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The death of a friend

I lost my good friend Hamlin Beattie Wednesday. He died of lung cancer diagnosed just over a year ago. It’s become cliche to say this, but he really would not want anyone to be mourning. He would want us to be having a good old fashioned Irish wake. And that’s exactly what his wife and children tried to have today. There was a memorial service this afternoon followed by a party at Hamlin’s house. We gathered together, drank and ate, and toasted Hamlin with wine he had ordered for the occasion.

But while that’s what Hamlin would want, it felt like the party was over before it was supposed to end. Hamlin made life fun, and it’s hard to enjoy it as much without him. We’re all going to miss him.

I met Hamlin and his wife Loti Woods in the early nineties. They were then recently married and had moved to Birmingham where they happened to be neighbors of the lady I was dating at the time. Loti was a native of Birmingham and I knew her dad from the business world there. Hamlin was a native of South Carolina, a place he described as “too small to be a state but too large to be an asylum.”

After I stopped seeing their neighbor, I remained friends with Hamlin and Loti and they later built a house close to mine on top of Red Mountain. Hamlin volunteered to take some boat trips with me, and through those trips, we became fast friends. He helped me move my boat from key West to Miami, a two-day trip which we stretched to a week. He joined another friend and me on a trip from the Chesapeake Bay down to South Carolina. Later, he and Loti joined Laura Lee and me for a couple of boat trips as well.

Why we became close friends was something of a mystery to me at first. We didn’t grow up together or know each other in college. We never worked together. Hamlin loved to hunt and fish and play golf and I did none of those things. I loved to drive boats and airplanes and Hamlin shared none of those interests. About all we had in common was an appreciation for the finer things in life, and a penchant for living beyond our means. I guess it just came down to the fact that Hamlin was easy to be friends with, and like everyone else who knew him, the more time I spent with him, the more I enjoyed his company.

I only saw Hamlin three times over the last year. I wish it had been more. He went through chemo-therapy which initially seemed successful, but over the last few months, he went downhill fast and around Thanksgiving he was told that he had maybe one or two months to live. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we went down to Palm Beach to their home and shared a final visit. We took our best wine and port, and toasted to the times we had spent together and to a life well-lived. We all had a great time, and Hamlin was in great spirits despite the circumstances.

Hamlin lived large. He smoked too much and drank too much. I’ve never met anyone from South Carolina who didn’t know him. After a year in Birmingham, he knew more people than I did, and I’ve lived there a lifetime. After a year in Palm Beach, he knew everyone there. He held pot-luck dinners at his house and invited everyone he met. He knew and appreciated the finer things in life. He hunted with fine guns. He played golf in Scotland and Ireland and hunted and fished in the most exotic locations in the world. He furnished his homes with fine furniture and rugs. He drank only the finest whiskey and wine. When recession and tax law changes ruined his real estate development business, Hamlin bounced back. He helped steer companies out of bankruptcy in Birmingham and began building houses in Palm Beach when Loti’s career took them there.

When Hamlin traveled with me on the boat and I was single, he took it upon himself to find female companions for me. He introduced me to a young lady from South Carolina in Miami Beach. When I commented that the waitress at dinner had been attractive at Little Palm Island, he called the restaurant right away to invite her by for a nightcap.

But Hamlin was not as simple as a party boy. He was smart, and he knew how to do just about anything. He loved his children and his grandchild. He loved Loti. He loved his friends and would do anything in the world for them. He loved life, and his joy was contagious to everyone around him.

So what do you say about someone who brought so much joy to life, but who was so self-destructive? Well, who could be angry with Hamlin? If he had been any different, he wouldn’t have been Hamlin. I wouldn’t change a thing about him if I could.

So, here’s to you Hamlin Beattie. I love you buddy. It was a great ride. Thanks for letting me join you for part of it. And wherever you are, save me a spot on the bar stool next to you. That would be my idea of heaven.

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