Duane Hardy had a gentle, kind spirit and a humility that permeated everything about him. He was a Vietnam veteran. At six years my elder, both of us were bound by similar challenges as young married fathers struggling through college while working on the sports staff of a college newspaper.
Hardy was the sports editor of The Daily Universe at BYU in 1976 and I was one of his sportswriters trying to learn the trade and hopefully one day find a place in the business. I was eager to please him and he believed in me.
I bring up Hardy today because of his intersection with BYU head basketball coach Dave Rose, who began this basketball season undergoing surgery as part of his treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Rose has fought cancer in his body since June 2009. On Wednesday, for the 14th straight year, Rose and his wife Cheryl led a cancer fundraiser by hosting Mac’s Gift Charity — the collection and distribution of gifts for 60 families who have children with cancer.
In other words, Rose talks the talk and walks the walk. He did so before his diagnosis.
Sandwiched in between BYU's loss to Utah last Saturday and the Cougars' upcoming game at Oregon comes this opportunity to tell a Rose story he probably would never share himself.
Hardy and I got our degrees one year apart. He worked for the state of Utah and I stayed in the newspaper business. Occasionally, we’d trade phone calls — and later emails — over the past 40 years, but I never saw him again.
On Oct. 9 this past fall, I received the following email from Duane:
It has been many years since our days working on The Daily Universe.
I have had a life-changing event in my life and it has prompted me to seek out my friends from the past.
In May, I retired from my data processing career with the state, only to find out that the perplexing illness that had been bothering me for a couple of weeks was pancreatic cancer.
A tumor was found in the head of my pancreas. At this time it cannot be removed. There is also cancer in my liver and other places that need to be treated first.
So right now, the length and quality of my life will be dictated by the success of my chemo treatments. Not great news, but I am faithfully going to the treatments and obeying all the rules.
I would love to see you again and maybe share a lunch. It would be fun to get a picture with you so my kids will believe that I actually worked on a paper and with a famous sportswriter.
I also have a big desire on my bucket list that you may be able to help me with.
I would love to meet and shake hands with Dave Rose.
He has become a bigger hero in my life now. Not only because he is a great coach and person, but for the way he is fighting his pancreatic cancer. I feel like I have a bond with him now. I would be honored to meet him.
I would be very grateful if you could try to set this up.
If you are unable, perhaps you could send me the name of a person I could contact.
Regardless of a Dave Rose meeting or not, I would still love to have lunch with you.
As you have time, with your busy schedule and all, will you get back with me?
Stunned, I immediately contacted him, expressing my sorrow over his health and promising I would arrange to take him to have lunch and attend a basketball practice to meet Rose. I explained I’d make the phone calls needed, and that after my trip to cover BYU's football team in Houston, we’d get it done.
I followed through on Oct. 12 by calling Kyle Chilton, the media contact for Rose, and he said he’d take the request to BYU's head coach. Chilton called back a week later and said Rose would certainly meet Hardy. Upon returning from the BYU-Houston game Oct. 22, I contacted Hardy to arrange a time he could come to Provo, go to practice and have lunch.
Hardy never replied to my email.
I called Duane’s wife Shirley to inquire about Duane and arrange the meeting. She informed me Duane had taken a turn for the worse — hospice was involved and he was heavily medicated and rarely awake. I felt horrible.
I relayed the information to Chilton, who informed Coach Rose that Hardy was unable to come to Provo. I’d failed my friend. I didn’t get him to meet Rose.
On Monday, Oct. 28, Chilton called me and said Rose had decided he’d drive up to West Valley City to see Hardy in his home and would be at his bedside early the next day. Even if Hardy was unable to speak or recognize him, Rose said he would be there at 9. I called Shirley with the news and received her approval.
Tuesday morning, Rose was at Hardy’s bedside, shaking hands with his wife and family. He and Cheryl had brought some BYU gear and a cheerful attitude. They were messengers of comfort and hope, reassuring with support and everything they could muster as strangers. Inside that home, for the few precious minutes they could give, they assisted a fading man and his loved ones.
No, Rose was not going to save Duane. He was not going to turn the tide of cancer that struck like lightning to an otherwise productive father, husband, grandfather and friend. He was there because he thought it would help, and he had answered a call.
Hardy and Rose were no longer strangers that day.
Instead of courtside, they met in perhaps the most intimate setting two men can have. In fact, they found a common bond that transcends words and handshakes. Rose has survived his cancer for four years; Hardy had barely gotten to know his.
That night, Oct. 29, 2013, in the solitude of his bed and house, Duane Hardy died.
When I got his email 21 days before his death, I had no idea he’d be gone before November.
There’s a lesson there for all of us. It isn’t hard to figure out.
We are blessed to wake up and see the light of the sun. We can’t waste these days or fail to do or say the things that should not be left for tomorrow.
Duane Hardy learned this. Dave Rose figured it out a long time ago.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].