My Best Friend

His name was David R. Caplan. He would have been 91 on March 11.

He was raised in Peoria, Illinois. His college was Notre Dame, an unlikely place for a Jewish boy. In World War II he was a navy pilot. Back from the war, he went to Harvard Business School and on to a very successful career in textiles.

He was CEO of Concord Fabrics, Evan Picone and HeadSport, then formed his own company, Metro Fabrics. After selling Metro, he became a volunteer -- first at Pencil, then at CityYear, a non-profit that trains high school graduates to tutor in NYC schools. Doing this, they earn a stipend which helps them go to college.

At CityYear, David spent more than a decade of long hours, raised millions, became the Dean. He was beloved by all. When he hit 90, he officially retired but continued to show up twice a week.

David was short but muscular and athletic. He and I had great tennis games -- first weekend mornings at County Tennis Club in Scarsdale, later the same at Tennisport in Long Island City. We even played in Provence, France during a trip with our wives. He beat me consistently until macular degeneration claimed his eyesight. He became legally blind but still went down to CityYear by subway.

Improbably, we were both rabid fans of the St. Louis Cardinals of the thirties. We loved to rattle off the names -- Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Ducky Medwick, Johnny Mize, Stan Musial.

I never knew anyone with more spirit than David. At Notre Dame, 130-pound David went out for the football team. The coach told him to get lost. He showed up the following day. "Caplan, are you still here," the coach growled in exasperation.

Erica Hamilton, CEO of CityYear, put it well: "More important than what he did for CityYear was how he did it. He could make anyone smile and treated everyone like they were special. I know his wish would be that after we shed our tears, we all find some way to celebrate his legacy by remembering all the great joy and laughter he brought to any room he entered. David was a force of nature that inspired so many of us."

I have known David for about 60 years. Only for the last 10 has he been my best friend. Being best friends was something that delighted both of us. We had lunch about once a week and talked on the phone almost every day. I never had a best friend before David. Friends are important and expected. Best friends, I think, are not so common and should be cherished. We cherished ours.

Old age is a peculiar time. It's a downward slope physically but not necessarily mentally. It was a comfort to me that David and I were going through it together. How lucky we were. We had lunch on Wednesday, December 9. He walked me back to my apartment and we parted with an awkward hug.

The next morning David died.

I now live in a world without David. I'm still a lucky man for many reasons. But it's not the world it was.