“Fried chicken and mashed potatoes, you’d love it!”
This was one of the last things I messaged Derek Zeller. “Miss you, D” and “Miss you, Lady” is how we ended every conversation. He hated when people would call him “D,” yet for some reason, I was given permission to use it. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes, I couldn’t think of a more fitting final conversation with my friend.
Two All-American, staple food items that will always remind me of Derek. Chicken is loyal, faithful, and yet extremely complicated. Fried, baked, grilled? White or dark? Bland, mild, spicy? Leg, breast, wing? It’s a pleasurable and affordable meal that everyone cherishes.
For many, Derek was a little crispy on the outside. For those of us who had the utmost privilege to be in his inner circle, we knew he was battling health issues that crippled his appearance. For someone who thrived among people, this broke him. As his health began to decline, his speech became slurred, the color of his skin changed, his weight grew and well he always loved a stiff cocktail, or six.
Inside, he couldn’t have been more perfectly ordinary. With an enormous heart, Derek lived for others. He was my biggest cheerleader. To Derek, I was his Midas. I could do no wrong.
Derek was often misunderstood. He simply wanted to love and be loved in return. He measured his worth through people reaching out for help. It was never about him, ever. If you were up late with no one to talk to, dial Derek and he’d answer on the first ring. If you found yourself alone at a conference, at a bar, or in any social setting, there is a high probability that Derek wouldn’t miss an opportunity to introduce himself. In fact, I’m convinced he answered every obnoxious telemarketing call just to talk to someone. Well, and show them how to actually solicit a donation.
I remember the first time I met Derek. It was in a hotel room in Atlanta. We sat on the bed and talked for hours. I was so comfortable with him. It felt like we’ve known each other for years. In fact, if you don’t have a similar memory of the first time you met Derek, then you likely never spoke to the guy.
Derek wanted a companion. He wanted to be accepted, to be chosen, to be included. He would give you the shirt off his back, and I’ve seen him do this many times, and expect nothing in return. It was impossible to have a short conversation with him. You could talk to him for hours, about nothing! That is what was so great about Derek. He was so simple and yet so complicated. He was artistic, yet scientific. Fragile, but also strong.
He was dependable, humble, sweet, and was an advocate for change. There was no one beneath Derek and no judgment was ever cast. His glass was always half full.
Derek would want to be known as a successful recruiter. But most importantly, a good man. And that indeed is who he was. So every time I sit and enjoy some Babe’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes, I will always remember my dear good friend, Derek. A friend that can not be replaced. A friend of which I need more of. A one in a million friendship.
Miss you, D!