“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
On this most special of days in my life, commemorating the life and works of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.. I am reflecting on three of my dear friends who passed away during 2022. In their own way, each connected with me in the spirit of Dr. King’s words and principles.
Both Steve Hunt and Bruce Holmberg fully embraced the essence of “I Have a Dream”. We related to one another by building special relationships on the principles of “content of character.”
Dr. Stephen Hunt shared the Emory & Henry College campus with me when we first met in 1967. Then, nearly 45 years later, we both served as Board of Trustees at Emory & Henry College. Steve passed away in October 2022.
Steve was the son of Bishop Earl G. Hunt who was Emory & Henry College’s president from 1951 until 1964. Steve’s father is credited for paving the way for Black students to enroll in the college prior to his departure in 1964 and my enrollment as the first black full-time male student in 1966.
Steve followed in his father’s footsteps as a “great humanitarian”. He served his country for thirty years in the United States Department of Education. This included his involvement with the United States Department of State and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Council of Europe where he was responsible for a 56 country education information network.
Steve and his wife Edeltraut, provided valuable advice and guidance to me and generous financial support to the Copey Learning Center. They both attended all five of the Pathway Project receptions and were honored as “Key Friends”.
Mary Caroline Whitt Ratliff was a very dear friend who passed away suddenly in May 2022. Mary Caroline and I first knew one another during our early days as elementary age students. We lived in the same part of town in Marion, Virginia. Even though we attended segregated elementary schools, she and the neighborhood children, Black and white were all close friends.
When public schools integrated in1965, Mary Caroline and I became classmates and graduated together in 1966. Many years passed before we met again in late 2021 during our 55th class reunion.
Her husband passed away a year earlier. I also met her son Matt who is a 1993 graduate of Emory & Henry College. Visiting with Mary Caroline after 55 years, sharing stories of the old neighborhood with her son Matt was an unforgettable joy. Her passing away nearly eight months later made our short time together special.
She was instantly excited about “Friends of Copey” and had become a very strong advocate. I contemplate at times the way things happen and when. It is so easy for me to believe in “Divine Intervention.” She will be missed.
Bruce Holmberg, a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy and a very dear friend passed away in July 2022. The majority of his naval career was spent at sea in the nuclear submarine program. He retired after 20 years with the rank of Captain.
Following his retirement, Bruce and I met as employees at the Hanford site in Washington state and became very good friends. Our friendship became a five year long Monday morning ritual sharing an early morning breakfast before going to work. We lived the brotherhood. Our mutual Christian faith was the glue that allowed us to discuss as “brothers”, politics, social issues, and our mutual affiliations as Masons and Shriners.
Bruce retired from Hanford. Then, he and his wife LaVonne relocated to his favorite location, Hawaii. There, he continued serving his community with amazing energy and devotion with most of his efforts directed at the Shriners. He was a strong supporter of “Friends of Copey” and a forever confidant. He is missed!
In Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, there is the reference to the “table of brotherhood.” At this table we can meet with one another peacefully and confirm we have far more similarities than differences.
This was true with my three friends now passed and I continue to learn this truth with others I sit with at the “table of brotherhood”.
There were many others who passed away in 2022. They were relatives of friends too many to name. Time is now to experience “the dream”.