I can remember vividly the first time I met David. It was in the winter of 2002; my colleague Nancie and I were on the train coming from New York to DC, and everyone on the train recognized, and David, ever inquisitive, wanted to know who that guy was. We hit it off right away, and ended up talking and cracking jokes all the way to D.C. David invited me to a Ravens game, and since then we became fast friends.
David and I’s friendship was based on mutual respect and humor. I can clearly remember him playfully chiding me for my conservative views – and threatening to release the Liberal Kraken (himself) if I went too far on one issue or another. Over time our dialogues evolved into deeper discussions about the state of our country, and how to help the inner cities. David became a regular co-host on my radio show on Monday’s and Thursdays, and he even guest hosted when I would go out of town on vacation.
David made amazing connections with people and even my audience members. I remember at times coming back to the show and callers would call in and say, hey – why did you come back so soon? What happened to David? He’s the real brotha’ – not you Armstrong. I have to admit I would sometimes get annoyed that David had become a real star and overshadowed me on my own show – but it was real. David had an uncanny ability to connect with people and relate to their sorrows and their triumphs. He had empathy and understanding that belied a wisdom about the meaning of life. When I recently revealed to our audience that he was leaving us, grown men called in crying. They literally lost it – he deeply touched them and they appreciated his kindness and empathy.
David was always thoughtful about my mother and he would always send flowers on my mother’s birthday to wish her well. Just this past Mother’s Day 2016 he reached out to me with a text, saying “Hoping your Mother’s Day and weekend are going wonderfully. Hugs and love to all.” Everyone who knows me understands how close and precious my mom is to me and it really touched me that he would remember to say kind things about her. In fact, one of the things that really made us bond closer with each other was when he had a falling out with his own mom, and was not communicating with her as much as I thought he should. I literally harassed him to rekindle his relationship with his, which he of course did. He would always thank me for this, and counted his strengthening his relationship with is mother as one of his greatest life’s achievements. It showed me that deep down David was a person of strength and character.
David was the ultimate travel companion. I tend to be somewhat reserved in public situations because of my perceived public image – you never know how someone is going to react to you – but David would literally talk to anyone and everyone. It was never more fun than our annual pilgrimage to Pimlico race track to watch the Preakness. David would be the life of the party. We would pre-game at the Black Eye Suzie the day before. It was a blast! I remember the year the odds on favorite Barbaro broke his leg and had to be euthanized – it was a sad day at the track, but David came up a winner. He made so much money on his own 5 to 1 bet that when he went to cash out his winnings they had to call security to escort us to the car– he won thousands and thousands of dollars and basked in the limelight. It wasn’t really about winning all that money that mattered to David – it was the spice of life, the excitement of seeing the odds dance that made his deep blue eyes gleam with joy.
David was generous to a fault, not only with his time, but with his fortune. Ever fascinated by technology, he would marvel at all the new gadgets that came out. I remember when the new Apple Watch came out, he thought it was the coolest thing ever. And he wanted to share the experience with me, so he kept urging me to get it. I was of course too penurious at the time – having to meet payroll every month in a growing company can force one to lose perspective on enjoying the blessing we have already accrued. But he kept insisting, and I said no way would I spend so much money on a watch like that. But one day he showed up with a brand new Apple Watch as a gift. I must admit I was so happy, it was such an unexpected and pleasant surprise. I now wear the watch every day – even when I’m wearing another watch! I love it, and often when it chirps, or I get a text, I chuckle and remember David’s sincere generosity.
David really was the Liberal Kraken. He was a man, a myth and a legend. Like the Norwegian monster of lore, he would lay in wait, stringing you along with easy arguments, letting you think you were winning. And just when you thought you had him beaten in a debate he would lean back, laugh, and just destroy you with piercing logic and unassailable facts. It was a marvel to watch in these circles of wealth and privilege when people assumed just because he shared their class status, he also shared their class sentiments. David was a humanist, through and through, and would not hesitate to let you know where he stood on issues of social concern. He would often call me or text me after such marathon debates and say, with a laugh, “I finally turned Kraken on those fools!”
When I heard that his health had turned for the worst and the situation looked terminal, I was more afraid than he was. He seemed to take the finality in stride, living every day to the fullest, taking care to let all those who he loved know he loved them – and to show it in his actions. I remember his last trip to Rome with his family, where he spent a month in a beautiful villa and renewed his vows to his beautiful wife Michele. He soaked up every minute and took it all with a sense of equanimity. “Well. The idea is to just not worry about it while I’m away,” he wrote to me. “NOT getting chemo can’t kill me any faster at this stage. Good heavens. I almost weigh what you weigh….!!!! I need to eat for six weeks solid. No place better than eating pasta in Italy!”
He sent me picture of his trip to Rome, marveling at the six-bedroom villa in Rome on five acres where he and his family stayed for over a month. “This was the expensive option,” he quipped, “but pretty much well worth it. We figured there’s a chance we never quite get to do something like this ever again together.”
I saw David recently at Johns Hopkins to finally say good bye and express my deep love and respect. Up to the very last, David pressed the juice of life fully. He acted in the way the philosopher Seneca would have advised in his letters to his cousin Lucilius – “Who knows what a day is worth? Who understands that he is dying every day? Our mistake, you see, is in looking ahead to death. A good deal of death has already passed. The years which have so far gone by are in the hands of death. So, do what you claim to be doing, and embrace every hour. In that way you’ll be less dependent on tomorrow if you set your hand to today. Life flits by while things get put off.”