“Ames…Antion” – every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00, Dr. McDowell read our names as he began Organic Chemistry at West Virginia University in 1973. Arranged alphabetically, we funneled into our assigned seats with little more than a nod; it was early, we were tired and it wasn’t quite time to pay attention. We didn’t know that we were two of less than 10 BS Chemistry majors in the auditorium lecture hall full of pre-med students and chemical engineers. We didn’t know that within 7 months we would be roommates. We didn’t know that in less than 10 years, only one of us would still be alive.
Tony and I made casual conversation in the few minutes we had before class started most days. We groaned about Pittsburgh sports team losses, we laughed at comics in the paper. We were in the same lecture, but not the same lab section or any other classes, so we didn’t know each other well. WVU was a fairly big university, spread over two campuses; Tony lived in a dorm on one campus, I rented an apartment near the other one. Ironically, the living conditions that separated us in September brought us together in March.
Tony was informed in early March that he had not “won” the lottery and would not be able to live in the dorm during his junior year. He needed an apartment, he needed one for cheap and since he had a summer job at the university, he needed one with a 12 month lease. I had transferred to WVU, and I was struggling to rent a reasonably priced apartment on my own; my apartment had a 12 month lease. We had sat next to each other for 7 months, and that seemed to be enough to call us compatible. When Tony asked me when he could move in, I said “you can move in now if you want.” He had paid for the dorm, so he pointed out that he couldn’t contribute to the rent until May. I said: “if you can chip in $8 a month, we can get cable. If we have cable, we can watch Star Trek, every day at 5:00.” Suddenly, we had discovered our first real common interest.
Chemistry, Star Trek, Steeler football, Genesee Cream Ale, science, The Who, making fun of stuck-up women and suck-up guys, and living close enough to the edge that coins mattered were among the things we had in common. We shared an ability to laugh at almost anything, and we almost shared a birthday; Tony was exactly one day younger than me. We had our differences too. Tony was bolder than I was. One night, frustrated by the lack of parking on our street due to mid-week services at a neighborhood church, Tony put his deep voice to work. He walked up to an open window and with God-like fury yelled “This is the Lord. I told you people to come to church on Sunday, not Wednesday!” Tony was also not the optimist that I am; he always considered the worst case scenario. One day while walking up the steep hill to our apartment, Tony asked me what I was thinking about as we noticed the mailman walking down. I told him that I was trying to remember if the mailman’s name was Steve.
Tony said: “I was thinking about what I would do if he attacked us. I think I’d disable him and then push him over the guard rail onto those rocks;” pointing into the gulch below.
Tony was also a much better chemist than I was.
One night, we were working on a homework problem that involved predicting the outcome of a reaction. Neither of us had been able to buy the Tinkertoy-like molecular model kits, so we were left to using our imaginations. Tony sat across from me and started building a complex molecule in the air. He would point and say: “picture a carbon here, a carbon here, an oxygen here” and then continue pointing and rattling off the names of the other atoms: “hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, carbon” getting more and more complex with each gesture. I was impressed with myself, for being able to follow him. Then, without warning he said: “now if we flip this guy over and look at it from this angle…”
“Look at what?” I protested. There was nothing to look at. I had been able to follow Tony as he built his fantasy compound, but only in his specially-tuned brain was there something to rotate and study. Tony’s mind was wired for organic chemistry. He went on to prove that as we both moved onto the University of Pittsburgh for graduate school. While I zipped through a 1-yr, three trimester MBA program, Tony began marching toward his PhD.
We moved apart, but we continued to share certain things. We both married too early and both marriages failed. We stayed true to Pittsburgh sports teams and we kept our sense of humor. Tony remained passionate about chemistry while I followed some good advice and turned to the computer world for a career. In 1982, Tony and I reconnected. He was working as a research chemist in NJ, I was enjoying being a consultant for Peat Marwick Mitchell in Hartford, CT. We were both divorced, both happy, and both looking forward to a career that was making sense. We were making plans to get together. Instead, a few months later Tony’s mother called mine to tell us that Tony had died..
In recent years, I had searched for Tony on the Internet many times, to no avail. A couple of days ago, an almost random attempt returned an archived article about the plane crash that claimed his life. The Internet grows quietly while we get comfortable with the idea that there are some things that we will never know. Then one day, we are surprised, and we are encouraged to reflect on departed friends.