On Monday last week, my house phone rang around 4pm. It was Johnny, who is a brother to me in my soul. He didn’t send a text to find out if I would pick up the phone. He didn’t schedule an appointment to visit. He just called, while standing on the sidewalk in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York, wearing a tuxedo.
“Ritchie Miller died,” he said. Shock flashed through my chest. I tried to speak over the knot in my throat. “No. It’s not true,” I said. “Ritchie can’t be gone.”
I met Ritchie at Deloitte; we were fast friends. We shared devout respect and admiration for Dolly Parton, Julia Sugarbaker, and Rose from The Golden Girls. Our roots were both nourished by Home Interiors ladies in the 1980s (we talked about writing a book about it!), and I was as committed to helping him become the first male member of the Junior League as he was to pioneering the organization’s membership.
In 2009, we produced an It Gets Better message at Deloitte, and I personally invited Ritchie to tell his story for the video. He was very nervous about the interview, and I promised him that if he didn’t want me to include his footage, I would remove it; no questions asked. In the end, Ritchie did tell his story to me in front of the camera, and he said it was a liberating, life-changing experience. I will always remember his courage, and the hug he wrapped me up in when the film stopped rolling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jTiwWPkr7A (Ritchie speaks at 5:45)
One year after my grandma died, Ritchie’s “Paw Paw” died. He was absolutely heartbroken, and rushed back home to the Deep South to celebrate Paw Paw’s life. The minute I found out, I called Ritchie (in the same way Johnny called me this week), and I got his voice mail. I told Ritchie that I knew how heavy his heart was because I had been in his shiny shoes. I told him I loved him and that I’d visit soon, so we could swap grandparent stories. He and I shared a closeness with our grandparents that is rare in this era, so part of our bond was Grandma Donna and Paw Paw. Ritchie has reflected to me a number of times over the past six years that he cherished my message and kept it all these years and listened to it periodically. Ritchie and me, and Grandma Donna and Paw Paw…
When I stayed at his home, we talked all night long like school girls. We swapped business and career advice, encouraged each other through difficulties, communed through our love of vegetables, and had plans for fun projects that would have lasted long into the future. We did a Deloitte IMPACT Day project together one year: we stuffed condoms in gift bags for the D.C. Pride Parade. Very colorful condoms.
Ritchie and I had dinner on 23 January this year at the Drafting Table in D.C. It was a cold, rainy night, and there were only about a half-dozen people in the restaurant. He had a burger (gave up being a vegan!), and I had mac & cheese. We talked and laughed and cried together, and my heart was full. I remember vividly, stepping out onto the sidewalk at 14th and Q Street after dinner. He hugged me tight, told me he loved me and that he cherished our friendship. “I love you, too, Ritchie. Thank you for always making time for me.” He turned east, and I went west into the rainy night.
Damn. I miss him.
I haven’t been on FB for more than about 5 minutes a week for the past several months. Last week, I posted a new profile picture, and I just got online to check in quickly. And you know what? Ritchie liked my new photo.
Say what needs said. Now. And if you don’t know where to start, be like Ritchie. Start with “I love you.”