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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Farewell to my friend, Tim Camp

Yesterday I delivered the eulogy for my friend, Tim Camp, who was the Sports Information Director at NJIT and before that, replaced me as the SID at St. Peter's College.

Some people weren't able to attend the funeral Mass yesterday and asked if I would post my eulogy here.

So here it is.

The phone rang in my then Jersey City home on a hot July afternoon. I was a few months removed from my duties as the sports information director at St. Peter’s College. On the other end of the phone was a deep, quiet voice.

“I don’t know if I have the right number,” the voice said. “But I’m looking for Jim Hague.”

“You got him,” I said.

Boy, did he ever.

“Jim, how are you doing, this is Tim Camp and I don’t know if you know me…”

I interrupted him.

“I know who you are,” I said. “You have my job. You’re probably sitting in my office, in my chair right now.”

Tim had just accepted the dubious distinction to become the new SID at St. Peter’s, filling a position that was once held by the immortal Fred Cranwell (who sends his fondest regards from North Carolina, where he now lives) to Larry Babich to J.B. Wilson (who became the president of St. Peter’s College), to Rich Ensor (who became the commissioner of the MAAC), to John Paquette (who became the assistant commissioner of the Big East) to Billy Waldy to a schlub like me.

So needless to say, Tim had some huge shoes to fill, especially replacing a guy like me. Never mind the others.

Tim was as honest as they came on the phone. Mind you, a lot of other people might have hung up the phone and said. “Wrong number.” I didn’t exactly leave St. Peter’s on good terms. It could have been a disastrous call on his part.

“Well, I don’t know anyone here,” Tim said. “I’m new to Jersey City. I don’t know much about St. Peter’s and its history and the ongoing of this office. I don’t know anything about this computer here. Can you help me?”

With that one phone call and that one question, a friendship was forged.

For some reason, I agreed to help him. I didn’t know him from Adam or even the hole in the wall. We had a mutual friend in St. Peter’s assistant coach Kevin Moran, who told me that Tim was a good guy, but that was it.

I told Tim that I would help him on one condition. He couldn’t let anyone at the school know I was helping him, especially our mutual boss, athletic director Bill Stein.

I used to make Tim laugh with the impression I do of Stein all the time.

So Tim agreed to my terms. I then met with him on four consecutive Saturday mornings. We worked on the computer and poured over mailing lists. I told him what media people to reach out to and which ones to befriend. We went over the antiquated St. Peter’s filing system. I told him what was where and when.

Those days spent together were filled with laughter, filled with deep conversations. We became very close friends.

And we were exactly that for the last 26 years. I don’t know if I went more than a couple of days without talking to the guy that the great NJIT assistant SID Stephanie Pillari dubbed as “my BFF.” In fact, around Stephanie, Tim was referred to as BFF.

But Tim and I spent countless hours together, either in person or on the phone. We went to at least 100 Met games together over the last 26 years. I used to have partial season tickets from 1985 through 2011. Tim was my date for a lot of those games over the years. He would park his car in front of my house in Kearny and the two of us were off to Shea and later CitiField together.

For the last 12 years, he sat right next to me for most NJIT men’s and women’s basketball games, sharing the highs and the lows of the program, as I serve as the PA announcer, a position he gave me. We would always look out for each other in terms of getting work. I got him a handful of side jobs and he got his fair share for me.

He was as loyal as any friend could want. He was kind, considerate, caring. I seriously would do anything for him and in some cases, I did. Who else would take the time to buy new underwear for him _ on two occasions, no less _ when he was stuck in the hospital longer than he anticipated? Who else would take him to his numerous doctor appointments when he couldn’t drive, one of which was during the hottest days of July when I sat in my car without air conditioning?

But that’s because he was my BFF. I did the things I did for Tim because I know he would do it for me. He told me that he doubted it, but I know he would have.

In 2013, when I was hospitalized at Kessler Institute for six weeks, Tim came to visit three times, more than my own sister. Last October, I was in Clara Maass Hospital in Belleville with a blood infection. On Sunday night around 11 p.m., the door of my room opened in the dark. It was Tim.

“What are you doing here at this hour?” I asked.

“I had to come see my BFF,” he laughed.

In 2008, the New York Metropolitan Writers Association gave out its Good Guy Award, with its awards dinner taking place at the Meadowlands Race Track’s Pegasus room. Tim had no idea he was getting the award, but on the night of the dinner, NJIT was set to play Rider in baseball.

So instead of going to the Met Writers dinner, a prestigious dinner that the Haggerty Award is presented, Tim was going to cover the NJIT baseball game.

I then told him that he had to go to the dinner. He said he didn’t want to. I said, “You have to go.” And I tried to drum up some excuse that he had to go. I even volunteered to work the baseball game, to keep score, do the PA announcing and write the roundup for the website.

“Why is it so important that I go to this dinner?” he asked.

He later found out. And incredibly, NJIT was in the middle of a losing streak at the time. Tim eventually goes to the dinner and is shocked when he received the prestigious honor. And I covered the baseball game, a game that the Highlanders won, snapping a 21-game losing streak. Tim missed the win that snapped the losing streak.

Tim had to endure an even longer losing streak in basketball, as the Highlanders lost an NCAA record 51 straight games in men’s basketball. And he was there for every single one of those losses.

That’s an awful lot of losing that Tim had to handle through his career at NJIT. A lot of losing.

But his professionalism never dipped. Nor did his commitment to his student/athletes. He understood that the local media was only interested because the Highlanders kept losing.

That’s why it was so fitting that the NJIT men finally got to enjoy winning the last two years, going to the semifinals of the CIT Tournament each time.

Tim was not only an excellent SID at three different schools, but he was a good sportswriter with an impeccable sense of detail and perfection. He would not settle for anything less than perfection.

He was also extremely dedicated, always wanting the best for his athletes.

On a personal side, Tim loved to laugh. That’s why I always tried to make him laugh. His laughter was beyond contagious. He had a hearty laugh that sounded like no other. It was a joy to make him laugh.

It’s hard for me to put my head around this loss. I’ve suffered a lot of losses in my life _ my two parents, my brother, close aunts and uncles, friends.

This was a tough one to fathom, especially since we at NJIT just lost assistant athletic director Joe Caiola less than two years ago. Now we have to say goodbye to Tim. It wasn’t easy to get over Joe’s passing. This will be harder because it’s Tim.

Like I said before, I don’t think I’ve gone three days without talking to Tim. I’ve now gone a whole week and it hasn’t been a good week. Ironically, the Mets’ season came to an end the same day that Tim passed away. I had no one to commiserate with.

A basketball season will begin soon at NJIT and there will be this emptiness knowing my BFF isn’t beside me. I hope we can keep the chair open for him.

When Tim was diagnosed with this latest battle of cancer, I told him he would beat it, much like he beat Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma 20 years ago or open heart surgery six years ago. You just expected him to get better.

So I did my best to send him to Memorial Sloan Kettering and when they didn’t give him the news he wanted to hear, he went to Beth Israel in Newark to have the surgery.

“Hague,” he said. “I just want five more years. That’s all. I’m just not ready to die. I don’t want to die.”

So he had the radical surgery to remove the tumor from his esophagus and went to the rehab place in Jersey City where he was clearly the youngest patient and went back to Mom and Martha to convalesce and get better so he could come back to us in December.

He didn’t get five years. He didn’t even get five months. He gave some of you 59 years and others a little shorter. Well, he gave me 26 years from that fateful phone call in July, 1990. And I’m the better man because of it.

Rest in peace, my BFF. You will certainly be missed. And I can say on behalf of everyone here today, thank you for being my friend. God bless you