Deceased Date Unknown
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Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other gold
They made us sing that poem in grammar school – PS #193, Queens – but then again also made us wear white shirts and (clip-on) ties on Friday.
Jeff Gilfix was pure gold: funny, engaging, helpful, respectful. We met when we were both pledging Theta Delta Chi. A fraternity in name only, the only thing “Greek” was the pizza from Bell’s – when we could afford it – made by Mr. Bellianos, here via Athens. “TD”, and others like it, was an excuse for the College to violate every building and density code by allowing us to feel somehow mystically connected, when in reality it was little more than a clown car for living accommodations.
When it came to Frat life Jeff (a/k/a “Harpo” for his humor and hair, also truncated to “Harps” or “Po” for the economy of syllables so as to be reserved for later use in our attempts at scholarly papers) had skills. Back in the day, 18 was the drinking age and 3.2% beer was the vice – buzz-worthy, but to achieve blathering idiot mode required super-human feats of consumption. Jeff could monkey chug (drink while hanging upside down) but that was not what made him impress. When lubricated – too modest when sober – Jeff could divide any 3-to-5 digit number into any 5-to-7 digit number instantly. If calculators existed in the day, he’d belt out the number before you could hit “enter”. That wasn’t his only rathskeller trick: He had an encyclopedic memory of movies (plotlines, actors, awards) and music (every song, every album, every group). In much the same way Jeff knew Russian literature – books by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, spines broken by study and piled high – but with the country still in the fog of the cold war, it was a curious obsession at best. And while he could quote esoteric Russian literature in one sentence, he could equally recite, with flawless mimicry, dialogue from the Three Stooges or the Honeymooners.
As often happens with long-time, some would say ancient, friends our lives wove in-and-out of each other’s orbit, but for the last decade and half, and I hold this dear, mostly “in”. One could always count on Jeff to contribute to every conversation, to add thoughtfully to every debate, to find a common ground with anyone he met, and flavor the discussion with flashes of (often irreverent) humor. Despite his vast trove of facts he would entertain every opinion and if any were uninformed or dumb he’d never let you know. He was genuine and generous, with a heart big enough to fit Montana, many times bigger than the state he grew up in, Massachusetts. Which brings us to Jeff’s only fault: He was a Red Sox fan.
Gosh I’ll miss Jeff, his wide smile, quick laugh and rapier wit. The man loved to be around people to ask them questions and hear their stories.
Goodbye old friend. You proved the poem right – you were gold.
Michael Loeb ‘77