(Editor’s note: Bob had sent me the story of his friend. I found it moving and a remarkable tribute to someone I wished I had known. The world is filled with everyday “stars” that too few people read about, because they aren’t written about. I only wish that someday, someone will write something as lovely about me, as Bob did about his friend Jeff.)
By BOB VICKREY
Back home on summer vacation from college many decades ago, my friend Jeff and I were strolling through Gulfgate Mall when a couple of cute high school girls sidled up to us. They seemed rather captivated with my friend.
One of them shyly asked Jeff, “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Clint Eastwood?” She and her friend giggled like the teenagers they were, as Jeff responded, “I’ll take that as a compliment since Eastwood is one of my favorite movie stars.” He added, “Yes, several people have occasionally mentioned a slight resemblance.”
This seemed to satisfy the girls’ curiosity as they disappeared around the corner, all the while still giggling. I asked my friend if he was offended that they hadn’t asked for his autograph.
Every summer back then, Jeff and I killed time by hanging out in local Houston shopping malls that had begun to pop-up in every corner of the city. We would occasionally drive across town to visit Sharpstown Mall or Meyerland Plaza on the Westside, just to check out how the other half lived. (In later years, we realized the extent of our shopping spree during all those mall trips was likely nothing more than a chocolate malt.)
I lost my longtime friend Jeffrey Brant on May 2 after a lengthy illness that had severely impacted his lifestyle in recent years. He was 80. I received the news from his wife Meredith, after sending him an email earlier in the day with a link to Kris Kristofferson’s soulful “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” She began her message, “It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you…”
Jeff was a gregarious and charming guy with a quick wit, who possessed an intoxicating and self-deprecating sense of humor. His presence in a room usually drew an admiring crowd.
Jeff and I had enjoyed sharing our favorite music over the years, which came naturally for my pal who was a serious record collector for most of his life. He occasionally would quiz me about who the artist was and what year the song was released. I could never keep up with him. He made matters even worse by adding “1962, Decca Records—red label.”
Jeff’s school years were made more difficult after he lost his mother when he was only 15, and as the oldest of four siblings, he assumed much of the responsibility for the family. He often prepared modest meals for his younger brother and sisters—as well as for his dad who worked full-time to provide the income necessary to sustain his family.
When Jeff was serving in the army at Fort Hood in Central Texas and I was a student at nearby Baylor University, he often visited me while on leave. This always provided a great escape from his duties at the base, and he seemed to enjoy the social life on campus—especially meeting the beautiful coeds there.
During our summer vacations from school, we both enjoyed the frequent pickup football games at our old high school field in Galena Park. The scorching humid days of August were no deterrent for the boys of our town to engage in a game of touch football. Many of us gathered as if we were training for the first game of the season, even though few of us were actually members of any organized team.
Jeff was a terrific passer and was often the first player taken when we chose sides. He was right-handed but had taught himself to throw rollout passes with his left hand. Later in life, each of us would be embarrassed to admit how much time we had spent during those years throwing the football—sometimes just between the two of us.
Jeff also pitched for his high school and college baseball teams, and once got a tryout with scouts from the Houston Astros. (He later scoffed at the notion that he had been good enough to actually receive an offer from a major league club.)
After college years, we shared an apartment for awhile on Houston’s Westside until we went our separate ways after I met my new roommate—and future wife, Mollie. Jeff moved to Deer Park where he took a job with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. He stayed in the job that he dearly loved until his retirement.
Shortly after Mollie and I married, I casually mentioned to Jeff that with my new book publishing job, I needed a more elaborate desk for my workspace at home. He told me that he had an idea, and not to rush out and buy anything just yet. A couple of weeks later, we watched him pull into our driveway in his pickup truck that was loaded with a large object covered by a blanket.
When we met him outside to see what he had brought, he pulled away the blanket to reveal a beautiful roll-top desk which he had designed and built in his garage using his woodworking tools. To this day, I’m still astonished that any friend would go to these incredible lengths to offer such a remarkable gift. That desk survived many moves over the years and even made it to our new home in Southern California in the late 1970s.
Jeff made several trips to visit us there, and I often took him up the coast to Santa Barbara, or south to San Diego where we took in the sights.
My friend married later in life than some of us had and was rewarded for his patience by meeting a sweet, thoughtful woman named Meredith Tinsley. They enjoyed the last 23 years together, and he often let me know just how lucky he had been to have her in his life. He said Meredith was especially patient and caring during his illness in recent years.
As we have been forced to deal with the cumulative effect of the losses of dear friends, I received a poignant message about Jeff’s passing from one of our high school classmates, who eloquently summed up our dilemma.
“Oh Bob, I ache for you, and for my own losses these past few years, for all humanity. We seem to be at that age when those of our own generation, those who shaped us, who anchored us with their friendship, when all those lights that chased away the darkness, now begin to fade away and blink out…”
But now upon reflection, after receiving hundreds of tributes to my dear friend Jeff Brant in recent days, I’m firmly convinced there was plenty of his radiant light left behind for us that will continue to burn brightly for many years to come.
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns have appeared in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and was cited by the California Newspaper Publishing Association for column writing awards in 2016 and 2017. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.