It was the first funeral I have attended that concluded with the playing of ‘Tech Triumph.’
The Clubhouse Tailgate gathered last weekend in Suffolk for the Saturday funeral of one of our regulars, John Judkins. John passed on Monday, May 23, felled by a sinister and aggressive cancer that defied all treatment attempts and took him before many of us were aware that he was sick. The Tailgate has lost a valued member.
Following the completion of the Virginia Tech fight song by the lone bugler, we headed back to John and Bev’s house, where their expansive grounds proved more than sufficient to hold the RV’s and large crowd that attended. We celebrated John’s life the best way we knew how, with a tailgate that included a Communion just a bit different from the one in which we had partaken at the service. We always said we would tailgate a funeral and when it became necessary, we did. While the occasion was certainly damped by the reason, there was a fair amount of humorous anecdotes and stories about John as the various parts of his life, family, church and tailgate, came together. I suspect John would have approved.
I don’t remember the exact year John and his bride Bev joined the Tailgate- after 13 years, they tend to run together. The earliest pictures I can find of him were from the 2006 season.
I do remember John introducing himself by rolling to a post-game Tailgate a cooler full of Jello shooters prepared by Bev. The easiest and best way to find one’s self welcomed by the group is to bring us something we can put in our mouths. With the shooters, John and Bev established a standard that has never been topped and likely never will be.
The original batch of shooters and all the ones Bev made after that game, which was every game, were consumed with gusto, particularly by ex-Russian Hokie, who went through them with such enthusiasm that Bev began making him his own stash. Ivan would hoard and guard them with all the ferocity of a mother grizzly defending her cubs.
John and Bev were quickly welcomed into the tailgating fold and became regulars, both for Bev’s shooters and the overriding fact that they were and are terrific folks. The people I have met through the Clubhouse Tailgate are among the best I know; John and Bev were at the top of the list.
Over the years I became aware that John and Bev had lives outside of the Tailgate. I knew that John had an engineering degree from Tech and had spent his working life at a Norfolk shipyard. I knew that John and Bev had both been married before and both brought children to their union 28-years ago. I knew they attended church when not spending Sundays driving home from Tech football games.
But, I really didn’t know much about them apart from the tailgates. I learned a lot more at last Saturday, all of it good. Beginning with the overflow crowd at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Suffolk, John’s eulogy delivered by his priest the Very Rev. Dr. Keith Emerson [himself a great guy, as I discovered at the Tailgate] and continuing through the afternoon and evening of Tailgate remembrance with John’s family and friends, a more complete picture of John emerged. There were a lot of people whose very high opinion of John was at least equal to my own.
I once had a disagreement with John of such monumental importance that I immediately forgot about it and still have trouble remembering the details, even after being reminded of it the morning of his funeral. If he still bore me ill-will and I hope he didn’t, he manifested it by never once mentioning it, certainly not during some private conversations we held over the years, when I learned some details of John’s difficulties with his first wife and problems with the son John buried last Spring. These subjects, at least with the first wife and troubles with a son, were events with which I had some experience. I learned that John did that a lot, finding some level of shared background and relating to it. Whether it was details of an older and smaller Tech campus that so many of us remember, maintenance of an RV, the best routes and RV parks we encounter on our football travels, or similar family problems, John seemed to reach all of us in his own way. It was a wonderful talent to have.
The Clubhouse Tailgate has the habit of applying nicknames to its Regulars. Bev’s is Jello Shooter Lady, for obvious reasons. John’s was Old Fart. It was a nick he relished, using it often and displaying it proudly on his Tailgate shirt. That sense of humor places high among the many reasons I will miss the Old Fart.
John and Bev’s Tech season tickets were in the same section of Lane as my own, a few rows down. It will be with a sense of sadness that this year I will entering the stadium and not seeing both of them smiling as we head to our seats. Bev vows that she will learn how to drive their RV that had been John’s bailiwick and continue attending the Tailgate. I sure hope she does.
Unfortunately, John will no longer be around, at least in body. We all have a date with the Reaper, with the best we can do is putting it off as long as possible. John’s time came entirely too soon. John Judkins was my friend. I will miss him.