The Day We Lost Dad

Jay Hathaway with grandsons

My father with my sons Colvin (left) and Ryder at the Orvis Fathers’ Day Fishing Derby

This week’s Manchester Journal is running a special insert promoting the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon, which this year is called the Jay Hathaway Memorial Maple Leaf Half-Marathon in honor of my father who passed away three years ago this month. Dad was instrumental in bringing the Maple Leaf back to Manchester. We are all very proud to see him remembered in such a meaningful way.

This morning, I got a cup of coffee at the store our family used to own and live above, grabbed a few copies of the Manchester Journal with the insert and went to the Maple Hill Cemetery to sit by his grave and read. As we are coming up on the anniversary of dad’s death, I reflected on the day we lost him and I wanted to share the story here.

When I heard the news dad had fallen off his bike, I was in New York City outside Carnegie Hall. My cell phone rang with an unknown number from Vermont. It was my parents’ neighbor. “Jamie, it’s Paula Nassivera. Your father has fallen off his bicycle and is not breathing, John is giving him CPR right now. Where are you? Can you get here?”

“I’m in the city…”

In the background I could hear my son crying and asking if my father was ok.” Ryder wants to talk to you,” Paula said.

“Dad, come home please. Jay-Jay fell off his bike and I had his helmet. Please come home,” Ryder cried.

He had been riding his bike with my father when Dad went into cardiac arrest and fallen into the road. Ryder thought Dad had hit his head and was blaming himself as just moments ago Dad had given Ryder his helmet to wear. Ry had left his at home and Dad didn’t want Ryder to ride without one. I told him I was coming home as fast as I could. Paula got back on the phone.

“Jamie, it looks bad out there.”

I felt trapped. My father was receiving CPR and my son was blaming himself and crying for me to come home. I was far from our village in Vermont with no easy way back. I could help neither one of them. In shock, I squatted in the middle of the busy sidewalk.

My date knelt beside me as people streamed around us. I told her what was happening while looking down at the pavement, “I think my father is dying and I have to get out of here.”

She guided me, dazed, back to our hotel room around the corner where she hurriedly packed my bag as I tried to get news from home. The Rescue Squad had arrived and had started CPR. The State Police had arrived and were consoling Ryder. I rushed out to the cabstand and asked the doorman to put me at the head of the line, as it was an emergency. “Sounds like bullshit to me”, a man in line said. My date berated him while I ducked into the backseat, leaving her behind as we had planned. On Church Street the rescue squad was still performing CPR on Dad as my driver navigated the busy traffic to Harlem Station. My sister and I both tried, desperately to reach my brother by phone.

“I’m coming, Dad. I’ll be there, Ryder.”

I had taken the train into the city and my car was hours away by rail. In the cab I learned that dad had not been breathing on his own for some time. “Is he gone?” Paula couldn’t tell me.

I stood on the train platform, waiting. Figuring that it was not the first time people had seen a crazy person at the Harlem train station, I spoke out loud to my father and told him that I loved him, that I was sorry I couldn’t make it sooner, to please hold on. I cried openly among the strangers that made every effort to pretend not to notice. They became invisible to me, too.

Sitting on the train I spoke to my cousin who was the first to tell me for sure that dad had died. As my heart broke, a dull ache spread from my core out into my lungs and up into my throat. I began the four-hour trip in the dark back to Vermont and to my family that had all started gathering at my mother’s house.

The support that we received in the coming days, weeks and months was a testament to how much dad meant to the community. The flowers kept coming, too much for inside the house and filling the porch. Senator Patrick Leahy called. When he couldn’t get through, as the phone was so busy, he left multiple messages “Terri, It’s Pat, again. I’m going to keep trying until I reach you.” And he did.

My brother Todd, my sister Missy and I wrote eulogies. It occurred to me that if all of your children get up at your funeral and say they love you, you have succeeded. I hope someday to be so lucky.

This week the three of us wrote a letter for the Manchester Journal welcoming runners to the Jay Hathaway Maple Leaf Half-Marathon. I will copy the contents below and we hope to see many of you there on September 8th.

On behalf of our entire family, the three of us want to say how honored and touched we are to have the 2012 Maple Leaf Half Marathon dedicated in Dad’s memory. There are many friends of the family who made this possible and our sincere appreciation goes out to them.

There could not be a more fitting tribute to our father than to have this race in his memory. After family, friends and dogs, our dad most loved being outside in Vermont. Dad was happiest running and rollerblading the Dorset West Road, snowboarding at Bromley, rowing Lake St. Catherine and cross-country skiing the local golf course and wooded trails of Merck Forest. For Dad, exercise was just as much about celebrating and enjoying his community as it was about staying fit.

Because of his commitment to so many local causes, Dad was known as the Mayor of Dorset. He had so many projects going on at any one time that it was hard to keep up with him. His energy level was as contagious as it was ambitious. When Dad, the Manchester Lions, and a group of friends got together to bring the Maple Leaf back to Vermont, he was quoted as saying “We are bringing back this race and we are going to make it, once again, one of the best half-marathons in the country.” Your participation is making this shared vision a reality.

Because of that vision, and the good work of a dedicated and talented board, a thousand runners will see what dad loved so much about living here and why he wanted to share it with so many. We hope that if you are a newcomer to the area that you, too will fall in love with the Northshire and come back often.

As a morning person, Dad would be at a race site just as the sun came up; organizing work groups and giving each person a big hug and a thank-you for you showing up. We hope you feel that energy and that his memory will be one of warmth and a welcoming friendliness that turns strangers into fast-friends.

We are grateful you are here and that you are helping us honor our father’s legacy in such a powerful way. You are embarking on a personal challenge, whether that be the half-marathon or the 5k race. When you feel particularly challenged on the course, think of what our dad would have likely said to you, just for being here, as it was his favorite way to say goodbye: “You’re the best!”

From Dorset,
Jamie Hathaway, Todd Hathaway and Missy Hathaway McKenzie
September, 2012

Dad and me in 1995

24 Comments

  1. I think it just gave me chills reading your so eloquently written words…he was a wonderful man~

    • Thank you, Marybeth.

  2. We miss Jay every day, James. I am so delighted the marathon will honor him.

    • We are, too! Hope you can make it!

  3. Your a good son James and your Dad was a good man, Your boy’s are lucky to have you as a GREAT DAD.

    • Right back at you, old friend.

  4. A beautiful, moving tribute Jamie. He was such a vibrant part of the community and it was a shock to everyone. It’s great that the event has been renamed in his honor.

    • Thank you, Mary. We are glad so many people will be thinking of Dad next weekend.

  5. I had very similar circumstances surrounding my own fathers death, it’s really wonderful that you are able to share your account. Your dad was an awesome man, he gave me my first job at Peltiers and promptly took it away when I was terrible! I’ll never forget him. Thanks for sharing I think it’s cathartic hopefully it is for you as well. Ellen Rodolfy Russell

    • So sorry to hear about your father, Ellen.
      Nice to hear from you and thanks for sharing this.

  6. Wonderful reflection although sad.

    • Thank you, Bill.

  7. Beautifully written. We father was such an ecourager to our boys…we will never forget.

    • Oh, wow… He was a HUGE fan! He mentioned them to me a hundred times :)

  8. Jamie—the greatest blessing is that you had him, as well as you did and as long as you did. That will never, ever leave you, or your boys, or your mom. Celebrate him every chance you get.
    With love–

    • Pam- this was very sweet and good advice. Thank you xx

  9. Thank you for sharing this reflection. Jay gave me a finish line hug that day (my 1st Maple Leaf Half) and his smile has stayed with me. I will be thinking of him for sure on September 8th!

    • Thank you, Linda! Wish you could make it!

      • Jamie, I will be in the race on the 8th. And I know Jay will be “watching out” for all of us!

  10. A beautiful piece, Your dad had the ability to make anyone he was talking to at the moment feel as though they were the smartest, most interesting, most special person in the entire world. What a gift.

    • I think you share that gift xx

  11. Your Dad was a great guy and this was a beautifully written piece. The last time I saw him was at the opening of Epoch and he was telling my parents (who had just moved to Manchester) what a good daughter I was and how much they were going to love Manchester. Thank you and my thoughts are with you

  12. Jamie. So sad to hear. I had no idea your dad was gone. I know a little bit about that feeling of helplessness. The phone call telling me my son was gone two thousand miles away.
    We had fun your old man and I. He was such a part of the world in VT for me. Building the deck or selling him bread we made it work. Looks like you got the gene for the gab. Please send my best to your Mom and sibs.

  13. I don’t know what caused me to Google “Jay Hathaway” today. I haven’t seen him since 1973. Jay and I lived on the same road in Simsbury, CT. We went to high school together. He was in my wedding. I knew Terri and Jay before they were married. I’m so sorry for your loss. It was nice to see the wonderful pictures of Jay after all these years. My parents and Jay’s were friends. If this gets to you, please tell Terri I am thinking about her.

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