Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Friend, A Talent, Lost ...

John Ramsey Miller

Today I write with a hole in my heart, and tears clouding my eyes. I am stunned and I am angry. I am sitting here, watching (out the window) two of my grandchildren who are playing in a pool my wife bought at Walmart for five dollars, but I am reflecting on my dear friend for many years, Jay McSorley. He died this morning and I still disbelieve, feeling I am being conned and that he is all right over there in Iceland, so close to where his family started. The older you get the more you lose, and the more it matters.

Charles Jay McSorley was born in New Bern, North Carolina. He left there young, and he never lived anywhere very long, but where he lived, his mark and memories remain with all he met. He was one of the most talented authors, I’ve ever read. He had the smile of Peck. His eyes were beacons of intelligence and warmth. He was one of the most interesting and kindest people God ever created. So this morning he died in a hospital in Iceland, a world away from us, but closest to the one who loved and knew him best. He was fine one moment, then closed his eyes and was gone.

Jay lived in all over the United States and all over the world. He was at home in any country, with any men and women who spoke any language. He had the gift of bowling bowling people over with stories of his life. Tragedy and comedy are related, and he made had them always in the same bed.

Years back, when he was in Ireland, he sought out his family’s roots in the village he understood they had come from. He went to the Catholic Church to look through the records to find his kinsmen. The priest told Jay he was no more Irish that than the Pope because McSorley was the name the Irish gave to those children descended from the rapes of the pillaging Vikings. My God, he was a Viking. Vikings lived on the edge, with their faces in the saltwater wind as they lurched forth to conquer and pillage, never imagining they could find their way back home.

Jay died once before, in Kansas City, Kansas, but he returned that time, got the bypass deal, and we laughed about it. He told me while there might not be a God, there’s something out there waiting for us all. He saw it clearly. An adventure. A perfect equation to join. I believed him. I believed everything he ever told me. He never lied to me.

He could hold any gathering in the palm of his hand. With equal ease and enjoyment, he read advanced math books, poetry, and novels about ner-do-wells. He didn’t just live, he exploded life, and he understood more than just about anybody what makes people and things tick. And he lived every day as Jay McSorley, never making concessions to threat or promise.

His heart was one in a long line of the McSorley hearts that betrayed its owner by going weak in a natural stronghold. A heart so expansive goes at full steam and can’t go on forever. He wasn’t afraid of death, only of being pitied, or becoming frail. He was afraid of subsisting on soft food. He was steak and potatoes, and never tasted sprouts. His father died young of the same betrayal of heart. Jay told me over-and-over that he had no regrets. He had married the perfect woman for him, as she had the perfect man for her. His children were a source of pride and amazement, and he had a grandchild on its way in that he will never hold, and every child wanted to be held in those strong hands, and kissed, and warmed in his smile. Together he and his mate, Lisa, were a unit of the full measure of love and devotion.

As a writer he eclipsed and shamed me and damned near any writer you can name. A natural, he was. Nobody could describe with his flair, or see into and communicate human emotion like he could. He could make you laugh and cry at the same time. He got “it” and he had a gift for sharing it, but he didn’t desire to become famous, or join in any chase that was not of his design. Had he published and become a best-selling author, he would not have been impressed with praise, or accepted accolades without laughing at the absurdity of being praised. Doing was his reward, writing entertained him. I fought to get him to let me shop his manuscripts, but he would not. He wrote for himself and for his wife and sometimes a friend, but not for profit or notoriety.

McSorley listened more than he spoke, but when he spoke there was laughter following along, an accent to his baritone and sense of humor. He grew beards in a matter of hours, and shaving took a long hot shower to accomplish. He was a Viking, after all. When he passed he was working on a short story that would certainly have been published and he was excited about it. He was the greatest writer you may never read. Someday I hope to get my hands on the words he crafted, and share them. If it is possible, I will do that and he will be a name remembered, long after I am vanished.

He was my friend. He was my brother. I loved him deeply. I will miss him as long I live. And I will miss what he could have been, should have been, even beyond what he was, which was more than most of us can hope to be. He would have been a character in one of my books, but I lack the talent to bring him to life on a page. Good-by my dear and gentle friend.


  1. What a touching tribute. Thank you.

    BK Jackson

  2. Thanks for sharing your dear friend with us, John. I'm so sorry for your loss, for everyone's loss. You made me feel the hole he will leave behind.

  3. John, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. It's been a tough summer for sure.

  4. Such sad news, John. Thank you for sharing such a touching tribute.


  5. A great loss, John. Thanks for sharing your tribute with us.

  6. So sorry about your loss, John. What a wonderful tribute. You made me wish I'd known him.

  7. Beautiful. You described him perfectly. I can go back and read this again and remeber him with joy.

  8. thank you John, he loved you too.
    Lisa, his one and only true love.

  9. Sorry for your loss. Excited for your friend. He's on to the next great adventure.

  10. John, while I grew up around Jay and his family, I knew of him as a friend whom was beloved by a mutual friend. I was told the journey he had chosen and his wonderful witty,warm and caring soul. Thank you for the eloquent prose,most meaningful and of true spirit. I am quite sure that his angel feathers will reach far and wide, as did he with love.

    Louise Badham Peele

  11. So sorry to hear about your friend. Thank you for sharing this tribute - we got at least a glimpse of the man that you were privileged to know.

  12. John
    Beautiful...true. Your words captured Jay's essence: a truly loving husband, Father, and Friend.

    Life...and its problems will be harder without Jay's insightful, caring Friendship.

    He certainly loved you.


  13. I am so sorry for your loss, John.

  14. John, we have never met but Jay talked about you alot. You are a dear friend.
    Jay and my husband, Gattis, have been friends since early grade school and the stories both could tell. Someday I would like to share them with you but now is to soon.
    Thank you for your tribute to Jay. I am sure that he would love it and laught at the retelling of some of his exploits. He will be missed by many and many will mourn the lost opprotunity of having met him.

  15. I did not know Jay but my husband Jimmy Pope did. We are so very sorry for the loss of your true friend. They are so very hard to come by and it hurts so much to lose one. He is on the next Great Adventure. Your story is wonderful.
    Lou Pope

  16. I feel like I know Gattis and Jimmy. If Jay talked about anybody, you felt like you knew them as well as he did. He didn't waste his time with people who weren't worth his time, which was short.

    I named a character Fernie Earnest Sloop. Friends are people you play golf with, or shoot baskets beside, or have a drink with after work. Jay never settled for casual pals. If you weren't willing to open yourself, to share some major part of yourself, and to care about what mattered to him, he had better time to spend elsewhere. I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him, because if you knew him, you liked him. There was no disliking the man.

    He was my brother. He was Andrew's brother. He was Gattis's brother. And he was one-woman-for-life guy. I am proud to have known him and I fully expect to see him again.

  17. Thank you John for such a beautiful tribute. My husband is Jeff McSorley,Jays first cousin They were really more like brothers,being so close in age and growing up together.WE have never had the opportunity to meet you John,but Jay has always spoken highly of you.We were there when they renewed their vows in Tennessee and visited them several times in New York.There was truly an aura amongst this close-knit family.Jay was everything that you described in your tribute.Jeff said it best.."If you looked up the word SOUL-MATE in the dictionary,you would find a picture of Lisa and Jay.As Jay looks down on us and smiles,may we all embrace our personal memories of such a great husband,father,brother and

  18. John, your words have touched my heart. I always new Jay had my back, no matter what. He was the closest brother I had, tho I did not see him often, I felt his love and support always. I hope you are able to bring his talent to the rest of the world some day. His uncompromising love for my sister is a thing to behold.
    Bruce (brother in law)

  19. John, you brought Jay to life exceptionally well in this piece. I feel such a loss in never knowing this man, let alone through your eyes.

    Make him a character, John. Bring him back to life. He did it once. Maybe as his friend, he'd like you to do it a second time.

    Big hug, John. I feel your pain.

  20. I am so sorry for your loss. With a friend like you, he will live forever. I hope you are able to publish his words and spread his legacy.

  21. John, thank you for this magnificent eulogy. I heard about Jay last week but nothing more since.

    As his younger cousin (my father was Jay's dad's younger brother John) I always loved seeing him. He was born Charles James McSorley IV (after his father, grandfather, and great grandfather) but he told me he always found that to be a little weighty for him, and went by Jay from an early age. When I was a young boy he was like the older brother I never had. He always had a story to tell and a laugh to share. He met Lisa and they were always brilliant together - told me he knew her the moment he met her - with her wit and sense of humor being singularly as sharp as his it was like watching slow nuclear fusion, something most people didn't understand or could fully appreciate. I would hear through my mother that they had moved to Europe again and I thought I'd be seeing both of them again one day, but he'd be off to the next adventure before we had a chance to reconnect. I will regret not making the extra effort to track him down. John I'm glad you got to know him as well as you did. He was a gift to the family and I'm sad with the reality he no longer walks the earth because everyone he touched was bettered by it. God bless Lisa and Graham and Lauren and Blair and give them peace in their memory of C.J. McSorley IV. I have been waiting for any book of his to be finished. Please do your best to publish his stories.

    Jay, say hello to the almighty for me and save me a seat at the bar you beautiful soul.

    John McSorley

  22. I hope Jay's work will be published someday. It is, I assure you, something worth waiting for.

  23. JAY MCSORLEY was one of my supervisors at a chemical manufacturing facility, Ajinomoto USA in Raleigh, NC during the early 80's He was a genuine guy. Down to earth and well respected. He had two kids at that time whom he love. Sorry to hear of his death and have though of him often in the last twenty five years. I even remember meeting his mom Alice. He called her by her name. Blessesing to his family Beverly Jones Tabron

  24. Thank you for posting this. Jay was my second cousin. Our mothers were first cousins and were like sisters. Since his mom's passing, we had lost track of him. He had a heart attack around the time my mom died in 2005. He was always full of life and adventure. Your article certainly describes him well. Thank you, Liza T. Ingram

  25. thanks John. everything but this part was true...
    'He was fine one moment, then closed his eyes and was gone. '
    he wasn't fine