The irony for me today is that Dann was my ballast in life, the guy I turned to for guidance on life’s most important occasions . . . and honoring the life of my best friend is one of those occasions . . . well, I could definitely use a few words of encouragement from him today . . . I am also mindful that, Dann would be the first one to point out, with that impish grin, where my stories had no point and my attempts at humor had crashed and burned.
However we knew Dann . . . we were all moved similarly by his sterling character, his dignity, his selflessness, his kindness, and, of course, his courage --- we also can’t help but smile when we think about Dann’s goofball sense of humor, a silliness that belied his seriousness.
I met Dann 22 years ago at college. We were roommates, fraternity brothers, and rugby teammates. Much of what I learned about Dann in those early days still forms the essence, as I know it, of who he was. I know Cris, Jerry, Rob, and Joe and the rest of the San Marino guys, who go back 30 plus years with Dann, would say the same about their boyhood buddy.
I think about the essence of Dann this way:
First, his love of family. An early memory was a Sunday morning in college, I awoke to Dann on the phone telling some poor soul all the sordid details of our weekend. When Dann hung-up, I asked which of the San Marino guys he was regaling with our stupidity. “My pops” Dann replied. I would come to learn what a remarkable friendship and bond Dann shared with his Dad – one that transcended father-son love. In one of the great honors a son can bestow upon his dad, Dann asked Mr. Angeloff to serve as his best man at his wedding.
And, Mrs. Angeloff . . . Dann knew full well who was responsible for his old world manners, respectful ways, and even nurturing tendencies – his mom. Her support and unconditional love meant the world to him. And Julie and Jenny . . . Dann’s eyes lit up when he talked about his sisters – he loved their spirit, their optimism, and their goodness. . . Dann not only loved his family, he revered them with an uncommon fidelity.
Dann’s family was a source of strength for him. And, there was no greater source of strength for Dann than Anne-Marie.
Like everything else in his life, Dann knew what he wanted – he described his bride well before he had met her – she was going to be “beautiful, a southerner, and someone dedicated to helping others”. Well, he overshot the mark, or as he put it, “I batted out of my league” and once remarked “JY, she’s way smarter than I am.” I won’t opine on this last part, but Dann had found his best friend and soulmate. Dann utterly adored and cherished Anne-Marie . . . you just needed to see the way he looked at her.
Anne-Marie, I admire you. Your strength, compassion, dignity, and wisdom have humbled us all. Dann deserved you, . . . and you, him.
It may be Dann’s humility that I most admired. I return to college and now rugby . . . Dann scored a lot of tries, many of these were spectacular, and many were solo efforts as he overran opposing defenses. But what I really marveled at was his routine after each try … he looked down to the ground, he moved quickly and deliberately to locate his kicking tee and prepared for his next duty – no hands raised in the air, no shouts, no fist-pumps. That was Dann.
This humility, ever-present in Dann’s many successes in life, was rooted, I believe, in a personal and very private spirituality that prized egolessness. . . . . .
Dann and I logged many long hours debating the merits of him leaving investment banking and joining the Marine Corps. While it seemed like a tough decision at the time, I think in the end it was easy . . . almost inevitable because Dann knew he would not be fulfilled until he was serving a cause much larger than his own and one that would test him like nothing else. As an outside observer, I would say the Marine values matched his own. And, thus, he looked upon his service so solemnly and as the pinnacle of his career. It also explains the profound respect he had for his fellow marines.
On a lighter side, his humility also manifested itself in an endearing self-deprecating humor . . . While we were all working hard in college to establish ourselves as rugged and even reckless guys, Dann would proudly announce that he was a huge fan of the sitcom Saved by the Bell – which I assure you did not play well with the New Hampshire fraternity demographic – or he would blast from his stereo Bryan Adams “Everything I do I do it for you”. In hindsight this was a guy who was so secure in who he was and so grounded in his own modesty. . . .
Third and finally, friendship,
-- for Dann friendship meant you are ALL-IN , this did not mean I call you on your birthday . . . . . mostly because Dann had no idea when my birthday was . . . Dann had such a keen understanding of the stuff that mattered and was intensely loyal and committed to his friends. If you were sweating something big, Dann sweated it with you. Dann had this remarkable way of conveying his support. Very subtly and genuinely your dilemma would become “OUR challenge … OUR options . . . OUR next steps” . . . I am not even sure he knew he was doing it, but you knew that your friend was right there with you as long as needed. . . . Then he would follow-up . . .”how’d it go? Where do WE stand.” Dann was no cheerleader either though – he would challenge you to go bigger, think through things more thoroughly or just plain call you out if you were off base. And, in my case, Dann could humble me in a heartbeat if I was feeling a little too good about myself.
And for a guy who was so focused, he always took the time to enjoy life and enjoy it with his many friends. He reveled in the big celebrations, reunions, and just catching up. He loved the big laugh, the prank, debating the mundane, . . .and his own brand of sophomoric humor that you fought hard not to laugh at, but you just couldn’t resist. It was strangely infectious.
Dann’s friendship was complete. He was a friend for every occasion.
As I think about Ragan, Mary-Kate, and Danny and how much Dann loved them and loved being a father, my mind turns to Dann’s legacy. His will be as much about HOW he lived his life as WHAT he accomplished . . . which is saying something for a guy who had monster successes and accomplished so much in his 41 years.
As immensely talented as Dann was, nothing came without effort – he had a steely determination, a stubbornness, and a surprising grit when it came to pursuing his goals.
And, everything he did was done to his lofty standard: the highest integrity and the purest ethics. Dann did it all the right way. And, all along, he remained humble, grounded, and so aware and respectful of everyone around him . . . especially, his family, his wife, and his kids. His legacy is THE HOW - how you lead your life, how you conduct yourself, how you win – all with HONOR. It is a legacy that inspires . . .
In closing, I offer an observation . . . one I know the women here will not find particularly insightful. And that is, Guys are not very good at expressing their feelings . . . . . especially to one another. Dann and I were no different . . . At the many mini-reunions and gatherings over the years, we would invariably finish up the night giving each other grief: Dann asking me what it is like to be the slowest guy on the rugby pitch. Me recounting the awkward social situations he had caused. . . . I think, in hindsight though, we might have been saying in our own clumsy way,
“You’re a great friend . . . I miss you . . . be well.”
But, we got better . . . maybe it was maturity, maybe it was the new agey 21st century, or, most likely, . . . life just got trickier. As Dann headed off to Iraq, we exchanged a “I love you like a brother” – which to a passerby could have been mistaken for a couple of bad coughs. But, we got more comfortable with this, and said it more frequently and certainly more intelligibly in the last couple of years. In my search for solace, I am grateful we did because I did love him like a brother and always will.