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Three long-ago friends recalled in a journey down the trail of memories

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The trail of memories inexorably leads back to the days of youth, and occasionally it's worth the journey. That's how I began a Flynn's Harp a decade ago when "the journey" brought the judge, the attorney and the journalist to a reunion, then 50 years on since the three of us first met in the dressing rooms beneath old Marquette University stadium. And 47 years since we had last seen each other.

After our days together that September of 2008, I was sorry the reunion hadn't happened years earlier. But perhaps it took the wisdom of age to develop a perspective on the importance of long-ago relationships.

That thought hit home hard three years later when I learned from McDermott that Evans had died after a brief respiratory illness.

So the fact that 10 more years have passed and it's now 60 years on since that first meeting at Marquette Stadium and that three friends have become two has set me to remember, as happens when anniversaries provide additional distance along that trail of memories

From the September day in 1958, when two kids from the Milwaukee area and one from Spokane met as freshmen members of the Marquette track and field team, until early 1961, Terry Evans, Dick McDermott and I were inseparable friends.

Marquette dropped football and track after the 1960 season so I returned home to Spokane to finish college at Gonzaga University while Evans and McDermott graduated from Marquette, then moved on to law school (Evans at Marquette, McDermott at Fordham).

The idea for a reunion in 2008 of three one-time friends who hadn't seen each other for almost 50 years required a certain leap of faith that the trail of memories hadn't been overgrown by the passing of nearly five decades.

Dick, who went on to a law career with a prominent New York firm, and I had spoken once when he called me in Seattle in late 1965 to tell me of the birth of his first son.

And Terry and I spoke once when I called him in 1988 to ask if my son, Michael, could stay with him on a college-look-see visit to Marquette. By then he was a U.S. District judge, named to the position in 1979 at the age of 39 as one of the youngest appointees ever to the US. District Court. "We'll be on a trip at that time but he can certainly stay at our house...I'll leave a key," Evans said, an offer that Michael quickly rejected.

I always thought that someday we'd get back together for a visit. Then it hit me that summer day in 2008 as I began to think about that 50-years-ago first meeting, that "someday" is okay when you're young, but "now" is a better course when you're no longer young.

It was no real problem locating McDermott on the New York bar association roster. Evans as a judge was even easier. An initial e-mail in McDermott's case, a telephone call in Evans' made it clear we were all on the same page about a reunion.

McDermott had retired from his law firm, after helping negotiate a merger with a London firm that resulted in the creation of the world's largest law firm at the time.

Evans had become a judge of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court, appointed in 1995 by President Clinton at the recommendation of Wisconsin's Republican governor and its two Democratic U.S. Senators.

The three of us agreed that it was essential we bring our spouses along to Milwaukee to make conversation about children and grandchildren and families flow easier, and for them to get to know each other as part of our reunion.

The close relationship that developed long ago between Evans and me sprang from things like the fact that, in track, I passed the baton to him in the mile relay and the relay team's performance depended on both of us, and we on each other.

But it was also characterized by such memorable times as when Evans, having learned that I was taking Ancient Greek and thus knew the Greek alphabet, insisted that I teach it to him so he might impress his date the coming weekend.

We must have made an interesting pair to any who overheard as we walked across the campus that day with he reciting, and my correcting where necessary, "alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta (etc.)."
  
Evans, who grew up with his single mom in an upper flat in a modest Milwaukee neighborhood and once told an interviewer "I didn't even know there were houses where the bedrooms and the kitchen were on different floors," conducted himself on the bench in a manner that said he always recalled his roots.

He once loaned his own clothes to a defendant so the man wasn't wearing a prison uniform in court. And when a traveling carnival worker was found to have a rigged game, the penalty included the donation of 144 teddy bears to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
  
And when asked if he was a good judge, Evans replied: "That's a lot like asking if I'm a good kisser. Without having been on the receiving end, I don't really know for sure."

McDermott and I have stayed as close over the last 10 years as email and cell phones permit for a cross-country friendship, though the conversations now turn on important current issues like the rebirth of the Big East conference as a largely Jesuit-school alignment and whether Gonzaga basketball ought to be a part of it. As a Marquette benefactor, McDermott kept me up on discussions at various Big East presidents' dinners he hosted and even provided fodder for a couple of Flynn's Harp columns.

And inevitably what may have been our best memory flashes to the fore for shared laughter. That was when we cooked up a con job to convince dozens of students across an array of campus and party settings that Dick could read minds by telling them what card they had drawn from his deck.

My role was to hang around disinterestedly, or go outside and peak through a window to get a look at the card being held, then flash the ear or nose or chin-touching signals to identify the card.

Our guilty consciences finally ended the game after a few months when two fellow students, both National Merit Scholars, insisted after numerous occasions with the cards that they wanted to take Dick to Duke University's then-existing Extrasensory Perception Center.

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