Peter was a Princeton grad and had served as an aid to New York Senator Jacob Javits before going to Wall Street, where he became a managing director at Drexel Burnham. He lived in a multi-million dollar home in one of Westchester’s nicest neighborhoods and had a wife and two kids – all with last names for first names. To top it off, Peter had a deep need to be the center of attention and “the big man” in every situation. By the time I met him he was in his late 40’s, semi-retired, and playing a lot of golf. This combination of traits would normally be all it takes to make me slide to the farthest bar stool from their owner. And yet, Peter was a very hard guy to dislike.
“Charming” is the only word I know for it; he had lots of funny stories, and often made himself the butt of his own jokes. He could put anyone at ease. He knew more people at the club after a year than I know now, more than 10 years later, and he loved to gossip –not the mean-spirited kind of gossip that characterizes club culture, but a harmless “the-king-has-no-clothes” kind that always made the most pompous, imperious members its slightly-bruised victims.
Every year the club brought in a couple young pros straight out of college. They made very little money and lived in a small apartment over the pro shop. Peter took a couple lessons a week and played almost every day, but could never get much below a 30 handicap. One summer he took one of the pros out for a playing lesson once a week and always bet him on the match. It didn’t matter how many strokes he got, he lost every time. I can’t even remember what Peter would have theoretically won had he ever beaten the pro, but I’ll never forget what he lost. The young pro had a girlfriend but no car. Every time he beat Peter he won the use of Peter’s car that Saturday night – a Mercedes SL500 of very recent vintage.
Peter began to suffer serious economic reversals around 2001, and over the course of a couple of years they caused him to first drop his club membership, and then sell his beautiful home near the Hudson. Several of us tried to stay in touch, inviting him for drinks or dinners, but he refused all invitations. After a few months he stopped returning calls and emails.
As the years went by his wife divorced him and he became estranged from his children, even missing his daughter’s wedding a year or so ago. There were stories of several found, and lost, jobs over the past couple of years, but I don’t know if they are true. He recently had a trial as the real estate authority on Fox Business Network, but it apparently did not go well enough to win a regular gig.
Last Wednesday a motorist reported seeing a man run across several lanes of traffic on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge which carries I-84 over the Hudson River. The man was Peter. He leapt over the rail to the river 160 feet below. Dead and alone at 59. He’d been living in a hotel in Fishkill, a run-down, up-state river town for several months.
On one hand it wasn’t a great surprise, but on the other, it was an enormous shock. I’m having a very hard time connecting the dots from the person I knew to the man running across that bridge. I went to the Fox site and viewed Peter’s segment. I’m not sure I would have recognized him. He’d lost 20-30 pounds and his hair was thinner, but the real difference was that the light was out. The big personality and stupendous self-confidence had been replaced by a nervous, tentative man I didn’t know.
Several of us are trying to find out if there will be be services, but no one seems to know. I’m sorry I couldn’t help my friend. I’m sorry he died so alone and desperate. I wanted to share a little of the good and happy man I knew before fate took its unfortunate turn.