Gary Burlingame was my friend, my very good friend. We became friends in 2009 when he saw fit to send me a friend request on Facebook. I don’t know what inspired him to do so, but am ever so happy he did. I accepted his friend request and with a little trepidation texted “hi there” to him on Facebook chat. I was not sure he would respond, but he did and from that moment on we were in contact regularly. We became such good friends because we had so much to talk about and found we could confide in one another. Gary was a kind, generous and thoughtful man and a loving husband and father. His work ethic and love of life were second to none. His lengthy battle with multiple myeloma and emphysema involved ongoing treatments and the discomfort they caused him. He took it in stride; it did not stop him from putting in the hours on his job, being the loving husband to Marilyn and father to their son Gene.
I enjoyed hearing his anecdotes about work (he worked from home) and his life with Marilyn and Gene. Among other things, Gary enjoyed attending the hockey and baseball games featuring the minor league teams in Bellingham with Marilyn. Gene played hockey as a boy. He was a goalie. Gary told me about the good times he had going to Gene’s hockey games and tournaments. Gary enjoyed folk dancing with a group of people in a club. I remember him telling me he once took Gene as a baby to the folk dancing club and danced with Gene in his arms. I asked him with tongue planted firmly in cheek if this made Gene spit up on him. He assured me this did not happen.
Gary and I shared a love of the outdoors. He had a passion for hiking and viewing wildlife and regaled me with tales and photographs of his time spent in the parks and trails in and around Bellingham. I must admit I experienced the slightest twinge of envy when he told me about walking along the seashore. I live in Ottawa, Canada a long way from the seaside. I hoped someday to see the Pacific Ocean so imagine my delight when Gary extended me an invitation to come visit. I happily accepted his invitation and made the trip in August 2012. I remember promising Gary that when I arrived at Vancouver International Airport and spotted him in the terminal I would give him a bear hug. Gary was a little concerned. What would people think. I told him I could not care less what anyone thought and kept my promise giving him a bear hug in the middle of the terminal.
Gary and Marilyn, my gracious host and hostess, and their son Gene welcomed me into their home. Gary had a full and exciting itinerary prepared for me. We hit the ground running. The day I arrived and after I settled in, we went to the stable where he volunteered. The stable offers horseback riding as therapy for children with autism. Volunteering at the stable was a manifestation of Gary’s kindness and generosity. Before I returned home Gary and Marilyn took me touring in Bellingham, hiking in the forests surrounding Bellingham and for a walk along the seashore at low tide. We went shopping and I found some great books at an antiquarian book shop. I went to the folk dancing club with Gary and enjoyed watching the various dance steps. Gary and Marilyn’s guest room has a number of book shelves with an interesting collection volumes. I am a librarian, so browsing their library collection kept me occupied well into the night after we all retired for the evening. I am so happy we had this time together.
Gary and I continued our friendship over Facebook, chatting almost daily in the years following my visit. Toward the end of his life I knew his condition had worsened, but remained hopeful he would rebound and beat back the cancer once more. The last time we chatted was two days before his death. I was performing in a play and he congratulated me on its success. I wished him good health. Gary left us the way he lived: a kind and thoughtful man. Together with Marilyn, Gene and the rest of his extended family, Gary leaves behind many friends who knew and loved him as I do. While I miss him terribly, I find solace that Gary lives on in the memories I keep of our friendship and the time we had together. Gary was a good and decent man and I have no doubt he left us looking back with satisfaction on a life well lived. May he rest in peace.