Last night, I lost one of only four people in the world who have been in my life since the day I was born. Tragically, my brother George passed away in our hometown of Walnut Creek, Calif. after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle on his way to a dentist appointment in Danville. He was only 55.
I’m in a state of shock and I’m sure I will be for some time. This type of unexpected death hits you like a sucker punch to the jaw.
George was the oldest sibling of four children – six years older than me. Because of the age difference, we weren’t especially close growing up but I certainly looked up to him in so many ways. Because he was the oldest, growing up was harder for him than for the rest of us. At least he told us that. I liked to tell him that he simply wore out our parents (or trained them) so that things were easier for Paul and I as we went through our teen years.
But as we both got older, we did begin to bond and forge a stronger relationship. George began to take his responsibility of “big brother” more seriously when I was in high school and made sure I didn’t make poor decisions. For example, once he found out that my friends and I had started partying and we asked him to buy us beer, he made sure it was Moosehead because, as he put it, “If you’re going to drink, I want to make sure you at least have classy beer.” Our mutual love of beer continued into my 20s as we discovered microbrews in Portland. George would go out with Paul and I and we downed our share of pitchers together. It was only later that he confessed that he had no idea how he was able to keep up with us.
But again as we grew older we grew closer with sports as well. George became a bigger 49er and Giants fan – and we began to go to games together. I have great memories of sitting with him and watching the 49ers demolish the Giants in a playoff game while I was in town visiting in 1993 – and also bringing his daughter (and my niece) Janelle to her first Giants baseball game (at the age of 2). When Renee and I lived in California we had many get-togethers with George and his family at their house – and in most cases there was usually a 49ers or Giants game on the TV.
Even though George was not as into football and baseball as I was when we were growing up, he was into NHL hockey, and was responsible for my first exposure to the sport. I remember going to a California Golden Seals game in the Oakland Coliseum with him and my Dad and the opponent was Montreal. Being a curious young sports fan, I had to ask him, “What is a Canadian?” I can still hear his laughter today. And it was that seed that was planted that helped lead to my love of the sport today. As a matter of fact, it was because of this hockey connection that I was so excited to share with him my experience of playing in a league for the first time. One of our last conversations was when I was driving to a hockey playoff game and I called him back after he had left me a message earlier in the week. I had to tell him about my first hockey goal – and he was clearly impressed (and proud). Even at 48, it felt good to have my big brother proud of me.
So how would I describe George? Well, like most of us, George was a pretty complex guy and difficult to nail down in only a few words. So I’ll use all the words that come to mind:
- Hard-working: While I like to think that all of us Kaufers have strong work ethics, George set the bar crazy high at a young age. As a teenager he spent Summers in Canada with our Grandpa and cousins building an outdoor market. He got a job at 15 to earn enough money to buy a car BEFORE he even had his license. As an aside, his early GTO Barracuda and other hot rod cars are still legendary among my friends. But I digress. George’s strong work ethic continued to this day. I have no idea how many 10+ hour days he’s worked over the past 5+ years in his role as construction manager for San Mateo School District. He has always taken his work responsibilities seriously and for that I always hugely respected him.
- Loyal – George was one of the most loyal friends or family members I’ve ever known. Those who knew and loved him all knew: if you needed him for anything, George would do whatever it took to help you out. When Renee and I were landscaping our yard in California, George loaned us his pickup to help haul away rocks. I didn’t know what half-ton meant until I told him I hauled 2 tons of rocks in a single load. He could have easily blown a gasket as I almost destroyed his truck but he calmly explained to me that “half ton” meant the maximum payload.
- Devoted: There is no doubt that the highlight of George’s life was being a father to Janelle and Megan. There was simply nothing he wouldn’t do for either of them if he felt it would somehow improve their lives or better prepare them for later stages in life. He simply cherished both of those girls and I know his absence will loom especially large in their lives moving forward. But I also know that I and the rest of their aunts and uncles will be there for them and will do our best to help fill that void as best we can.
- Passionate: When George decided to do something, he was into it 110 percent. It didn’t matter if it was cycling, wine-tasting/collecting, baseball cap collecting, sports memorabilia or his annual Christmas party: “Half-ass” never entered his vocabulary.
- Spiritual: George was a very devoted member of his church and I know he made many close friends through that association. He had a strong faith that helped him through difficult and challenging periods in his life.
- Organized: It didn’t matter if it was moving Mom from Portland to Pleasanton (or Pleasanton back up to Portland), George always took the lead in planning and arranging all of the key logistics.
- Loving: Even though George wasn’t always the best as talking about or showing his emotions, he let his actions show his true feelings. George had a deep love for his friends and all his family members. Nothing made him feel better than opening his home to others and encouraging all to enjoy the hospitality and company. And he made sure to check in on the most important women in his life: his mom and two daughters, with phone calls every week. I know those calls will be missed.
There are so many other things I feel like I could and should say about my brother now that he’s gone and I know I will think of many other things in the days, weeks and months ahead. He was responsible for so many “firsts” in my life: my first job (at a Big O Tire store), my first Indy-style race (at Sears Point Raceway, where I learned that people do drink beer at 8 am), my first wedding (he and Cathy) and my first opportunity to be an uncle to two adorable girls.
The days ahead will be filled with many more tears and sorrow as we mourn the loss of George in our lives. But I know there will also be opportunities for smiles and laughter as we collectively remember the fond memories and all that he brought into our world. At the end of the day I know that George would not like the attention and sorrow that will inevitably come – but its too difficult not to think of all that will be missed with him gone. We were planning a family reunion for this August that would have brought all of the four siblings together again to celebrate my Mom’s 80th birthday. The last such occasion was Thanksgiving 2013. Little did we know at that time that it’d be the last we’d all be together.
You just never know what life will bring – or when it will end.
I’m going to miss you big brother.
David Kaufer is a fun-loving Super Dad of 8-year-old twin sons, an insane Oregon Ducks fanatic (follow him on Twitter @DavidKaufer), advocate for green/sustainability and autism issues, and connoisseur of Northwest microbrews. He and his wife Renee moved to Edmonds in 2005 to raise their family (and enjoy the gorgeous views).