Friend always

THE LIFE OF KINGS

Much to cherish about late Sun colleague

Christian Ewell

May 14, 2008|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG

No matter what profession you choose in life, if you like your job, at some point your co-workers start to feel less like the people whose desks abut yours and more like a part of your extended family. You share countless lunches, they get invited to your wedding, and they stand in your kitchen with a smile, a drink in hand, the first time you celebrate the fact that you scraped together enough money to buy your first house.

The Sun lost a member of its extended family last weekend, and though he was probably just a byline to many of you who follow the sports section, Christian Ewell will be remembered by many of us as one of the most genuine, kind, loyal and fun individuals most of us ever had the privilege to call a friend. A few years ago, Chris was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He fought courageously, but ultimately died Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., at age 33, surrounded by a family who loved him deeply.

Just a year ago this week, Chris, Sun reporter Brent Jones and I pooled some money, bought some chicken wings and pizza, and watched Floyd Mayweather Jr. pick apart Oscar de la Hoya from Chris' apartment in Baltimore. We spent countless evenings like that, watching sports and cracking jokes. In time, Baltimore felt less like a foreign country and more like a place we grew to call home.

And now Chris is gone. Few things in my life have ever seemed quite so unfair.

There are so many people who feel lucky to have called him a friend, and my wife and I are among them. He had such an awesome laugh. I can't tell you how much joy so many of us at The Sun derived from listening to Chris laugh. On the nights when all the under-40 Sun crowd would gather at someone's house for drinks, you could catch Chris' eye from across the room (because he was so tall) and he'd raise his glass and bust out a big wide grin and a nod that would instantly make you feel better about the world.

Our friends used to joke that we could never find a decent restaurant in Baltimore without Chris' assistance. He had an internal GPS that seemed to be connected to his refined palate, and he was always leading us to fabulous bistros or restaurants that were as hidden as Smurf Village. For many of us, Chris was the first person to extend a hand and offer it in friendship. We spent a lot of evenings, and dollars, in Baltimore bars dreaming of the journalists we hoped we might someday become.

It wasn't always a smooth ride. When we were young and finicky about our copy, I remember Chris covered a Georgetown basketball game in D.C. The copy desk didn't care for his lead and decided to rewrite it, over Chris' objections.

"Were you upset?" I asked him later.

"Initially," he said. "But I packed up my computer, found a bar, and midway through my second drink it suddenly didn't bother me that much."

He was always shooting me messages, asking what I thought of this novel or that biography, leaving David Sedaris or John Edgar Wideman books on my desk that he thought I'd like. I think he'd seen every critically acclaimed art-house film ever released. The man knew music, too. All kinds. I still have one of his J-Live CDs that he lent me because he wanted to expose me to some real hip-hop.

About six years ago, I confessed to Chris that I had a crush on another reporter at The Sun, and that it was killing me she was practically engaged to another reporter at the paper. One winter Sunday, Jones, Chris and I were helping our friend Phill move out of his D.C. apartment, and Chris informed me that my crush and her boyfriend had recently split.

"Well KVV," he said, "looks like you'll get your chance after all."

I ended up marrying that girl. At my wedding reception three years ago, I pulled Chris aside and reminded him of that day.

"Hey," he said, huge grin spreading across his face. "Just doing my part."

Chris' health deteriorated more quickly than any of us could really comprehend. He didn't like to talk about it much. Even when he was sick, he continued to tutor at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School, taking the light rail (because he could no longer drive) then walking the last mile, often in miserable winter weather.

Jones and Chris' close friend Liz Kay, also a reporter at The Sun, went to visit him a couple of times in Kansas City, and they told him how much he'd meant to us all, and I know it meant the world to him. They were noble and kind to Chris during his final months in ways I only wish I'd had the courage to be.

During his final visit to Baltimore this fall, we all had drinks at the Tusk Lounge to celebrate his brief return to town, and at the end of the night, I hugged him and lied when I told him that I knew, deep down, it was all going to be OK, that he'd be back in Baltimore soon. I think he knew I was lying, but he understood why. We laughed.

My wife and I were out looking for houses when I got the call that he was gone. Chris had been sick for some time, but the news still hit me hard. In the parking lot of a Chipotle, my wife and I cried as we told stories about him. I can picture him now at my wedding, smiling at the camera and flashing a peace sign.

Rest in peace, Chris. Thank you, most of all, for being such a kind and genuine friend to so many of us. Know that Baltimore, and the pages of The Sun, are lesser without you in them.

Know, too, that when my wife and I throw that first party in our new house, I know you'll be with us in spirit, standing in the kitchen, raising your glass and grinning ear-to-ear.

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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