Updated: Jul 4
I miss Sanford.
We met in 1968 and were friends and fraternity brothers for 49 years.
Here from the Richmond Times Dispatch, “Mr. John Sanford Boisseau, 67, of Richmond, Va., surrounded by his loving family, peacefully passed away on May 21, 2017. Sanford, lovingly known as "Coach," will be remembered for his quick wit, infectious smile, and devotion to all that knew him. He was born on August 4, 1949, in Richmond, Va.”
He would probably define himself as jock, father, husband, grandfather, coach. He supported himself and his family as a teacher, realtor, and a real estate appraiser, but none of those monikers really defined him.
I never really knew him as “Coach”. As friends and family who read this will hopefully agree, Sanford reinvented himself multiple times in his life, with Coach being only his last nickname.
When I first met him, he was a classmate welcoming me to his big brother’s fraternity. Since Edward “Hooker” Boisseau had come before, his little brother was surely going to be a Sigma Pi at the College of William and Mary. So when I met him at the first rush event, he was already in and I was looking in.
I remember that on first meeting our senses of humor clicked, even if we had very little else in common. He was a stud. I was not. He was a jock. I was not. I was worried about grades. He was not. In fact, the one constant in Sanford’s reinventions was his ability to convey an air of not being worried about anything. Even when he was staring down certain death.
Sanford's love of sports was a common thread throughout his life. He graduated from The Collegiate School Class of '68, where he was the first inductee into The Collegiate School Athletic Hall of Fame. Sanford went on to graduate from The College of William and Mary, '72, where he starred on both the basketball and baseball teams. He coached for over 20 years in numerous schools and organizations, including The Collegiate School, Douglas Southhall Freeman and American Legion Post 125, where he touched the lives of so many young people.
When Sanford was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the cruel irony that he was fighting the same disease that had taken his beloved older brother, Hooker, was not lost on any of his many friends. Hooker had been everyone’s big brother in the fraternity and his girlfriend and then wife was literally the sweetheart of Sigma Pi. His death had been an unspeakable tragedy.
But from the first time I saw him in Charleston, SC, at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital on March 16, 2016 until close to the end of his life 14 months later, Sanford’s infectious sense of humor and unwavering courage gave us all the hope that he was the one in a million who was going to beat this. His competitive spirit would not allow him to come to any other conclusion and it buoyed his whole “team”.
At Bon Secours, he had charmed the entire staff with his wit and kindness. He introduced me as one of only two “adults” in his fraternity with John Metzger, my roommate, the other brother deserving of the title. “Had we not had Constance and Metzger, no telling what would have happened to us.” I climbed into his hospital bed with him that day and we clowned for his loving family and the camera.
In the late summer of 2016, when Sanford was still well-enough to travel, Metzger and I took him to see a Washington Nationals home baseball game. I picked Sanford up in Richmond, drove him to DC, and we spent game night at Hampton Inn and Suites a block from the park.
One memory of that night I will never forget because it was so “Sanford”.
With my father’s admonition that we only come this way once, so, “let’s not sit in the cheap seats”, I had gotten us 3 lower reserve seats on the first base side. We were in foul ball territory, surrounded by kids with baseball gloves.
In the first inning there was a towering popup that Metzger and I just knew was coming down on top of us, so we expectantly rose from our seats in preparation. Sanford remained seated and the ball landed ten rows behind us.
In the third inning, again a pop fly towered into the evening sky and John Metzger and I stood up for the attempted catch. Sanford looked up but again didn’t move. The ball came down into the glove of Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman who was not even close to the railing.
As John and I were sitting down, with his usual perfect timing, Sanford said, “Look, I may have a brain tumor, but I can still judge a popup. When I stand up, you stand up. OK?”
Neither love nor modern medicine could keep Sanford with us, but he died with the same grace that he lived, coaching us to the end. I am confident that somewhere in the Cosmos, he still has his fungo bat, his smile, and his encouraging comments, training those who, like him, left us too soon.