I first met Duke Bope when I was 15 years old. We played junior golf together. He was a long ball, really good player and I felt like I was handling a telephone pole when I grabbed a golf club. No real feel for the game but my dad encouraged me to play, so I did. Duke and I ended up in inter-club matches together and in some instances when they tried to stack the deck, he was stuck with me for a high school golf partner. It was there that I first saw…….”the look”. A guy from St Elizabeth accidentally stepped on Duke’s brand new driver and he looked at the guy with a look that could melt stone. The guy turned 50 shades of white and I intervened and said, ” Ah Duke, we can get that fixed – no problem.” And we moved on. I thought we were going to have a homicide on our hands that day.
He loved to drive my ’64 Buick convertible even though he did not have a license and I always let him have the helm after school with our group of nitwits holding court with the top down. Not real bright on my part but how do you refuse a “Big 33” football player?
Moving forward, I went to see Duke at Boston University and we had some fun times hitting the music scene in bars in the Cambridge area. I specifically remember one night when we went to this joint and saw a flaming red head wailing on her guitar and singing the blues as well as anyone we had ever seen. Bonnie Raitt went on to international fame but we saw her in her Boston club days and still talked about it years later. Duke was a music guy and we always talked about the latest albums and concerts. For an ex B.U. football player, he had an artistic side which helped him in later life working with his dad and brother in the tile business in Pittsburgh.
As we both entered the working world, football was always entertaining to Duke and he always thought that if you didn’t wear a helmet and pads, it was not a sport. He never understood my love for cycling and remarked, ” I thought you quit riding bikes when you are 14?” I took him to the Thrift Drug Classic to see the international class cyclists ride up Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh and he was amazed. I said, ” Duke- these guys are in amazing shape” and he agreed but never really understood until I nurtured his understanding over the years. My son Jack taught him a lot about basketball and he became a big fan of Lebron James.
He and I were pals and as different as we were, we learned a lot from each other. Duke was a strong Christian and his love for the Lord was evident in his daily life. He always quoted scripture and had a serious demeanor to him. Over the years, I saw…….” the look” but I always liked to make him laugh and often at our dinner table with Janet, Jack and his mom, I would catch him off guard and make him belly laugh. He and I were so different yet we learned so much from each other.
I remember when I first dated his sister who eventually and fortunately became my wife, I made the trek to Bellevue where they both lived in the apartment building that their dad owned. As I pulled up to the curb, I saw Duke in the yard. His remark was, ” What brings you to Bellevue, Pat.” And “the look” came out again. I stuttered and stammered a response about a date at Hartwood Acres. He chuckled and went inside. I learned later that he remarked to Janet,” He is a nice kid.” Janet said, ” Kid? He is older than you.”
Duke maintained his love for golf all of his life and as a single digit handicapper at Sewickley Heights Golf Club, he was well known for his ability and had a lot of friends there. He lost in a playoff this summer for the Senior Club Championship and his competitive nature came out when he talked to me about the match. He had the guy on the ropes and let him off the hook and it made him angry. The fiery competitor was not amused and no matter how I tried to say that it was amazing to make the finals, he wanted to win. He was a winner. Second place was never good enough.
We eventually moved into the same neighborhood with Duke so that his mom, Jack, Janet and I could live close by and we spent a lot of time together grilling, sharing time on each other’s patios and spending holidays and fun times together. When you talk to Duke’s friends, the common denominator besides being a strong Christian is that he was extremely generous. Case in point, when we moved in, the next day, a beautiful Weber grill was on my patio, courtesy of Duke. He would entertain his mother’s friends and buy them gifts along with taking them out to eat. He would have parties at his house and always had beautiful gifts for the ladies. He couldn’t do enough for you. His mother tells the tales that Duke would not of his anonymous generosity with people who were in need at CMA Church on the Northside. Picking up peoples tabs at McDonald’s where it was obvious that needy people were scrambling to put together enough money for a meal. He never wanted it known that he was the gracious host.
We lost Duke this week at 61 year old. A tragic and sudden illness took him away and we all feel the void in our house, the neighborhood, his workplace and among his customers and friends. A big strong human being was taken at short notice,and we are stunned. The only consolation for us is that we know he is with the Lord who he loved with all of his heart. If there is a golf course in heaven, I know that his dad was waiting on the first tee with a smile on his face. ” You’re on the tee, Duke.” I am sure he approached the ball, gave it ” the look” and creased it right down the middle as strongly as ever. Life is fragile folks. Love your spouse, your family, your friends, and take the time for all of them. Duke surely did. Thanks for reading.