Ask anyone in the Foreign Service what the hardest part of this job is and they will likely tell you it is being far from home when something important happens there. In less than 5 months working for the Department, I have missed a good friend’s wedding, been absent when a family member had surgery, and now have suffered the loss of a very dear friend.
With just one early morning phone call, the 6,135 miles that separates me from home ballooned to epic proportions. The 16-hour time difference, previously a logistical nuisance at most, felt insurmountable as I scrambled to process a loss I wasn’t prepared for, and to connect to people who knew my dear friend Fred and could relate to my pain. I felt isolated and kept trying to convince myself that pre-dawn phone call had to have been a dream.
The first time I heard the term work husband I knew right away my relationship with Fred was a perfect example. He and I were instant friends. Inseparable much of the time at work, we were both quick to laugh and valued community and relationships above nearly anything else. We were thick as thieves, spending much of each day talking through our work and getting the other’s opinion on how to go about one detail or another. For a few years we didn’t sit next to each other so we adapted by coming up with events we could plan together and would swing by each other’s desk with no pretense other than just a visit.
For the many years we did sit next to each other, all day long we would have a running dialogue – more often than not, filled with silliness and laughter. Whenever one of us had a problem to solve we would sneak into an empty conference room and plot out the best course of action to be taken – him often measuring my response; me often firing up his. We worked hard to acknowledge our colleagues in new and unique ways and boy could we throw a party.
Outside of work we explored restaurants, saw live music, and went to many a theater performance. He took me to countless doctors appointments; I took him home from his surgery. We were forever comparing notes on dinner party planning and recipes we wanted to try. We enjoyed teasing each other over a glass of wine. We freely told one another that we loved each other.
While I could go on for days about what an amazing person, colleague and friend Fred Porter was, the memory that nearly always surfaces when I think of him and try to process his passing is one from the Stevie Wonder concert we went to together. A bucket list item for both of us, we talked of going to this concert for months before the day finally came. We prepared by listening to his albums comparing notes on what songs we really wanted to hear.
Stevie blew us away at nearly every turn that night, both of us bopping and swaying all along the way. But when Stevie played Sir Duke the music overtook us and we danced with reckless abandon.
It is that image, of my dear friend Fred – rocking out to Sir Duke – that I hold dear to my heart. That and his standard response to nearly every (ridiculous) thing I said over the years, “oh yeah right”.