Even now, people talk about Jeff Weekley as if they expect to run into him at lunch.
They still miss him, and come October it will be 20 years since an unusual recipe of people showed up at Parkhill Cemetery for his burial.
He died on a football Saturday, just before Auburn and Georgia Tech kicked off. Thirty years to the day, on another Saturday, he was given the game ball after the Tigers' 3-0 victory over Tech.
On the day he died, Auburn came back to defeat the Yellow Jackets after trailing for 59 minutes. Jeff would have liked that.
Nancy, Jeff's wife, explained the outcome this way: "It must have taken a little while for him to get processed into heaven. Once he got settled in, he said, 'Lord, you tell that Pat Dye that he's gotta throw that ball to Lawyer Tillman." Dye apparently listened, for Tillman came up with the big catch that ended Tech's hopes.
Cancer got Jeff, after 14 years. He was walking around with it when we met but the disease never put out his fire. He was 50 when he died, and a few months before, he told me he had gone into the funeral vault business, an unusual vocation for a football player who sold concrete blocks.
"When you've had cancer, you know about such things," he said, laughing at himself and the disease. You could say cancer inspired his family to mail out a letter this week, but that wouldn't be accurate. It was Jeff and the way he lived that made them write.
"Can you believe it has been 20 years already? It seems like yesterday that Jeff was either playing golf with buddies, coaching Little League, boating in Eufaula, sitting at a school board meeting, playing poker, hunting at Dead Lakes, leading a Rotary Club meeting, selling concrete blocks or cheering his beloved Auburn Tigers on to victory. If one of these things brings back a pleasant memory to you, that is why you have been chosen to receive this letter."
Seems the American Cancer Society in Columbus is changing its annual golf tournament to October. His family wants to make a donation in his honor. Anyone who wants to help, can write a check in Jeff Weekley's memory.
We're all affected by cancer. More than 1,500 people die from it each day and 1.4 million new cases will be diagnosed this year.
When I think about it, Jeff Weekley and cancer had a lot in common, especially when I remember the assortment of people at Parkhill that afternoon. He was an equal opportunity friend and cancer is an equal opportunity disease.
The minister at his burial in 1987 said Jeff was the life of any party he attended, and he was. He enjoyed today and took his chance on tomorrow. It was a good way to live and a good way to die.
To make a donation in Jeff Weekley's honor, send a check to the American Cancer Society, 7161 Williams Hill Road, Columbus, GA, 31904.