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Tony Rash, my first best friend.Sadly, in addition to the recent deaths of Don Knotts, Dennis Weaver, and Darren McGavin, I have to include a profound personal loss.My boyhood friend, Tony Rash, passed away very suddenly on March 6, 2006. He was only 43 years old. Tony leaves behind a wife, Dianne, and two small children, Megan and Michael.

Tony was my best friend during grammar school and junior high. It is impossible for me to think of my childhood without thinking of him. We shared a love of science fiction and horror movies, and the highlight of our week was always the “weekend stay-over” where we’d stay up late and watch Creature Features with my little brother, Tom.

One of the reasons I started collecting B movies is because watching them reminded me of those wonderful boyhood late nights when Tony and I would try to keep each other awake so we wouldn’t fall asleep before seeing the finale of films like It Came from Outer Space or Creature from the Black Lagoon.

But Tony was far more than a movie-watching partner. We shared many adventures on camp outs and exploratory trips into the woods near my house. We assembled monster models together, shared a love of animals, and discussed a wide range of topics from cartoons, to sex, to God, and everything in-between. Tony literally saved my life once (I fell into a pond and could not swim. I was losing consciousness when Tony pulled me out.) Tony was such a good-humored kid. I could always get him to laugh so hard during school lunches that he would spray milk from his nose. We faced neighborhood bullies together and swore friendship till death do us part.

Tony’s father died when he was just two years old. When his mother died during our junior high years, Tony had to leave town to live with his sister. We stayed in touch through high school, but afterward, we began to drift our separate ways.

One day, after I hadn’t seen or heard from Tony in three or four years, he showed up at my apartment. We had made a boyhood promise that if we ever got married, we would be each other’s best man. Tony, true to that promise, asked me to stand up with him at his wedding. I’m still amazed by his sense of loyalty when I think of that day.

As time passed, Tony and I kept in contact less and less. Every few years I would get a phone call, or perhaps he would drop by when passing through town. A few years ago, though, Tony called and made arrangements for us to spend a full day together. He wanted to visit all of our boyhood hang-outs and take pictures. We visited a lot of old memories that day, and photographed the occasion. He met my future wife, and shared stories with her that I hadn’t discussed in years. It was a beautiful day, and it ended with us promising to get together more often.

Unfortunately, that was the last day I was to see Tony. He died Monday without ever being sick or showing symptoms of illness.

On Friday, Elly and I made a trip to Iowa City for the funeral. During one portion of the service, people were invited up to tell their favorite “Tony stories.” I had a few I wanted to relate, but so did a score of other people. As I listened to the stories, I realized Tony’s kind and compassionate nature had not deteriorated with adulthood. As a nurse, husband, parent, brother, son, and friend, he had touched many, many lives. The minister finally had to stop the storytelling so they could get to the grave site. I was proud of my friend, and all of the good he has accomplished.

In the last week I have gone over many memories of which I am now the sole keeper. These memories aren’t relics, but important living pieces of myself. Only now, they are ever so slightly tainted with sadness.

Thank you for your friendship, Tony. I’m glad you’ll be there to greet me when I get to the other side. I miss you already, and will keep Dianne, Michael, and Megan in my prayers.

Your pal,

Mark

Note: This was first published on my original Movie Review Page, March 12, 2006.

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