Remembering Gorby

by Rob Montilla on August 15, 2013

Today crept up on me.  I was oblivious, perhaps subconsciously, until talk of the Great Blackout of 2003 started appearing in social media streams yesterday.  Questions were asked such as “what did you do during the blackout” or “where were you during the blackout”.

Me?  I was in Los Angeles on business on the first day of the blackout.  On the second day, I was returning home as scheduled, arriving at Detroit Metro airport to a facility powered only by generators.  On the drive from the airport to my apartment, I received a phone call that forever changed my life.

On Friday, August 15, 2003, Craig Michael Gorby, or just Gorby as everyone knew him, passed away from an accident in his home as a direct result of the blackout.  The last time I saw him was the Sunday before when my kids and I, along with Gorby, his girlfriend and her son, all went to see the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  His girlfriend was the one who called to give me the news, somehow finding the strength to do so.

 “I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday…”

go longThe distinctness about Gorby’s passing was the tremendous impact it had on a variety of lives.  Gorby was one of those rare souls that comes around in life too infrequently and his absence continues to leave a big void for many.  He was someone with a personality that you would become instant friends with; someone that after spending 20 minutes with you felt like you knew him your whole life; someone that was always there when you needed him and always found the good in people.  I am still amazed, ten tears later, at the positive imprint he left on so many people.

Gorby and I first met in the fall of 1988, during intramural football practice when we lived on the same floor in Holmes Hall at Michigan State.  He was the country boy from Ionia, naive in many aspects and wiser than he was given credit for in others.  Gorby’s view on life was simplistic…enjoy it!  During that time, many of us tried keeping up with Gorby’s methods of enjoying life, often to our detriment the next morning.  His transition from Ionia to East Lansing was almost seamless with high school friends visiting often, Tony and Dave particularly, and of course his psuedo siblings, Heidi and Sara, who lived on our sister floor.  High school friends got to know college friends and that’s the only way he would have it.

I feel so extraordinary, Something’s got a hold on me.  I get this feeling I’m in motion, A sudden sense of liberty…

msu tailgate 001From there it was 15 years of friendship predicated on things such as sports, video games, family and of course beer.  I had graduated and he moved back to Ionia.  One weekend in the early 1990’s he came to where I was living in Sterling Heights and never left the Metro Detroit area for long after that.  He was the best man at my first wedding and the godfather for my daughter.  We played softball together and had epic fantasy football battles.  And of course there were the parties at my house and later at his that pulled in our friends near and far, reunions of our college days, and the method by which all of us kept close despite the distance or our changes in life.  All of his circles of friends forming one big circle.

The memories:  The Farm.  Ice luges.  Pick-up hockey.  Billy Idol.  Construction work.  Labatt Blue Light.  Euchre.  The Ionia Free Fair.  Spartan Tailgating.  The Trailer.  Three Man.  Meatloaf.  And of course, Hot Damn!

You Strange as angels, Dancing in the deepest oceans, Twisting in the water, You’re just like a dream…

mmmm chicken wingsEvery person that met Gorby could describe similar impressionable impacts he made on them.  If you didn’t know Gorby directly, you heard of him and would know stories about him.  Maybe you met him briefly once but there was some memory, often funny, that you could reflect on.

Gorby’s last years living in the city of Detroit was a “fish out of water” story.  Looking back I’m not certain who exactly was the “fish”.  He was the country boy living in the big city and sometimes it showed.  But he was also a ray of optimism amidst the city’s blight, using his craft to repair homes that used to be part of the city’s charm.  He always saw the good.

There is nothin’ fair in this world.  There is nothin’ safe in this world.  And there’s nothin’ sure in this world…

the thinkerThis day on the calendar will always be a difficult day but I am saddened not as much by the loss many of us have experienced, but moreso for the variety of people now not able to get to know Gorby directly, most of all the children.  My daughter has limited memories of him, my oldest son was too young to form lasting memories and Gorby never met my youngest son.  His siblings are all married now and have beautiful children of their own.  Without a doubt, all of these kids, and the kids of all his friends, would have been thrilled with a visit from Uncle Gorby.

When Gorby passed I had no words to eulogize him.  I can’t explain why but I just froze.  Ten years later, I write this to share a glimpse of what everyone who didn’t get to meet him is missing.  I know many are thinking of him and remembering the good times.  He was and always will be one of the greatest friends or relatives any of us will ever have known.

Cheers to you in Heaven my friend.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Shirlene Bailey August 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Really beautiful tribute. You were both equally as fortunate for your friendship. So sorry for your loss…so jealous for the level of friendship that you had with each other. It is rare.

Carol August 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Beautiful, Rob. The last time I saw Gorby, he had come over to the house and had dinner with us. Jonathan was only 3 months old and Gorby held him at the dinner table with a look of awe. Not long after, we lost him. He will always be missed.

Tiffany Montgomery August 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Gorby blessed us all with his love of life. You both blessed us with your powerful friendship and you continue to bless us, Rob, with your love and friendship. Love never dies…Paradise by the Dashboard Lights forever.

Joe Pickering August 15, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Fantastic tribute, Rob. Loved reading it.

Lauren Ninneman August 15, 2013 at 9:55 pm

What a great way to remember him. I have to agree although I was 16 when we lost him, I can still see his contagious smile and laugh. I saw him as another cousin being he was at most of our family events & movie marathons. Gorby will always be positively remembered& missed just as you portrayed him above.

Tom Chiles August 15, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Rob, I often think of Gorby and must say you’ve done a wonderful job of summing up what he meant to many of us. I have tears in my eyes as I write this and I am so greatful to have called him my friend. I too remember him visiting us at our new home in Macomb, shortly before he passeed, and holding Jonathan at only 3 months of age. I am saddened by the thought of my children not having the opportunity to get to know him.

Gorby was easily one of the most selfless people I have ever known. He was a rare individual that brought joy to so many people’s lives and he is missed dearly.

Stay strong and take comfort in knowing that he lives on in the memory of so many who were fortunate enough to call him their friend.

Libby Fasang August 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years! He was a good friend and he blessed everyone’s life, but he was lucky to have had such a good friend in you.

Becky Hoople August 16, 2013 at 9:51 am

I was blessed to have had Craig as a friend all through elementary school and high school. He was the best brother and friend you could ask for. He always made you laugh and was always there with a hug when you needed one.

Vanessa Lynn August 16, 2013 at 10:29 am

This is a beautiful tribute, Rob.

I was not nearly as close to Gorby as some but as you describe he always made me “feel” as if we were pals from log ago. I have never before or since met a person with such a warm, inviting, fun loving and easy going personality. Gorbys charm and charisma was undeniable and had the makings of a person suited for Hollywood or politics.

His sudden passing affected me tremendously. I could not understand how a person who lived life with such vitality, enthusiasm and seemingly eternal youthful spirit could no longer be with us.

As much as I would have loved to have seen Gorby grow old with the grace of the likes of Paul Newman there is a part of me that takes solace that Gorby will truly forever young in my heart and mind.

All my love to you, his family and all his friends that miss him so dearly.

Kelly Sheffler Schwimer August 16, 2013 at 11:25 am

Beautifully expressed, Rob. I took in every word and tried to remember Gorby as you and his other closest friends knew him. My heartfelt condolences to you, and others, on this tragic loss. ~Kelly

Charles Gaba August 16, 2013 at 11:42 am

Beautifully written, Rob. I know you and I have strong differences, but Gorby’s friendship trumped all of that. This was a very nice tribute.

Heidi Dygert August 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I agree-outstanding tribute, Rob. I’ll never forget when I heard the news. I recieved the call and hung up in shock. After a couple of seconds I dropped to my knees, yelled “No!” and began to cry hysterically. I thank God that I wasn’t at home, but at my parents for the weekend so I wasn’t alone. Nobody can offer comfort like a mom. I cycled through the stages of grief; shock, denial, anger and horrible pain, over and over for the days, weeks and months that followed. Regardless of what feeling was the strongest at the time the one thought that kept returning to my mind will never leave it. It’s not fair! Like Sara said and the carving that was made to remember him: Love you always, miss you forever.

Brandon Gorby August 16, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Thank you much Rob. Very well done and very much appreciated. Never an easy time of year and I always find myself trying to avoid it, but friends like you and the rest of he bunch make it much easier. I am thinking barn bash 2014 might be required!

Ray September 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

I dont know why, but something made me Google Gorbys name today and I came across this. I miss him and find myself thinking of him often. I remember the 1st year Gorby bash, after he had passed. I remmeber it was planned to go on every year, and I’m not sure if it has, as we have lost touch Rob. Let me and the Saturday night hockey guys know, so we can attend the next one.

Ray, Rob and Tom

Al Morales August 17, 2014 at 3:09 pm

It’s been almost 11 years, I still remember that I was supposed to have visited Gorby the week before he passed away. For the few years we have known each other, he was truly someone special. We spent time almost every day, for several weeks, tearing down then rebuilding my garage and also helping to redecorate the baby’s room. The time spent afterwards late at night has now become a treasured past for me, something to remember him by, and what a great heart he had.

I’ll continue to miss him, as it is only fitting, he would have meant so much to others had he still been around. Thank you Rob, for this wonderful tribute.

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