Remembering Craig Jurney
at the Oshman Family JCC
on January 11, 2020 at 4:00
November 15, 1963 – November 20, 2019
Peter Craig Jurney
One of my first memories of my brother was at an ice rink. He was about 6 years old which means I must have been about 3. This ice rink was at the Lloyd Center shopping mall in Portland Oregon, one of the first and largest malls in the country. Our mother had taken us there as a treat (for us and her, I imagine).
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so going somewhere like an official ice rink and using proper skates was a big deal. My mother sent Craig and me on to the ice by ourselves — I imagine she went off shopping leaving me in his 6-year-old care for a while. (Different times…).
We spent our time unsteadily hugging the wall and circling slowly but happily around the rink. Craig, who was, of course, the better skater, held my hand and tried to ease me out from the wall when I’m sure he would have rather gone off on his own. Eventually mom returned and informed us it was time to go home. Craig and I, naturally, protested.
“Five more minutes? Please!”
I could see my mom’s resolve yielding to our excitement. As if to sell the idea that we deserved more time my brother had the smashing idea to show her what he had learned that day on the ice.
“Watch this!” he cried. And with the confidence that my brother always seemed to have in abundance he pushed himself hard off the wall. Backwards. And attempted to spin around.
His shear athleticism and belief in himself carried him magnificently — for about half a second. Then he slipped…and he fell. Hard. And his head hit the ice. I can still hear how soundless it was. And I remember there was a bit of blood. And adults came. And somehow we were removed from the rink. And eventually made our way home. And I remember — through all of these 50 years — how I felt when I saw my brother fall to the ice.
I was mad.
I was mad because now we would not get 5 more minutes skating unsteadily around,
gripping each other for support. Because of his antics we had to leave early. My fun had to end because HE had to be a show off.
If I’m being honest, I felt something else for him in that moment as he fell — no, not concern for his well-being. I felt something then I would feel for him many times over the next half a century — utter awe and admiration.
In truth there weren’t many times I was mad at my brother. I’m sure I used to drive him up the wall frequently, although he rarely let it show. The simple truth of the matter is that my brother was my hero.
I know it is a well-worn cliché for a younger brother to look up to an older brother, but I cannot conceive of a human being more naturally suited to that role. Craig was my protector, my advisor, my guide, my confidant and my companion through life.
My siblings and I grew up in a neighborhood full of places to explore. There was the lake that would sometimes freeze and we would test the thickness of the ice together (again, where were the parents?) We used to have sword fights using broken branches in the grove of trees near our house and we used to head down to the wild blackberry bushes at the end of our street and gobble them in the summer till our fingers were stained purple. I liked the fact Craig could reach the berries that were a little higher up than most kids could reach. Those were the ones that were a little riper. (Occasionally he would toss a few of these in my direction).
There was a particular day, however, I wandered away on my own to do a bit of berry-picking myself. Unfortunately, there was this kid, Joey, I think, who lived around the corner from us. Joey was not a nice boy. I imagine Joey would not have been an awesome brother to anyone.
He found me, separated from my herd, and he managed to lure me into their family tool shed as a prank. This shed was a bit off the ground and after I had climbed and entered the door Joey removed the step stool I had used to get in. I was trapped. A good 2 1/2 feet off the ground. It might as well have been a mile.
It is hard for me to overstate the terror I felt at that moment. Hidden from sight. Unable to extricate myself. Being taunted by someone laughing at my misery. I wailed for help.
It seems like I was trapped in there an eternity.
To this day I do not know how my hard-of-hearing-brother found me. It was as if by magic. I just remember the cascading waves of relief and gratitude that washed over me when I saw his red-headed face pop into view and help me down to the ground. Even today I feel the echoes of that moment in my heart.
This was not the last time Craig came to my rescue. It most certainly was not the last time he lent me a helping hand when I needed it.
As a kid, I was not always brave, like my brother. He was confident around adults and other kids his age. He was tall, good looking, and always seemed to know what was going on. He laughed easily and, even more remarkably, had the confidence and heart to laugh at himself. Something I could never master.
He was bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, and braver that I could ever be. My mom once told me — and this is something I never shared with Craig — she thought some of what drove his desire to achieve success in life was a desire to impress his younger brother.
What a crazy thought — if only that were true!
What is true is that he was a wonderful childhood companion who allowed me to be his little brother unconditionally. He allowed me the luxury of leaning on him for support even as he navigated his own way through life.
It was as if, when I was born, I was launched in to the unsteady sea of life in a boat I didn’t quite know how to use. Then I spy my brother up ahead of me — cutting effortlessly through the water, laying the course. But he keeps checking over his shoulder. When he sees a rough patch of water coming up he makes his way back to me. To lash his boat to mine — to steady it — until the trouble has passed. Then he continues on, just up ahead. Setting the course again.
I ask your forgiveness for being so indulgent. You see, I want to share with you stories of the brother I knew growing up. I want to somehow share with you the person I knew so that you can love him as much as I did.
I want to talk about the things I know he loved when we were small together:
— Smashing up lego buildings as soon as we had made them because he enjoyed the chaos.
— Building forts in the backyard — and sometimes stuffing our sister inside the tiniest ones — much to her delight.
— Sliding down the stairs in cardboard boxes decorated to look like rocket ships.
— Throwing my sister down into the entryway to land on a pile of cushions. (It’s a miracle she’s still with us, to be honest.)
— Playing ball in the house on a rainy day and taping the (slightly damaged) lamp back together afterwords. (Sorry, Dad).
— Playing ball in the house and breaking the crystal vase on the sideboard and craftily blaming my 2-year-old sister. (Sorry, again, Dad. And sorry, Anne, I guess…)
— Watching the Rockford Files, Perry Mason, and Star Trek and Monty Python.
— Watching Saturday morning cartoons.
— Disco dancing in the living room to the BeeGees and spending his allowance money at the mall on 45 singles by ELO, Samantha Sang and Dan Hill and other one-hit wonders of the late 70’s.
— Learning to cook in Jr. High and wanting to show what he could do in the kitchen to impress our mother.
I want to tell you about time we were having our after-school snack at the dining room table when he tried — as a 12 year old child — to call our mom by her first name. “How was your day, Patricia?” And he got away with it.
And then my mom explained to her eldest son that the boundary between being a child and being an adult — a boundary that he thought he could willfully step over — was a bit higher than that. I stared at him in awe and admiration then too.
I want talk about how he loved to read constantly from the moment he could hold a book. From comic books to murder mysteries to literature and everything in between.
There was a time he was reading on the couch in the living room just before dinner and read a word (“intriguing”) he, apparently, had not seen spelled out before — but decided, in a very Craig-like fashion, to use it out loud in a sentence anyway.
“This is a very ‘intruging’ dinner you’ve made for us, Mother.” He never lived it down, even 40 years later.
I want to talk about the time he almost jumped into a roiling ocean to rescue our family dog from being thrown into the rocks…
…to talk about the time he launched himself through our car to free his stupid brother who had shut his fingers in the back hatch (I still remember the muddy foot print he left on the back seat that was there for weeks)…
…to tell you about the time I caught him making out in the living room with Lisa Brumfield when he was supposed to be looking after me (I was incredibly impressed).
I could also mention the time he started a fire under the hood of his VW bug because he crossed some wires while replacing the fuel gauge sending unit. (I was not so impressed by that.)
I want to tell you about the time we shared a 4:30 AM paper route together until he had trained me well enough to take it over…
…about the time he consoled me after I broke my favorite lunch box when we were walking to grade school together. And didn’t laugh at me about how upset I was.
I want to share when he told me he had seen and heard Santa Claus on the roof because he knew I wanted to believe, even though he absolutely did not. (And he never spoilt it for me.)
I could also tell about how he offered to be my locker partner in high school because I didn’t have one. And I could tell you about the multiple times he took me in — to give me a place to stay for a while.
Allowing me to steady my boat alongside his.
But, standing here today, I realize I am incredibly lucky. I realize that I don’t have to share all of these stories with you to honor my brother.
All I really had to do was share my brother with all of you (for as much as he was mine TO share.) All of you are here because you all know what an incandescent spirit Craig was.
You all have your own stories of Craig.
Stories of a fantastic colleague and mentor.
Stories of a wonderful husband and companion.
Stories of the world’s greatest father to 3 wonderful sons that he had boundless love for.
I have run into people in my life with siblings whom they say they are not very close with; they don’t stay in touch with. I was quite well into adulthood before I realized how lucky I was to know and be close to my brother, Craig. That it was not just a matter-of-course that everyone had such an amazing person in their lives.
He was the smartest person I knew. A couple of years ago I was working on a computer problem and I couldn’t figure it out, so I texted him to see if he had a few minutes to chat about it. Within 2 minutes he gave me the insight I needed to solve the problem. Again, it seemed as if by magic.
Craig and I used to share an apartment in the City for a while right after college. We both worked at Stanford so we would carpool together. Those of you who knew my brother know there was no subject he was not interested in and few that he did not have some expertise in. (And, of course, those subjects he was not an expert in, he might bluff anyway because he still probably knew more than you.) Needless to say, those evenings driving home to the setting sun along highway 280, chattering away about the world and life, seem like halcyon days now.
Well, I want to tell you something remarkable. My brother and I both have had young families for a while as well as busy careers. Discretionary time is almost non-existent. So for the last 15 years or so we haven’t been able to talk as often as we’d like. So much so that we would schedule appointments with each other to chat by phone.
So we’d talk, maybe once every few months. And I would mark the upcoming appointment on my calendar. And I would look forward to it. For days. So here I am — a 50 year old man with a pretty decent idea about how the world works — looking forward to calling my brother because I want to hear what he has to say.
So we would typically chat for a couple of hours that would go by all too quickly.
During which he might explain something to me about an economic theory that I asked him about.
Or talk about a new technique he’d employed to keep the water out of his cellar. Or about how proud he was of his kids. And his wife.
How rare is that convivial an experience to have with anyone, let alone someone who you’ve known your whole life?
I know that I was blessed. Even as I always wished we still shared that commute time together from years ago.
Along with my parents, Craig was the most warm-hearted and kind person I knew. I’ve given some examples of this, but I want to give one less obvious example.
Those of you who knew my brother know that he was never shy about sharing his opinion with you. Sometimes aggressively so. Some of you might also be aware that Craig liked to find out what your opinion was just so that he could argue the opposite viewpoint — usually with a zeal that would suggest a lifelong conviction to this view — even if only acquired on the spot!
This is something my wife found quite disconcerting when she first met him. She wanted to know why my brother and I always seemed so mad each other — because we were constantly arguing.
But to me, this posture was the sign of utmost respect. It is no easy feat to quickly muster cogent arguments to support a side you might not agree with — as Craig sometimes did. But it forced you to sharpen your own thoughts. Indeed, plumb the depths of your own convictions. Define what you really care about and why.
I remember one conversation I had with him where at then end of it he looked over at me and said “you really know your stuff”. What higher sign of respect, of kindness, than to care enough to take you seriously as a person, take your viewpoint seriously and acknowledge the endeavor as mutually satisfying.
Which brings me to the last thing I want to praise about my brother today — perhaps the trait I admired above all else although I did not have cause to reflect on it until recently: his integrity. I save this quality for last because this is not something you’re born with, like height, amazing red hair, good looks, or intelligence.
Integrity is a reflection of the decisions you have to make every day. Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. Integrity is admitting you were wrong even when you don’t have to. It is a big part of what made Craig a great son, a great husband and a great father.
One of the last conversations I had with my brother was about a trip to Rome he had taken with his family. He talked about how much he had enjoyed sharing it with his wife and especially with his sons. He was surprised that it was his favorite destination of the trip since it was the city he knew least well. He also mentioned some of the ruins in the Roman forum and we had a small debate about who had built a particular house they had visited.
Shortly after the phone call he texted me that I had been right about the house. He didn’t have to do that. Admit he was wrong. (I already knew I was right :-). But it was important for him to not only research and discover the truth, but to acknowledge what he’d learned. That was part of his DNA.
I never had occasion to doubt Craig always acted in good faith; always acted in good conscience — whether it be a professional project, personal interaction or community service.
You could trust my brother. I would have trusted him with my life. I would have have trusted him with my kids’ lives. I know that all of you who knew Craig had a similar faith in his character. I cannot tell you how proud I am to be able to stand up here and say that.
Michelangelo said once: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
My brother lived his life to the fullest. He set his aim perfectly too high. All of us who knew Craig have suffered an impossible loss. None more so that Erika, Henry, Ed and Charlie. They say that no one is truly gone as long as they are remembered. But I want all of us here today to do more than keep my brother in their memories.
I would wish for all of us to try and be more like my big brother in our own lives. I want all of us laugh easily and often, especially at ourselves. I want all of us to find curiosity and wonder in the world. I want all of us to have the integrity to act correctly based on what we believe — but also to look for opportunities to learn.
And I want all of us to look behind us, as we are making our way through the unsteady currents of life, and see when there are others who need might need us to lash our boat to theirs for a time.
I know will be striving mightily to catch up to my brother, forever just ahead — still laying the course he charted for us to follow.