What does that word mean?
Not soon after Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Sarah, Payton, and Ara were killed in a catastrophic helicopter crash, I got word from a good friend that a math colleague was clinging to life. That man, John Berray, passed away soon after. Friend.
For those of you who knew John, he interacted with you as if your story was more important than his. He inquired about you, wanted to learn more about you, and applauded you for the work that you were doing or the stance that you were taking. He took a walk with you from the Washington, DC convention center to Nationals Park (yeah, it's only a 2.4 mile walk, and the things you can talk about in that time are priceless!). He was a great presenter, yet he always wanted to get your perspective on how he could be better, making it seem like you had something to offer him. He was your biggest cheerleader, supporting you in the risks that you were taking and only offering advice when it was called upon; always giving that extra nudge to do something exceptional. He never published a book (even with having a friend who is a very successful publisher), yet was always interested in yours, excited about its prospects and how it would resonate with people in different areas. Come to think of it, he was who you needed at the time you talked to him, no matter what that was; what a gift to have.
It all makes sense now. Friend.
John Berray wasn't the first guy I would call when I was having a bad day, yet he would be the first guy to greet me at a networking meeting, a conference, or a local gathering with a big smile, arms extended, and a genuine embrace. He would lead a conversation with an insistence on hearing how life was going for me, never putting himself first. And whoa, when you ask about his family, his entire face lit up with pride and joy.
When John entered a room, he made the room better. Not only in the sense of warmth and genuine care, but also in intelligence and wisdom. He would question why things were done out of sincere curiosity, using his cool-yet-calm San Diego cadence to relax the conversation to the point where anyone involved felt like it was a good place to share and be heard.
Over the years, the term friend has evolved for me. John was, is, and always be a friend of mine who inspires me to be a better person, educator, husband, and father.
If this makes its way to the Berray family, I would hope that you would be affirmed that the man you lent us from time to time had an immeasurable and lasting impact on so many people, and will continue to do so. Thank you.
With that said, I will raise a toast with a Bottle Of Dreams for John and do what I can to carry on the amazing work he has done for our world.