial service brought a huge crowd to the Princeton chapel. One of his friends, while eulogizing "Jebbie," heard his cell phone ring and answered it, shocking the audience, who couldn't believe that someone would interrupt a eulogy to do so.

In a matter of seconds, it became obvious what had happened, as the eulogizer - whom TB didn't know - began to talk to Jeb, telling Jeb about the service and how it was going and all. It was a nice combination of humor and genuine affection.

In the three years since, TB has thought of Jeb often. Mostly, it's been at Princeton athletic events, and TB knows pretty much what Jeb would be thinking - and saying - about any given occasion.

TigerBlog knows that the shuffling sound of Jeb's foot, coupled with the cane, is gone from the balcony forever.

Still, he's hardly been forgotten. Today, on his 70th birthday, all of the memories of Jeb have come flooding back.

And, of course, there's TigerBlog itself, which began nearly three months after Jeb died. Jeb would have been an avid reader, and in all probability, would have been a regular contributor.

Jeb would have loved TigerBlog, just like TigerBlog loved Jeb.

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