A Fond Goodbye to Patrick ‘Buddy’ Swayze

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A Fond Goodbye to Patrick ‘Buddy’ Swayze

As the world pays tribute to the blue collar dance instructor of “Dirty Dancing” and the don’t-mess-with-me bouncer from “Road House,” I say goodbye to a friend. We weren’t “hang out with each other” friends whose paths frequently crossed. Patrick didn’t have a lot of them. But one of the closest friends he did have was also a friend of mine, and that’s how I originally got to know “Buddy.” That’s what we called Swayze. Our mutual friend, Steve, grew up with Patrick in Houston. They both worked around horses and had a great love for a western way of life. When Patrick filmed the movie “Red Dawn” in and around Las Vegas, New Mexico he fell in love with the area. He talked his childhood friend, Steve, into purchasing adjoining ranches to the east of the town. If you’ve seen the movie “Red Dawn” you might recall a house where the freedom fighters meet up with an elderly couple who have been hiding two young girls in a secret cellar under their house. That house, now in ruins, is sandwiched between Patrick and Steve’s ranches. Eight years ago, Steve invited me to join him on a trail ride that was being staged at the beautiful Bell Ranch in the northeast corner of New Mexico. We met up at Steve’s place in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The next morning we drove in to the airport on the outskirts of town in order to take Steve’s private plane over to the Bell Ranch. It was there—at that airport—that Steve first introduced me to his childhood friend, Patrick “Buddy” Swayze. We flew into the private airstrip at the Bell Ranch and joined about 50 other guys for a few days of horse back riding, great food, fabulous country music and sleeping under the stars. Patrick really knew horses. He was a terrific rider. He also thoroughly knew how to have a good time. After riding for about four hours, Patrick insisted that Steve and I join him for a swim in the lake. We hadn’t brought bathing suits so we just jumped in in our underwear. The picture of Steve, Patrick and me standing there side-by-side in our skiveys was a real hit when Darcy ultimately downloaded my photos from the trail ride. In the years since, we’ve saddled up several more times. Between riding canyons, wolfing down steaks and private knife throwing lessons (Buddy was good at that), we’ve talked for hours about life, marriage, the environment (something really close to Swayze’s heart), commitment and things eternal. And then something strange and tragic happened. Three years ago, in May, we all gathered for our trail ride at the Bell Ranch. At the end of our time together, we said our farewells figuring it would be another year before our paths again crossed. But three months later toward the end of August, we found ourselves back at the Bell Ranch. Tragically, the owner of the Bell Ranch and host of our trail ride—our dear friend, Jeff Lane—crashed in his private plane out on the Bell. I joined up with Steve and Buddy at the Bell Ranch for Jeff’s funeral. We were all stunned. Jeff was this life-of-the-party cowboy’s cowboy. The last thing we ever thought when we said goodbye to him in May was that we’d never see him again. But there we were … remembering his life and mourning his death. It turned out that it would be the last time I’d see Patrick face-to-face. The three of us had flown out together in Steve’s plane, but Swayze was going to stay behind and join some of the guys who were heading up to the camp ground where we all used to ride horses so that they could build a fire and tell stories about Jeff on into the night. Steve, his pilot and I got up to leave and I turned to say goodbye to Patrick. He said, “No way, I’ll ride down in the truck to the airfield with you.” The airstrip was about a mile from the homestead where the Lane family had staged the funeral. I said, “You don’t have to. Beside, it’s a dusty ride and the truck won’t fit all of us.” He insisted. As it turned out, Buddy and I sat in the bed of the pickup with our backs against the cab as it rumbled its way to the private airstrip of the Bell Ranch. Steve and his pilot readied the plane for take off. When they signaled for me to load up I turned to shake hands with Patrick … Who knows what the back story is in a person’s life. Maybe it was the melancholy we were all feeling from having to process the sudden death of our dear friend, Jeff Lane. Or maybe it was the unspoken possibility that all of us were feeling but not voicing—namely that the trail ride that had brought all of us together as friends came to an end when Jeff crashed his plane into the canyon of the Bell Ranch. Or maybe Buddy just had a hunch that his own days were numbered. Regardless, instead of shaking my hand, Swayze gave me a prolonged bear hug. I told him I’d see him again. He said he hoped it was so. And then we flew away. Several months after that I got the word that Patrick had pancreatic cancer. I know all about this brand of cancer. My mother died of it. I remember that year she died. She was diagnosed in June and died in October. When I heard Swayze had the same thing, I prayed as hard for him as I did for my own mother, yet I knew his chances were slim. We have exchanged a few text messages since that day, but other than that, I never had any more contact with him. I was just one of the millions of people who admired his talent, one of the thousands of people who got to see him in person, and one of the hundreds of people who got to spend enough time with him to earn the privilege of calling him by his nickname. We had some great times and some great talks. I cannot speak to his ultimate destiny. That’s between him and God. But I’m grateful for his commitment to his craft, his devotion to his wife, his faithfulness to his friends, his pursuit of adventure and his love for life.

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