When I was about a year old to about four years old, we lived in a neighborhood of Anchorage called Geronimo Circle, near DeBarr Road in the northeast part of town. To our left was a neighbor lady named Nina, and to our right were the Slays — Larry, Bonnie, and their little kids, Ethan, who was my age, and Jenny, the baby. Ethan and I played together just about every day; he sent me to the ER with my first split lip for my first stitches (couldn’t tell you over what, except I remember something about a toy crane being involved); we built forts out of couch cushions; and so on. Bonnie and Larry were close to my parents, too, and I have a lot of happy memories of the bunch of us being at each other’s houses in those early years. Larry built me a few things in his woodshop that I remember fondly; there was a marble rack that I spent hours playing with, and then he also made me a chair when I was about three years old — carved my name in it, finished it, everything. My mom still has it, and I’d bring it home if it fit more easily in a suitcase.
We moved away, but about nine years later, the Slays joined us in Bothell, Washington, and it was like no time had passed. Our houses were open to each other again, even if they weren’t next door, and Ethan and I actually went through junior high and high school together. During my initial difficult years in college, the Slays opened their home to me when I needed a place to go, and always treated me as another son.
Larry passed away a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t seen him or the other Slays in years — maybe since our wedding — but I had stayed apprised of what was going on with them via Facebook and through my mother. He was a good man, a good father, and a good husband, who did what he had to do for his family even when it wasn’t easy. They all had a lot of fun together, too, and even though they’re all a bit scattered to the four winds, they were one of the tightest-knit families I’ve ever seen. Larry lived a long life even with some complex health issues, and while I mourn his passing, I’m happy that he no longer has to be in pain. Memory eternal, my dear friend.
I must comment on another passing — not as close, but painful nonetheless. Three years ago, at the 2012 Florovsky Symposium, Fr. Andrew Damick introduced me to one Matthew Baker, saying, “Someday soon, you’re going to be reading books by him.” Turned out we knew many of the same people, and I’ll never forget his shock of red hair, thick beard, bow tie, and tweed jacket, or his way of disagreeing with people that suggested an internal amusement at just how wrong his interlocutors could be.
We never met again, but we encountered each other online multiple times, mostly because we had so many mutual friends. Last year, he was ordained as a priest in GOA, and he recently had been assigned a parish for the first time. Everything I ever experienced of him directly or was told about secondhand spoke to his character, his integrity, his very real brilliance, and his faithfulness, and I looked forward to when our paths would cross in person again.
Last night, Fr. Matthew was lost to us in a tragic car accident. He leaves behind his Presvytera Katherine and six children. They had just lost a seventh in stillbirth earlier in the month. By all accounts, this is a loss of the brightest of bright lights, and one that had only really started burning for real. So many people who are dear to me are weeping today, and I stand with them in mourning his loss; it is clear that we have lost one of the very, very best of us.
A fund has been established for Fr. Matthew’s family; they have raised over $200,000, but that is only a start of what they will need for a family of seven that just lost their only source of income. You can give online at GoFundMe, or you can send a check here:
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston
c/o Fr. Matthew Baker Memorial Fund
162 Goddard Ave
Brookline, MA 02445
Please do what you are able, and please remember Fr. Matthew, Presvytera Katherine, and their children in your prayers.
Memory eternal, Larry and priest Matthew. May your souls dwell where the righteous repose.