When Michael contacted me about contributing a Classmate Spotlight, my first thought was, “My life hasn’t been 1/10th as interesting or exciting as some of the others I’ve read about from other classmates.” But Michael assured me that we all have a story to tell, and he convinced me to give it a shot. So, here goes…

After high school graduation, I attended Michigan State University, earning a BA in Communications. With very little idea what I wanted to do with this degree, I ultimately decided to kick the can down the road and go back to school and earn an MBA from Rutgers. I can’t say I had any clearer idea what I wanted to do when I finished, but I managed to land a job at Mikasa (the dinnerware company) in the inventory planning/product management area. Not exactly my dream job, but at least it paid the bills.

The night of October 5th, 1991, turned out to be a night that changed my life forever (yeah, I know that’s a cliché, but in this case I think it applies). I had been hearing a lot of buzz about an Irish rock band that had been playing regularly on Tuesday and Saturday nights at Paddy Reilly’s, a bar on Second Avenue in NYC. This particular Saturday night I finally got around to checking them out. The band (Black 47) entirely lived up to the hype. The bar was packed, the crowd was lively, and every so often someone would knock into me resulting in lots of spilled beer. Each time this happened, the woman next to me would apologize and say something along the lines of, “Can you believe how rude these people are? They keep bumping into me!” After Black 47 finished their set and the bar cleared out a little bit, she and I started talking. Her name was Jo – not short for anything, just Jo (she used to joke that her parents were too cheap to give her a longer name, or a middle name for that matter). We ended up closing the place, and somewhere around 4:00AM we left. I had my car there, so I asked her if she needed a ride home, to which she replied, “Sure.” We walked a few blocks up Second Avenue to where I was parked and got in the car. After driving a while, I asked her, “By the way, where do you live?” Jo replied, “Actually, right across the street from the bar.” So I drove around the block, made my way back to the bar and pulled up in front of her building. She then suggested that we exchange phone numbers. I agreed, but I did feel obligated to let her know that I had actually just started seeing someone and really didn’t know where it was going. She replied, “Well, you never know…” Turns out she was right, it was going nowhere and I gave her a call later the following week. We went out the following Saturday night, ending up at Paddy Reilly’s again. I think it was then that she acknowledged that the night we met, she was deliberately knocking into me and spilling my beer to get my attention. I guess the technique worked because, long story short, about five years later we were married.

By the time Jo and I got married in September of 1996, I had moved on from Mikasa and was working for Time Warner in their publishing division. While there was a lot that I liked about the job, my boss was a bid of a psychopath, and this created an unsustainable work situation. In the meantime, Jo’s one-woman public relations business was growing to the point where she had more clients and more work than she could handle on her own. I ended up leaving Time Warner to work with Jo. Everything was moving in the right direction. We bought an apartment on the Upper East Side in 2000 and a couple of years later, bought the adjacent apartment with plans to combine it with ours. In August of 2001 our son Luka was born and we couldn’t have been happier.

Unfortunately, this period of “everything moving in the right direction” was relatively short-lived. About three years after Luka was born, Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was initially thought to be Stage 1, and the hope was that after the standard regimen of surgery and chemotherapy, she’d be cancer-free. She bravely endured months of debilitating chemo, trying as hard as possible to keep things “normal” for Luka and to be present at all of his activities and preschool events. But after completing her treatments, it was determined that the cancer had spread to multiple other sites. We consulted with numerous oncologists in order to find some sort of consensus regarding how to proceed, while also seeking advice on how to best deal with things regarding Luka. I honestly don’t know of anyone who fought harder than Jo did in the ensuing years. Whenever anyone would tell her that, she’d respond, “I don’t have a choice. I need to be around for Luka and Jeff.” Despite her incredible tenacity, she passed away in December of 2008.

After Jo’s passing, my efforts turned towards Luka, helping him to process what had happened, while also dealing with my own grief. I knew there was no way I could take the place of the void in Luka’s life, but I did my best to provide as enriching and interesting a life as possible for him. This included taking advantage of the opportunities that life in NYC had to offer, as well as lots of concerts and sporting events and an incredible amount of travel. Over the years we went to 28 of the 30 MLB ballparks (we still need to get to Tropicana Field in Tampa and the new Atlanta Braves ballpark), 48 of the 50 states (only Alaska and North Dakota are missing), and numerous foreign countries. One of the more memorable vacations was a European road trip, starting in Italy and driving through Switzerland, France, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and ending up back in Italy. We’ve been to New Zealand and Australia, including a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, as well as other European countries, the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. I don’t think a day goes by that Luka and I don’t talk about Jo in some way, and I’m always happy to have the opportunity to tell him a story about her that he might not have heard yet.

When Black 47 announced in 2014 that they would be disbanding after a year-long farewell tour, it truly felt like the end of an era for me. They did manage to have some level of success; they signed a deal with a major record label and appeared on several national TV shows including Letterman, The Tonight Show and Conan, but in the end they mostly remained a local New York phenomenon. Although they hadn’t really been on my radar for a while, the news of their disbanding really hit me. Their lead singer, Larry Kirwan, had always been very nice to Jo and me when we would see them at Paddy Reilly’s, and when they announced that they were ending their run I contacted Larry and reminded him about how his band was responsible for me meeting my wife and by extension, for Luka’s existence. I went with Luka to see Black 47 several times during their farewell tour, and we’d always say hi to Larry afterwards. He would refer to Luka as his “godson.”

Last spring Luka graduated from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and he is now gainfully employed in the field of marketing and communications. I’ve been freelancing for a video post-production company for the last several years. The job mostly involves quality control for Netflix (their biggest client) as well as captioning and subtitling projects. I’m still living in NYC and enjoying the many things that this city has to offer. I still try to get to concerts and baseball games with some frequency (sometimes with Luka, sometimes without).  I’m not sure yet what my next chapter will be, but as Jo said the night we met, “You never know…”