When the call came, I dropped everything and rushed out the door: George Hatley, my friend and longtime mentor, had suffered a stroke and was in a local hospital. He could walk and use his hands, but he'd lost his speech. I didn't know what I'd say or do when I got to his room, but that didn't stop me from the pushing the speed limit on the way to town. George has 'been there" for me so many times over the last 30+ years that there was no way I wasn't going to be at his side for this.
When we first met, in 1975, George was head of the Appaloosa Horse Club -- a position he'd held since 1946 -- and had just given me my first post-college job. He was about the same age I am now--early 50s--and well on his way to earning his honorary nickname of Mr. Appaloosa. He was easily the most fascinating man I'd ever met, as adept at packing solo into the Idaho wilderness or flying an airplane as he was at running a breed organization. As the years passed, I never stopped looking up to him.
As I entered his hospital room, I realized this was the first time I'd ever seen George lying down. He's usually a perpetual-motion machine, always casting about for the next thing that needs doing and then hustling to get it done. Tears rolled from his eyes when I took his hand. He searched my face as he tried to say words that wouldn't come out.
"It's OK, George," I said. "I know what you're trying to say.
"I love you a lot, too."