Remembering My Third Set of “Grandparents” and a Special Friendship

BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND

My friends Stuart and Camille are now both gone. Both died at age 97—he in 2014, and she in February. Although they lived long lives filled with adventures and achievements, it still makes me sad. These two wonderful people with all their knowledge, energy (and boy did they have energy even into their 90s), and zest for life are now gone just like we all have to go someday. Seems a damn shame to me.  

Camille, Stuart, and I met when she was 84 and he was 91. I was 37. Camille had a long career as an academic advisor, career center director, and counseling psychologist at Michigan State University (MSU). She loved music throughout her life. In a letter she wrote to me, she said, “My double major at Syracuse University was piano performance and public school music. I was the supervisor of music at a school before I was married. Then, while raising a family of 3 children, I had a private piano studio where I had 45-50 piano students each week. I also conducted church choirs (my first husband was a minister) and played the organ for services.” Camille also told me how much she loved to play her Steinway piano. In 2008, she established an endowment for the benefit of the MSU Orchestras to provide support for the acquisition of “equipment and instruments, provide for student travel opportunities, grant student scholarships, commission works, fund guest artists, purchase or rent music, and provide for other opportunities that directly benefit the MSU Orchestras Program,” according to Developments, an MSU faculty newsletter. Upon her retirement, Developments reported that Camille was cited for her exemplary contributions to diversity. Several of her colleagues wrote: “We remember your leadership in the Upward Bound Program and thank you for helping minority students develop into well-rounded professionals.”

Stuart, her second husband (whom she married in 1996), was born in Canada and had a 40-year law career. He was on the boxing team at the University of Toronto, and he served in Canadian military intelligence during World War II. His obituary at Legacy.com states that he was “active in code breaking activities and [an] advisor in wireless communications” during the war. Legacy.com goes on to say that “he was a founder and first Chairman of York Central Hospital, a hospital built with no public money about which he was very interested and proud.” Stuart was a thinker who loved books and ideas. Our conversations were filled with discussions of books, philosophy, politics, history, and even health, nutrition, and fitness. He exercised every day in order to, as he once told me, “to generate my energy for the day.” That always impressed me. Camille and Stuart were world travelers, and were still traveling abroad when I first met them.

In a March 1, 2007, letter from Camille, she said the following:
“A photo of Stuart when he returned to Canada after World War II service. About 29 years old. Very dashing, isn’t he?”

In 1978, Camille began publishing the CAM Report, a career newsletter for high school and college counselors, teachers, and librarians. At its height, it had subscribers in all 50 states, Canada, and China.   

I’ve worked as a writer and editor focusing mostly on college and career planning since I was 25 years old. When I worked at Ferguson Publishing Company, I served as the managing editor of Career Opportunities News, a competitor to the CAM Report, before it was sold to another publishing company. I was familiar with Camille and Stuart and the CAM Report, but I’d never met them.

I always had a desire to work for myself, so I launched my own company, College & Career Press in 2002. The timing was good because Ferguson was sold to a New York–based publishing company in that same year. I worked on building my company, publishing a newsletter, College Spotlight, and I also started to create my own books. One day in 2007, I received a letter from Camille, asking if I would like to take over her beloved newsletter. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity. I’d have a college planning newsletter and now a career planning newsletter. Little did I know at time that I would make two new friends in the process. Once I took over the newsletter, I soon realized how amazingly ageless Camille and Stuart were to have been publishing a newsletter filled with 10-15 stories/issue 20 times a year—when she was 84 and he was 91. Writing this newsletter exhausts me, and I’m 35 years younger than they were when they finally gave it up.

Camille and Stuart served as consultants for maybe the first year of my publishing the CAM Report. They needn’t have worried. I would never have let them down. I remember saying just that to them (“Don’t worry, I won’t let you down,” like I was a teenager, rather than pushing 40 years old.) But they were the kind of people you’d never want to disappoint.

My last grandparent died in 1991. That’s a long time to go without a grandparent for a guy who is now only 50. But in a way, I met my second grandparents—Camille and Stuart—in 2007. They were not “blood” grandparents, of course, but they became like grandparents in a way. Or maybe like college professors that you became good friends with during your time in school, but kept in contact with thereafter.    

Camille and Stuart lived in Lansing, Michigan, and Naples, Florida, while I reside in Chicago. So, we didn’t see each other too often—perhaps once a year for about 5 years until Stuart died. We always met for lunch at Gibson’s on Chicago’s Gold Coast. We frequently exchanged letters and faxes filled with stories of each others’ lives. Camille would also often include news clippings on topics she thought I should cover in the newsletter. And we talked on the phone occasionally. Even though she’d sold the CAM Report to me, it was still hers in a way.   

I’ve wrestled with how to tell Camille and Stuart’s story, but they were too interesting, too spirited, and too diverse in their interests and experiences to summarize in just a few paragraphs of my own. Plus, I was only lucky enough to know them for a small percentage of their long lives. A better idea occurred to me: present them in their own words, in my journal entries over the years, and through a few photos. Many of the letters from more recent years are in storage, but I hope these excerpts give you an idea of my wonderful friends, Camille and Stuart. “My” friends really should be changed to “our” friends because my wife Amy also loved them as much as I did.  

January 2008
Christmas/New Year’s Card From Camille (photo of Stuart dancing with a belly dancer)

“How we ever did the CAM Report and sent out holiday cards is beyond me! Never have I been so late! Old age!! Some day we shall meet I hope!!!”

September 9, 2008
Letter From Camille

“We spend practically every waking hour glued to the TV coverage of Obama and McCain and reading about them. I was a Hilary fan and so feel a bit disappointed. And this McCain man who wants to turn the Republican party inside out, and this barracuda woman from Alaska!…Degrading the community organizer. Is that what she thinks about Martin Luther King? Phew! Exhausting times! No wonder I made some split-pea soup and forgot to put in the split-peas! Tally ho!”

September 9, 2008
Letter From Camille

“Received the September issues of the CAM Report. They are outstanding!!…Try to put them on the table at all future conferences.” [She was always giving me advice; she was such a savvy businessperson.]

October 10, 2008
Letter From Camille

“Can you believe that the stores are already geared up for Christmas! In my childhood, Santa used to arrive by plane on Christmas Eve night. In the meantime, let us savor the Thanksgiving holidays—being thankful for our good health and our pleasure at working in something we enjoy!”

April 20, 2009
Letter From Camille

“It’s a fantastic CAM Report that you are publishing!! We are so very proud of you!!!…I went to Syracuse University cocktail partly recently—and was shocked to hear that it costs $50,000 a year to attend! When I was a student there, I believe the cost was $3,000.”

November 4, 2009
Letter From Camille

“We want to make a trip to Chicago to meet you in person!”  

[And then we met them.]

October 6, 2010
Letter From Camille

“It was so delightful to meet you and to have very special time with you.”

September 25, 2011
Email From Stuart

“We feel very connected to you ever since meeting you last year…”

October 3, 2011
My Journal Entry

We had lunch at Gibson’s with Stuart and Camille. We had a great time. Stuart is 94, I think, and Camille is 87.

In their advanced years, they are more engaged and lively than many people in their 20s (taking Amtrak 5½ hours from East Lansing, Michigan, to Chicago, and then going to the symphony, several dinners, and a Bears game—all during a typical weekend visit!). They are filled with ideas, opinions, and a multidisciplinary way of viewing the world that most people lack today. Perhaps it is their nearly 200 years of life experience, or perhaps they are just from a different time when people were more substantial. The modern world must seem strange to them with its Facebook, confessional society, reality TV, and loosened dress and behavior codes. Yet, while they reference the past, they do not live in it. Stuart is a technology junkie—he has two Nook Readers and uses email and the Internet.

Each visit, we’ve met them for lunch at Gibson’s in the Gold Coast. And, every time, they are charmingly dressed to the nines, he in his suit and tie and Camille dressed so nicely, too, also—all for a casual lunch. I always feel underdressed when we meet. Camille and Stuart present a level of decorum and class that is missing in many instances today. They come from a time when people wore suits and hats to ballgames, men never swore in the company of women, cultured women never swore period, and conversation was an art that many longed to master. (Or are these just clichés I’ve learned from movies and other pop culture?) They have lived interesting and great lives, and they are happy and comfortable with who they are—kind and curious people, with opinions about almost everything, and repositories of all the things that I cherish: history, culture, art, literature, music, and much more.

February 8, 2012
Letter From Camille

“We think about you and Liam [our son, who was nearly 2 at the time] almost daily! We think you are doing a superb job with the CAM Report!! We have Liam’s photos, where we can smile at him every day…We had a lovely gathering to celebrate Stuart’s 95th birthday. He still exercises every day and keeps his brain working overtime. An amazing man!…Just think, Andy and Amy, you are the only company serving the needs of high school and college counselors! You have put everyone else out of business because they could just not keep up with you!” [Oh, but if it were true, I thought to myself as I re-read this letter, but it’s still a wonderful thought.]

October 22, 2012
My Journal Entry

We had a wonderful long lunch with our friends Camille (age 88) and Stuart (age 95) yesterday at Gibson’s. They looked more vigorous than last year! So full of ideas and life those two, so sharply dressed, whom we are so lucky to call our friends. Stuart really impresses me. He told us about the various books he was reading (including one on the history of forks), launched into a reverie about the role and importance of food in culture; detailed his quest for U.S. citizenship at age 95 (he told us he had an aperitif before the “test” and his special “swearing in”…he was astonished that the clerk told him it was an honor to meet someone like HIM); his thoughts on Obama (he hated his first debate performance like all of us; both he and Camille support him and think government exists to serve the people, not to make way for businesses to be successful; and they both think Obama will win); the power of myth and stories in creating our perceptions of ourselves; and much more. And this was all before our appetizers arrived at the table!

Stuart and Camille are special people, special friends—like two glasses fine wine that are savored only once a year. They impress me, and I feel like a better person when I’m around them. We had several aperitifs (wonderful sherry), and if I had one now I would raise my glass to Stuart and Camille. God bless you both.      

November 8, 2012
Letter From Camille

“Still remembering our very enjoyable lunches together. Thank you. How lucky we are to have you in our lives!!”

February 25, 2013
Letter From Camille

“We sure have not forgotten you. It’s just that advancing age precludes active involvement. Nevertheless, we think of you every day….Andy, have you looked into being an academic advisor? Michigan State University was and maybe still is looking for a director of placement.” [I was so unqualified for this job, but Camille came from a different era where it seemed like anything could be possible. She would always say, “You’d be perfect for this job. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a master’s degree.” Total grandma and advocate. So wonderful.]

September 8, 2013
My Journal Entry

Today, we met Stuart and Camille for an early dinner at Gibson’s. They took the Amtrak from East Lansing to Chicago, went to the Shedd Aquarium yesterday, and walked back to Camille’s daughter’s condo after dinner. I’m so impressed with their lives, their energy, and their joie de vivre. We are so lucky to have them as our friends. We brought Liam for the first time today, and Camille and Stuart were so pleased to meet him.

Stuart has had such an interesting life (and so has Camille). He served in military intelligence during World War II. During one visit, he told us about being in London during the war and seeing the bombed out neighborhoods. He also took part in D-Day and served in Belgium and Holland. He said that London was full of Allied soldiers from so many different countries that you rarely ever saw a British soldier. Stuart said that there was a common sense of purpose (fighting fascism) that brought people together at the time, and anybody you met would become a friend. He lamented that things aren’t like that anymore. We also started discussing the challenges we face as members of the human race. He said, “I don’t understand why life has to be such a struggle to survive. There is so much war, violence, and competition, and instead of all that, we should try to make this world a better place.”

When we parted, Stuart hugged me and said, “I really wish you all the best in the world.” I said to Stuart, “I hope to see you again next year when you visit Chicago, but hopefully sooner.” He grinned mischievously and said “I do, too!” (with just the simple tone and look on his face saying “I sure want to be alive for another year and continue to enjoy life).”

March 31, 2014
My Journal Entry

We received bad news over the weekend. Camille called to say that Stuart had congestive heart failure and was in hospice in Florida. She said that he wanted me to call him. Of course I called him. Stuart sounded very weak and had even more trouble hearing me than usual. I only understood about 25 percent of what he said. I told him that Amy and I loved him, appreciated him, and were thinking about him. He was happy to hear it, but he sounded so sick and a little sad. Camille said that he had gotten pneumonia right after Christmas and has had a terrible time. She said the hospice staff had been so kind to him. His room has a view of a lake, and he can watch the birds.

I feel badly for him. He is such a wonderful man. God bless you, Stuart. I hope your passing is soft and gentle—unlike what you’ve gone through during the last several months.  

April 7, 2014
My Journal Entry

We learned this weekend that our wonderful friend Stuart, age 97, died on Friday. The world is a far less interesting place without you, Stuart.

April 26, 2014
My Journal Entry

Amy bought some Dry Sack Sherry, which we often enjoyed with Stuart and Camille at Gibson’s. Amy and I raised our first glasses in a toast to Stuart. My toast: “Stuart, the world was a smarter, kinder, and better place with you in it, and you will be greatly missed.”

March 17, 2017
My Journal Entry

I talked to Camille for about 25 minutes today. She sounded extremely sharp at age 94, with her only complaint being about the long rehab she’s had since a fall two years ago. Her quip: “I didn’t expect to get old like this.” I laughed and thought to myself—having a sharp mind, being able to still walk, and being full of energy is not so bad at 94. Our conversation ranged from a verbal walkthrough of her 1,500-square-foot condo in Naples with a view of the bay, to her daily life, to our daily life (including funny Liam stories), to the CAM Report (“I just love what you’ve done with the newsletter. I’m really proud of you. You are such a hard worker.”)  

Summer 2019
Remembrance for this Blog

I talked to Camille for the last time during the summer. I could definitely tell that her general state of being had slipped a notch or so. She sounded tired, was a little slower in answering my questions, and we talked for only about 10 minutes. But the memory I’m left with was the warmth she conveyed. Everything was slowly being taken from her, but her essence—her kindness and warmth of spirit—remained. That memory will always stay with me.  

April 13, 2020
My Journal Entry

We received a note from Camille’s daughter this weekend. She told us that her mom passed away on February 22, 2020. In her letter, her daughter told me the last of Camille’s story: “She was rapidly declining in her last year. Regardless, she spent the summer enjoying her garden…[Her] last week included her attending a Valentine’s party as one of 80 guests. Not surprising, she was the last to leave.”

I will miss our wonderful friends, Stuart and Camille.

How full of life they were
How smart they were
How funny they were
How caring they were
How supportive they were of us

Thank you for being our friends, Camille and Stuart. Until we see you again.

Copyright (text and group photo of Stuart and Camille and us)

Camille and Stuart’s families hold copyright to all of the other photographs.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2021 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT

Looking for more great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. 

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About Andrew morkes

I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. 

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies. I’ve written and edited many books for Infobase including the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series.

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