NEW YORK, NY – “It seems like yesterday…” That may be a cliche – and an overused one at that – but it works from time to time. This is one of those times. For it was yesterday (26 years ago, actually) that Geoff Andrews, said to me at the New York Rugby Club’s celebration of his 50th birthday, “Fifty! Jesus, Matt, where did the time go?!”
Jiff, as those of us [lovingly] bastardizing his Kiwi accent called him, was simply one of the World’s Best Human Beings. Yesterday, though, he wrestled his wit, charm, grace, warm smile and kindness from the body that was betraying him and dived over the whitewash in Heaven’s try zone (in-goal area) for the first of his other-worldly tries.
For many, including me, Geoff was simultaneously a friend, mentor, confidante, coach, teammate, facilitator and sounding board. He was there in good times and ALWAYS there in the not-so-good times. We’ve all been to too many wakes and funerals, yet Geoff was there at all of them when you walked in, offering an “it’s okay” nod or wink.
He was a husband, dad and granddad – and loved those roles more than anything. Ask him if was “going to the rugby” or a pub watch-party, and there was a good chance he’d already been booked in the role of doting/breakfast-making granddad.
After the initial shock re his passing, two top-of-the-list thoughts racing through my mind were that the New Zealand Consulate and Sir Graham Henry (Ted) needed to know. That’s pretty cool company, yet it doesn’t come close to representing the scope of Geoff’s circle(s)… Indeed, in typically understated Geoff fashion, I got a call from him saying he wanted me to join him for lunch – that it was important. Without questioning why, I rearranged the schedule and met him at Des O’Brien’s place. There he was with his wife Nancy… along with Graham Henry and his better half, Raewyn. Just five people having lunch like lifelong friends. Geoff then easily talked Coach Henry (who just won the Rugby World Cup) into coming on Rugby Wrap Up the next day, despite having to catch a flight back to New Zealand.
There is so much about this man that needs to be said. His end, in a word, sucked. Selfishly, I wish he’d still be here with us. I wish he was still just a phone call away, despite the oxygen tank that he needed at all times because the asbestos inhaled during his NZ Navy days had, at long last, ravaged his lungs. He labored to simply chat, which was one thing many of us treasured.
When people pass, those left behind bring up that thing called legacy. Well, for those of us that this suspiciously nice, former New Zealand Farmer of the Year leaves behind, Geoff Andrews’ legacy is in the large number of us whose lives he helped shape for the better… for those to whom he a gave a hand up to when they needed it most and are now paying it forward… for those he encouraged to chase dreams and then did his best to facilitate that chase.
Jiff did all of that and more for me and the tears that have dropped on the keyboard while writing this have already given way to images of a Geoff Andrews smile.
Rest easy, my friend. You are missed by many but wherever you are is abundantly better.