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The loss of a true friend

In the "L" section of my Rolodex on my desk is a card containing Robin Lawson's phone number.

The last time I saw my old friend was during a political gathering nearly six years ago at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Having not seen each other for a while, we shook hands and chatted a bit before then-U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith began his keynote address. We agreed to get together soon over lunch to hash over the issues of the day, something we had done in previous lunches.

We never had that lunch to catch up on old times. And sadly, Robin, 70, died a week ago today.

His card joins a growing list of others in my file bearing names of those who are no longer with us, people like Clarence Ewell, Harley Hall, Gene Landsman, Mary Paetzel, Debbs Potts, Jon Silvis and other folks I've always considered myself fortunate to know as friends.

Like the others, Robin's namewill remain in my Rolodex, even though it is beginning toresemble a card cemetery. But I will keep them. Pulling themout and tossing them in theround file seems disrespectful to their memories.

Like the nerdy fellow who wears both suspenders and a belt, I also have a computerized list of numbers. But it periodically goes missing in cyberspace. Perhaps it's a sign of becoming long of tooth, but I keep the card file as a solid back-up in case there is a glitch.

I knew Robin when he worked as a very competent TV journalist, and later as an aide for former Congressman Bob Smith. A Brit by birth, Robin also was known as a talented jazz pianist and an able actor who performed as Winston Churchill in a one-man show.

He was a fair person with a sharp intellect who could disagree without offending, a fine art sorely missed in journalism as well as in society today. For him, civility wasn't an option. He figured it was required behavior, the proper way to be.

His death apparently was the result of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare illness that I can't even start to pronounce. But he would have had no trouble breezing through it in his crisp British accent. A quick study, he also could have given you a rundown on the disease's characteristics.

Given his keen sense of humor, he likely would have found something somewhere to lighten the gravity of the situation.

Robin was the genuine decent article, one of those rare folks really interested in an answer when they asked, "How are you doing?"

He listened.

We already had become friends before I moved from my native Oregon to California some 20 years ago to work on a newspaper during a turbulent time in my life. I had a job that I loathed but had to tough it out until another writing position I had applied for opened up at another paper.

Robin, then working as a congressional aide back in Oregon, called to ask how everything was going. I gave some bland reply about hanging in there. As usual, we talked about our respective families, about Oregon politics and the nonsensical world of journalism.

However, before hanging up, he reminded me not to forget I had friends I could always call on.

His call buoyed my spirits during that low point in my life. I'm not sure whether I ever thanked him for that call that helped me through the rough patch which ended with me landing the other job.

Robin's passing was a sobering reminder of friendships taken for granted, friendships that we allow to fade away in the hectic pace of life today. Most of us focus far too much on material matters, on achieving accomplishments that we deceive ourselves into thinking are somehow vital to our small worlds.

We live to work, not work to live, as the old chestnut goes.

In Robin's memory, I intend to start focusing more on dusting off some old friendships than on the world of work and worry.

And if I need a reminder of what it means to be a good friend, I can find it in the "L" section of my Rolodex.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.