A True Gentleman

Craig Stephen Sim

I really don’t remember when I met him, when I met them. I think it might have been at a party thrown by my neighbors at the time, because they were all close friends and I think he and his wife had just moved to Charlotte. I think that’s probably how we first connected.

They were curious to me, this lovely couple, settled here on the shores of the lake in their retirement, although that seems an inappropriate word, “retirement,” because I don’t think they ever sat still. They integrated their lives with this place in ways that were generous and meaningful. She and I served together on the Flynn board for a while, and the best meetings were when she sat beside me because she had a terrific and biting sense of humor.

The two of them were the most elegant couple I’ve ever seen. It was unusual to see one without the other, and so I often enjoyed the impact of seeing them, so handsome, he, so beautiful, she well-groomed and well-dressed, together. They set a standard in comportment that has fallen by the wayside in a world in which every day has become “Casual Friday”, and I loved it.

They were always put together, and they were always together.
I remember a day, fourteen years ago, when I ran into them at a local dress shop. She was trying on outfits for some special event and he was sitting on the couch in the small waiting area outside the dressing rooms, reading something, peacefully, quietly. No sign that he was in a hurry or bothered by his circumstances. He clearly enjoyed being with his wife, even in a dress shop in the middle of the week.

They were kind and funny. It was treasure they gave to the world, most likely without even knowing it, the ways they treated each other, their togetherness. How else would I remember a random dress shop encounter fourteen years later?

I knew he was sick; I had run into her at an event a few weeks ago and she conveyed as much. I knew it was somewhat dire, still I was shocked to hear of his death while I was sitting in the pew at church this past Sunday.
I experience death all the time. I have been to three funerals in the past two weeks, two of which I presided over. I have seen death from every imaginable angle, and yet, there are some deaths I’m just not ready for, and it often takes me by surprise, my sorrow and the dawning awareness of the impact someone had on my life once they are gone.

This man, this tall and handsome, dapper and charming person, lived a very important life. He did incredible things in the name of military service to this country and in business. He was, by all of societal standards, incredibly successful. He clearly had strong connections with his family and friends. To him, I was no one, just another person living in the same town.
And yet he never, ever treated me that way, as a no one. Whenever I ran into him, usually at the Brick, he took the time to speak with me, to ask me questions about my life and to share with me something of his. Our encounters were meaningful, however brief, always. Also, he had a terrific smile, the kind that lit up the space around him. He was the kind of person who brightened a day.

I think sometimes we wander through our days, and then suddenly our days have become years and then our time is almost up; 50 years or more have passed in the blink of an eye and we wonder where it all went. This gentleman taught me, by virtue of his existence, that every day matters, that you should leave the house looking great, that you should serve the community in which you live, that you should enjoy your days, that you should adore and respect your partner always, and that you should take the time to speak with your neighbors.

In other words, he modeled what it means to be a respectful, dignified, caring human being. And I suspect the reason why I am feeling so much sorrow at his dying is because men like him are a rapidly disappearing breed; it’s nearly impossible for me to conjure another example of such decent and honest humanity.

There is today an enormous hole here in Charlotte where he once stood as one of the most delightful, kind-hearted and honorable people I have had the good fortune to know. Thank you for this gift, Captain Craig Sim.