Love And Legacy: The Story Of Him And Us

By Aleksandra RebicJun 19, 2000
Margie, happily married for 24 years, would have given up her morals for a night of love with him and credits him with saving her life these last two years. Jeannie B.'s new husband, Kenny, used the $300 they got at their wedding reception and took his new bride on a surprise honeymoon trip to the house of her dreams, the house that had been his. When his father died, Fred didn't shed a tear, but when this one passed he did cry. Bruce, desperate to meet him, jumped the stone fence and almost made it to the front door before he was escorted off the grounds. He wasn't home at the time. For Carol from Canada, well, for her the whole thing with him changed her life for the better. For Greg, who's 36 now and in the U.S. Air Force, it started at age 3. He became the father figure Greg never had in his own life. He put a spark in Walter, the Chicago artist who first heard him in '54, forever. For Joan, the 34 year old dancer, he was the "big brother" when she was six. Michelle, 30, from the U.K., feels she's known him personally for the last 24 years of her life, though she never met him. He is part of her, she says. MK, 53, from Australia, has loved the guy for 42 years. "So," he says, "what's another 42?" Whenever Susan, 49, from Long Island, spoke about him 40 years ago, her Mom and Dad would change the subject. She chuckles when she thinks about it now. Another Susan, 60, from New Zealand, had a mom who was interested but wasn't sure if her young daughter should listen to him. Carol, 69, from Illinois, remembers telling people about him years ago and them telling her he wouldn't last. There isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't think about him. When her husband passed away, just listening to him helped her cope. For her, it's been a 45 year love affair, and he still moves her like no other. Trish, "The Tiger," was nine when she became curious about the fuss when he died. She remembers thinking, "Wow. This man had something." She made it her mission to find out what it was. Even when she's 100 he will still be that friend who passed away too young, but she consoles herself by saying he was such a unique creation from God that he was missed and called home early. Hearing his voice from a parked car stopped Proud Mary from New Jersey dead in her tracks one day. That's when it started, though the real devotion came later. It grew to where without him her life would have less meaning. Phyl, 61, from Virginia, admires the fact that no one could, nor has anyone since, been able to surpass him, but really began to appreciate him when she learned of his generosity, and genuine, giving heart. Joann, 55, from Florida, thinks that when she was younger it was about being closer to her mother. "Then," she says, "everything in time continued to grow like a love affair." She feels he gave his all to make us happy. Joanne, 57, from New York, knows there have many who've tried to be like him, but there is only one him. There will never be, she's convinced, another who had it all the way he did. She loved the laugh the best. No one, she says, could laugh like that. And that Face. Those Moves. That Voice. California's "Rockin' Robin," 53, saw him 72 times and was kissed by him seven of those times. The first time, she drove several hundred miles by herself. Me, I'm 38, and I'm thinking it's a good bet she hasn't forgotten the feel of those lips. He was sexy. That voice. That mouth and those eyes. Just to die for. Susan from Long Island has had a busy life without much time to herself. Still, she wanted to learn more about him, because he fascinated her. "Funny," she says, "after all these years I've still wanted to get to know him...There was a kindness about him, a warmth." For David, 51, in Belgium, it's partly about the fascination, too. Despite all that we know, David says there remains a "certain mystery about the man." He affected lives. Margie, 47, from Canada, believes that the only thing that kept her going while she was unable to eat or move from her bed in the hospital for a long time was thinking about all the pain he had and how well he endured it. She doesn't think she would have made it without him in her life. Clarice has lost two sisters, one brother, her mother, and her beautiful dog, Bandit, all in the last five years. Without God and without his gift she doesn't think she would have made it, either. She is always grateful that she was born in his time and thinks many people feel the same way. For Fred, 58, and his friends, he was a "regular Joe" who made good and made it possible for them to believe they could, too. Fred cried when he passed, for it meant the passing of an era in his life. Though just a child at the time, Air Force Greg was sad, too. "He made me happy in my life," says Greg and loves him for that. Marsene, 43, from Texas, says that for some reason no one can lay a finger on, he became part of many lives. Though she never met him, she feels she knows him. When he left us she felt like she had lost a truly good friend in her life. David first met his future wife, Elise, on the Belgian coast, while attending an Appreciation Society meeting on behalf of his man. That was in '66. They married six years later. They've been married for 29 now. Joanne from New York never met him but believes that without knowing him all these years she would not have the wonderful friends and experiences she has had. Carol, 52, from Canada, feels the same way, too. She, like others, has made many friends through him. For Judy, 53, from Mississippi, going to his house every year is like going to a family reunion. For Donna from Washington, 36, learning about him has inspired her to be a more giving person and to do her best at all she does. Rich, 38, and married with four children, never knew him, but he says, "As children we look to others to lead us and to guide us. Someone we admire and try to emulate and pattern our lives after. He was the one I chose above all who I know." "Without ever knowing him," says the young father of four, "he inspired in me to reach for any as a young man it was good to love your parents openly...that it was right to serve your country...that it was good to worship God...and that kindness and generosity towards your family and friends was first and foremost." Gina from Chicago appreciates men in her life who have his good qualities. Today, she refers to him as "My honey." They all have ideas about the 'what ifs' of meeting him. Susan, 60, who keeps his memory alive in New Zealand, thinks she would be shy if she met him, but that he would soon put her at ease, because "he was so unpretentious with everybody." She would want to be near him and look closely at him, yet would feel embarrassed if he noticed this. She, like the others, thinks the world is a better place because of him. They all wish some things had been different. Joan the dancer wishes he hadn't died the way that he did. "He deserved a more regal death," she says. "If there is such a thing." Jackie thinks he wanted to take care of others maybe more than he should have, that he cared at times so much that he jeopardized his own life, family, and health. Chicago's Mike, 47, wishes he hadn't been so trusting of those around him. Proud Mary from New Jersey says we had him to see us through our dark days and wonders whom he had to see him through his. Donna wishes he had been a stronger person when it came to what he wanted in life. Nine year-old Bret from Virginia, wishes he had taken better care of himself. We all wish that, Bret. They all have ideas about how they would pay tribute, though MK asks, "What can you say about him that hasn't been said a thousand times before?" MK knows he was human, that he had his faults like everybody else, but reckons that "the good outweighs the bad." He would say, "Be glad the world did experience the magic and has never been th
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