November 6, 2008

bendoc Hearts have been heavy across Goodboys Nation these past two days at the news of the loss of one of the “Founding Fathers” of the Nation, Mike “Doc” Frechette (above right, with Ben “The Funny Guy” Andrusaitis), who passed away last week at the age of 60.

I first met The Doc (his nickname came from his being a Ph.D.) playing softball thirty years ago back in 1978 when a group of us acquainted with people from the old Lowell Star Market would play some of the University of Lowell – now UMass Lowell – faculty (he taught various Laboratory Sciences classes) and students down at the old South Campus fields. I guess we hit it off enough so that the next year, when I entered a softball team in the old Greater-Lowell Church League, he came along and stayed throughout my dozen years of managing the St. Anne’s softball team. The Doc was a Jerry Remy-esque banjo hitter who always hit for pretty good average and played all over the infield.

For the next 15+ years, The Doc and I were quite close – not best friends, but we hung out a lot together. He had divorced from his first wife in the late ’70s (something I don’t think he ever truly got over), and I saw him as a kind of pleasantly eccentric “renaissance man” with many interests that served to fill a lot of holes in his life. Besides being a popular college professor, he was a gourmet cook, could play songs on the piano by ear, did a lot of his own plumbing and carpentry, could sail a Sunfish with ease in a stiff wind, and loved to garden, golf, and cross-country ski. With his scientific mind, electronics interested him to no end: he was always picking up the latest electronic gadgets (the large satellite dish in his back yard being just one example), and was a computer geek from the Commodore 64 days; he would later use his computer to author a couple of college textbooks still in use today.

Given that he was seven years older and whole lot more worldly than I was, it was natural that in our relationship The Doc would always take the lead. He loved Mexican food, so I just had to be introduced to it – something I’ll always be grateful to him for. He needed someone to sail with, so he convinced me to buy a small sail boat of my own. He needed someone to go cross-country skiing with, so I bought cross-country skis. He wanted someone he could golf with, so I took up the game. The Doc loved to drive (he and his black Lab Cecil would travel all over northern New England just for the heck of it), and during the early-to-mid ’90s, we’d play golf on Fridays all over New Hampshire in the most out of the way places, then stop for Mexican food on the way back. Those were good days.

In 1991, The Doc was one of eight lads who, one August weekend, began the tradition of a golf weekend that ultimately led to “the Goodboys” and what we now call eighteen years later “Goodboys Nation”. The Doc was a two-time Goodboys champ; as a golfer he was always battling a fierce tendency to hook, and was renowned for his uncanny ability to either find balls he had driven into the woods with a perfect angle for getting out of trouble and the generous drops he would give himself (30-40 yards at times!) when his balls were truly lost.

No matter how many hobbies or interests Mike involved himself in, however, there were still a lot of hours in his life spent alone. And somewhere along the way – I think it was in the early ’90s, might have been earlier – the darkness began to close in. It was unnoticeable to me, but I began to hear from the friends we shared that those few beers or margaritas he would have socially with us was turning into something altogether different and sinister when he was immersed in the quiet loneliness of his house. I remember being shockied when his girlfriend at the time called me to say there had been “an episode”, and that he was drying out in a Manchester detox. I remember visiting him there one day and being shocked at what an alcoholic truly looked like; it wasn’t The Doc I had known.

After that episode, our relationship changed somewhat; while we remained good friends, there was a new sense of distance between us. The Doc seemed to come out of it a little older and a little more withdrawn, but with a harder edge. He dropped out of the Goodboys circle with the excuse that he needed to be sober, but I saw it as an excuse to withdraw further into himself. My new commitment to Christ and return to the Church widened that distance a bit more, and the close bond we had once shared began to loosen. By the time of my move to Kentucky in ’98, he was becoming a bit more erratic in his personal life choices, dating and ultimately marrying a girl far younger (and far more unstable) than he was; when their relationship fell apart shortly afterwards, he was truly crushed.

Upon my return to Massachusetts in 2002, I tried re-kindling our friendship, but as much as I had changed, Mike had changed even more. The darkness that surrounded him by then was truly noticeable – I could feel it from a distance – and I felt as if I was talking to a stranger masquerading a deep sadness, remorse, and loneliness. We only saw each other twice in the year and a half prior to my move to Arizona. The last time I spoke to him was on a Christmas morning two years ago when he called me clear out of the blue. I could tell he had been drinking, and our conversation was just brief pleasantries: there’s not a whole lot you can say to someone you no longer really know after the toll of so many years and so many demons.

So hearing of Mike’s death on Tuesday was not that surprising; I had known from our Goodboys friend Jay “Crusher” Spielberg that he had been in quite bad shape, to the point where he was being cared for by his elderly mother. What was surprising was hearing of it from one of his former students who had been a friend and classmate of my wife’s, and someone we hadn’t heard from in years. (Note: I should mention here that it was all due to The Doc that I met and married Tracey. We met at one of the Christmas break parties he’d throw for his students, and he was best man at our wedding.) Mike was always one of the most popular faculty members at UMass-Lowell, and his death came as a shock to her, just as I’m sure it did to all those who remembered him fondly from years past.

What I’ll remember most about The Doc are those Christmas Eve afternoons of the ’80s and early ’90s, where, having completed all the hectic last-minute shopping and rushing around, we would meet at his friend Jack’s house in Pelham for a glass or two of cheer – often, Jack’s homemade rhubarb wine. There, as the cold December afternoon faded to dusk, situated in comfy chairs amidst blinking Christmas lights and soft holiday music, we’d recap the year soon to be past, and I’d sit there and listen to them bitch about university politics or the latest town gossip. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to warmer and brighter days to come: of the seed catalogs that would soon be arriving by mail, Jack’s plans for planting his “lower forty”, and, of course, the promise of another softball season or golf year around the corner.

I thought about those times yesterday as I lit a candle in his memory. Alcoholism – brutal, hard-core alcoholism – is a ghastly disease, incredibly hard to break free of once it gets its demonic hands grasped around your throat. And I prayed that God would grant Mike the serenity and the peace in death he was never really able to find in his life.

Rest in peace, Doc.

Filed in: Goodboys by The Great White Shank at 23:35 | Comments (11)
  1. Such a bittersweet rememberance of a dear friend. I am glad he was instrumental in you and Tracey meeting. If that hadn’t happened I’d have never had the chance to be your friend. Blessings to Mike and may his heart be now peaceful.

    Comment by Jana — November 7, 2008 @ 6:13 am

  2. What a wonderful tribute to someone who meant so much to you and Tracey. Despite the fact that your friendship had more or less fallen apart, it’s very obvious that this man truly influenced your life and he contributed so much to who you are today – a truly caring, loving person who values friendship.

    Comment by Auntie Marge — November 7, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  3. it saddens me to hear of doc’s passing.i”ll choose to remember the fun guy with the quick wit who treated me like one of the guys when i was just a sixteen yearold playing ball out of my league.All you guys taught me alot,but Mike really seemed to enjoy helping the “kid”.I”ll say a prayer for the doc and have a toast in his honor.

    Comment by gregg — November 7, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

  4. Very nice, GWS. Sorry to hear about your friend.

    Comment by Rob — November 8, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  5. Sorry to hear the sad news. He was a great guy, always had some laughs
    when he golfed with us.

    Comment by Cubby — November 9, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

  6. Welcome to the ‘Nation cousin Gregg! Stop by and say hi once in a while!

    Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. The funny thing is, the day I heard about The Doc’s passing I got an e-mail from one of customers saying he would be out for a few days as his wife had just given birth to their first child. And so it goes…

    Comment by The Great White Shank — November 9, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  7. […] found out from my friend Jack today that he has The Doc’s ashes and plans to scatter them in a big open field in Gray, Maine when he travels up there to spend […]

    Pingback by Chilly Night | GoodBoys Nation — November 12, 2008 @ 12:11 am

  8. […] investments and retirement funds take a major hit, or lost loved ones. For yours truly, the loss of an old and distant friend still hangs in the […]

    Pingback by Ring Out The Old, Ring In The New | GoodBoys Nation — December 31, 2008 @ 1:07 am

  9. […] this and this and this, there’s a stench of death haunting this […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Wednesday Wanderings — June 10, 2009 @ 11:41 pm

  10. […] few years later, I found a Mexican food soulmate in my old friend Mike “Doc” Frechette. The Doc seemed to know or be able to locate every Mexican restaurant in New Hampshire, and we […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Mexican Food — November 1, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

  11. […] trading in my old Dynacraft starter set made for me by a mate of my old and departed friend, Mike “Doc” Frechette, one of the Founding Fathers of Goodboys Nation. I had used the Dynacrafts for a couple of years […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » End Of An Era — July 27, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

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