By John Janoudi
WE ARABS HAVE a saying that describes a true and a very good friend as the brother that one’s mother did not deliver. This is how I feel about Gene.
I met Gene for the first time in early May 1992 when he was leading the BYU Study Abroad Theatre program in London. I wasn’t sure who he was when I first met him, as I had not been dealing with him directly, but I remember vividly him coming to me with a big smile telling me even before he knew my name how much he appreciates what my company does for his program. It did not take me long before I realised that this man was no ordinary client, that he was somehow special!
Gene and his family always stayed in the same building as the students, 123 Queen’s Gate, where our office also was. I worked and he lived in the same building, so I got to see him every day during the summer program. He never complained about anything, and whenever he had a request he always asked nicely. I could not say no to him.
One early memory is of his coming down to my office asking for a hammer. I was curious to know what he needed a hummer for. He said he had few chairs to fix. When I told him that this is the job of our maintenance man, he said, it’s a small thing and he can do it himself. I reminded him that he is paying for this service, but he insisted on doing it himself. From that day forward, every time I wanted to make him laugh I would tell him that I have few chairs that need fixing and how grateful I would be if he could do those for me in his spare time. He used to laugh and say he would be happy to do it—if I provided the hammer!
Our friendship grew stronger as we started having lunch together. He enjoyed Lebanese food and always wanted to know more about my home country of Lebanon, and he told me many times that he would like to visit and maybe start a program there. We talked politics and we talked religion. Despite the fact that we do not have the same religious or cultural backgrounds, somehow we always ended up agreeing on things. I don’t know how!
Gene tried for years to take me to the theatre, but I was always busy as I worked very long hours. I was embarrassed to keep saying no to him, so one day I said yes. He got two tickets for my wife and me to see Henry V at The Globe when it first opened. He made sure we had very good seats and kept checking that we were both enjoying the play. We really did enjoy it, and I think he knew which theatre and which play to take me to in order to help me like and share his passion for the theatre.
Gene was a great but a very humble guy, someone who you have huge respect for and at the same time feel he is your mate and you could tell him anything. A couple of weeks before he passed away, I managed to have a chat with him over the phone. Although he was not feeling well, he maintained his kindness and courtesy which he always had. I did tell him over the phone that I am expecting to see him in May in London. He used to answer by saying, “I am looking forward to that, and we are going to have a great program.” This time he said, “I don’t think so, my friend.” He seemed to know he was not going to make it, and unfortunately he did not.
Gene is no longer with us physically, but he is in our hearts. It would be extremely difficult to forget someone like Gene. He was not just a good friend, but when I got to know him, he really made me feel like I found a long-lost brother. A brother that I learned a lot of good things from. A brother that I respected, loved, and enjoyed a laugh with.
Gene loved London, and somehow I feel London loved Gene. I used to tell him that everything about him is English, even his surname, and he really should be living in London and enjoying its beauty, theatre, and culture all year round, not just six weeks during the summer. I think he liked that idea!
I miss you Gene. I wish you were still with us, but my faith taught me that “To God we belong and to him we shall return.” I know you are in better hands now.
I know that by continuing to work and help with the programs you started, I am helping in fulfilling your vision. I also know that my strong connection to your family, especially Charlotte and my dear friend Jane, will continue to make me feel you are in some way still here. They share your charm and kindness, but I’m afraid they don’t know how to fix chairs even though I am still providing the hammer!