I’ve been traveling. While I was gone I received an email via this blog informing me that Preston Longino had passed. I am bereft.
Preston started as just “some guy.” A guy who became my friend. A guy who made the world a little better every day. You know, the ordinary guy that you don’t fully appreciate as extraordinary until he’s gone. I will miss you Preston.
We met when KPHO’s Catherine Anaya did a 3-part story about me and my fundraising efforts through the Rock N Roll marathon. Cath is an elite runner; I was doing the half marathon in my regular chair. The first segment of Catherine’s story ran on a Tuesday in November of 2009. Preston saw it and contacted Cath. Together, they plotted a gift; a racing wheelchair that they believed would make my marathon more enjoyable for me. But, in their research, they learned that I’d tried various racing chairs and never did adjust to them well.
Thus, I had an opportunity to meet this person who had wanted to remain an anonymous benefactor.
Preston still wanted to make a gift. I suggested that he donate a “club” chair to a local group but that didn’t speak to him. So, in the end, Preston asked if he could donate a light-weight crème de la crème wheelchair directly to me. And wow what a chair he gave me. A top-end chair I could never afford and insurance would never approve. I could not have been more surprised.
Preston and I met over coffee and started a friendship. For a long time, we talked daily, sometimes for hours; a mix of current events, daily life and political views. We could not have been more different. I think the things we shared in common were our devotion to our children, a cynical view of humanity and a willingness to argue.
Oh how he loved to talk about his daughter, Christie. His pride in her accomplishments, his devotion was ever-present in any conversation with Preston. She was the center of his universe. While she was away at school, I always knew when he had just talked to her or she was coming home; he was always more animated. Sometimes I felt as though I knew her too, just from his conversations.
Preston was at Mile 9, my toughest mile, that marathon year. He had made a HUGE sign to encourage me knowing that this was the mile I feared. I worried that mile could defeat me. Preston’s sign, his presence and his smile carried me straight up that hill. He was there to celebrate with me afterward.
Soon after, my custom-fit titanium chair with upgraded push rims and special seating was ready. He was there when I received it. Then he asked if I wanted him to go away. He didn’t want me to feel obligated to a friendship because of his generosity. Preston was never an obligation, he was a delight.
As time marched on, he dreamt aloud about one day being able to retire, leave the rat race and live full-time among his friends up north. He loved the snow and the quiet and the rural nature of the White Mountains. Then one day, he was able to follow that dream. He moved north permanently. We continued to talk almost daily by phone, hours and hours. His joy was contagious. He wanted to take pictures, learn to draw, tinker. I sent him a sketch pad and pencil set. We talked how “someday” I would come visit. The city mouse and the country mouse we would laugh. He would tease me about being too urban. I would tease back about the lack of lattes and paved pathways.
Simultaneously, we had health setbacks. He had heart issues. I have a spinal cord injury. We both struggled and fussed at each other. Our calls became sporadic. One day we squabbled as usual over something I can’t even remember but I’ll suppose it was politics. This time neither of us picked up the phone the next day.
Days stretched into weeks and then calling became a thing. I didn’t know how to pick the phone and just say hello. I was certain he never wanted to hear from me again. Months later I sent a very casual email but he didn’t respond. I let it go. Then, with phone changes and computer crashes, I lost his contact info.
But Preston would return to my thoughts from time-to-time when there was an interesting political turn of events or I would get out my sketch pad or when my very special wheelchair would make a difference, I would think of Preston.
Now he’s gone.
Why the hell did I not try harder to reconnect? There was always “someday” and now there isn’t.
Preston Longino was a hell of a man. He had a huge spirit and a love of history. He was ethical, generous and kind. He was smart and quick and sharp. I enjoyed every minute.
I am struck by the irony that his spiritual heart was strong in directly inverse portion to his physical heart. I pray his final days were spent in the place he loved with the people he loved.
I’m sorry Preston. I hope you forgave me. I will miss you my friend.
Rest well Preston Longino. You left quite a mark.