Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our Friend and Classmate Artie Brierley

A year ago I never could have imagined writing about Artie in the past tense but here I am doing just that.

In the Spring of 2009, I reconnected with friend and classmate Artie Brierley after a great many years. He had discovered this Glen School blog you are reading and immediately understood it and frankly loved it simply because - like me - he loved his past, his friends, growing up - he had wrung life for all it was worth.

I remember meeting Artie Brierley when we were 5 years old - honestly don't ask me why, but I do have a phenomenal memory. He was as friendly and fun then as he was through Ben Franklin Junior High, Ridgewood High School and in 2009! I don't remember or know of a single soul who did not like him. He easily - with all the others from Glen School - made life growing up and going to school that much better. I mean can you imagine having Artie as a college roommate? How lucky would you be? You'd be guaranteed to have fun and you would find no truer mate than he.

Artie always had fun. Pictured here he is with good friends l to r: Tom Nepola, Artie, Paul Albus and Tom Cermack.

I remember back in Glen School that if he was appointed captain by Mr Bookstaver (our gym teacher), I'd hope he'd pick me and when I was selected captain, I'd hope to pick him!

Above is l to r: Gary Vukov, Craig Hopewell and Artie Brierley at Vuke's wedding. Gary was as close to Artie as anyone.

In 1993, we had our 20th Ridgewood High School Class of 1973 reunion in Mahwah, New Jersey. There were 14 Glen School alums attending that night. About midway through the evening, Artie took the mike and asked that all Glen School "kids" gather for a photo. I never would have shown it then but I was so pleased that someone had done that. It was obviously a group we were all very comfortable with - in fact my wife Caryn and I must have spent most of the evening talking to Cara Worthington and Karen Eide and other "kids" from Glen School. Artie simply reinforced this bond we have with each other - an irresistible bond I might add. It is indeed a tough one to explain to people. Recently someone had asked me "Why would you want to have an elementary school reunion?" (which we just recently had at the old school in November) - the only answer I could come up with was that you'd have to experience what we had to appreciate it - there were 40+ kids that went to Glen School, we had wonderful neighborhoods where we spent as much time as possible outdoors, we attended school from kindergarten through high school generally and for the most part we genuinely liked each other and I must say that I got much more out of that reunion than I thought possible.

A fuzzy picture cropped from the group photo of 1993 high schooll reunion (l to r) Jim Smethurst and Artie Brierley.

Well fast-forward to late December, 2008 when I started this blog and decided to revist and document our time growing up and attending Glen School. When Artie had discovered the blog, we began emailing back and forth and he started to send me some wonderful photos. We spent time on the phone talking about all the old names, even everybody from high school too.
Sometime around the beginning of summer 2009, through emails with Margaret Silvers, Artie, Ann Rimmer, Chic Voorhis and others - the idea of a reunion became inevitable. Artie immediately wrapped his arms around it and started helping me find more people.

In July, Artie got a group together for the Ridgewood 4th of July parade (always a classic) - and to this day I regret very much not being able to be there for that for obvious reasons.

Above l to r are: Cliff Clayton, Tom O'Connor, Artie Brierley, Cynthia Hoogland, Eileen O'Connor and Jeff Auger enjoying the great weather at the 2009 July 4th parade in Ridgewood, NJ. Photo courtesy of Cathy O'Neill.

Above are Cathy O'Neill and Corey Duvall. Sorry for all the maiden names girls - it just makes it easier when everyone searches for you! Photo courtesy of Cathy O'Neill.

Tom O'Connor and Corey Duvall enjoying the 4th of July parade in Ridgewood, NJ. Photo courtesy of Cathy O'Neill.

Well, Artie and I continued to talk about the reunion and how we needed to get some other classic people like Tom O'Connor and Tad Shepperd and Corey Duvall to come (guys whom he truly loved) and then suddenly there were other friends from high school like Jimmy Appleton, Daun Paris and Gayle Allard that wanted to come too - how it all evolved was just perfect and Artie was the biggest cheerleader!

Around the end of July, 2009, I had told Artie I would love to have the reunion in the gym at our old school but was getting nowhere with the Board of Education in Ridgewood. Living in town, Artie took the ball, went to the Board of Ed and suddenly he gave me the right names and phone numbers and we made it happen. Having it at the old school obviously made it that much more poignant and special.

Plans were moving along and people were getting excited about it, but on October 20, 2009 Artie suddenly passed away. It was devastating news - it truly was devastating. I mean I know Artie had been ill and had 2 amazing transplant operations but he really was doing quite well. The emails were flying and we all were very saddended that Artie would not see the fruits of his labors - he simply would have loved every moment of it! Can you imagine Artie's reaction as Jan Potdevin walked unexpectedly through the door that night? - like I said you can't explain these things. We had 6 teachers in attendance, we had our custodian - George McFall's - entire family there, we had 7 moms and a lot of other wonderful highlights. Artie's brother Robert came in his place that night and Artie would have just loved that, in the end, Gary Vukov came too!! (Very friendly inside joke! - Artie and Vuke were best friends). He would have been the king in his court. I miss him a great deal - what a penalty to have to pay when you reconnect with someone and then lose them all in such a short time.

Artie was born September 14, 1955 and grew up in Ridgewood, NJ - and came back to live in the town he loved so when he began his recovery. Though single at the time of his passing, he had 2 wonderful daughters - Erica and Lauren - who truly were the lights of his life. He admittedly lived for them.
Artie's daughters Lauren and Erica.

Cawtawba College in Salisbury, NC where Artie earned his degree.

After earning his degree in 1978 in Business Administration and graduating from Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, he started his own company which sold creative services for corporate meetings and special events in New York City. He absolutely loved the "Big Apple". He had a studio in Midland Park and then Glen Rock, NJ. He had a house on lakefront property in Highland Lakes, NJ which he just loved and found peacethere over the years and then his kidneys failed him in 2001. He would begin his long and successful road back. As Artie would say, he enjoyed a new and unique outlook on life - a second chance to live his life.

The lakefront in Highland Lakes, NJ.

One of Artie's favorite slogans was:

"Life shares well, A busy mind finds no peace, Like a person - and have many friends."

He was indeed a survivor and was given the miracle of life time and again over the course of 8+ years. He had both a kidney transplant AND a heart transplant which is incredible when you think about it. He even expressed his desire to find a soul mate and friend to share his life but his girls were admittedly what he lived for.

Each day that he was able enjoy the sun, he counted as a wonderful bonus. He loved his days outside and always brought along his camera. If you saw any of Artie's photos you could see this new outlook on life shining through - one album was titled "Sunny Spring Day" - he appreciated everything life gave him in his second shot at it.

He loved red wine. He was always there for his friends and always made time to laugh. He admitted that he lived his life to the fullest and always respected others. He absolutely loved to fish and the walls and shelves in his apartment were adorned with figurines and pictures of fish of all kinds. His taste in music was good old rock and roll like The Stones and he had for years loved "my man" Leo Kottke - and in particular when Leo played the 12-string guitar.

Artie's "man" Leo Kottke.

His favorite tv shows included anything to do with nature, history, science and cooking. His favortie tv network was MSNBC.

He also loved movies including "Hunt For Red October", "The Gladiator", "Braveheart", "Das Boot" and "Silence of the Lambs".

Artie as a baseball player for the Ridgewood High School Maroons.

He also was a jock at heart and in life. He was a member of the RHS baseball, wrestling and soccer teams. He loved the Yankees and he would have so enjoyed seeing his Yanks win another championship this past year.

He really enjoyed reading too and his favorite author of the moment was Paulo Coelho. He also loved "The River Why" by David James Duncan. A book about what Artie himself loved so much. The book basically conveys to the reader that you can fish all your life, but its not the fish you're after. Its a wonderful story of a man who comes to fall in love with both the wilderness and the woman who shares this life.

Life is filled with wonderful reminders of Artie's life such as the films he liked or the books of authors he enjoyed or the music he loved but I personally won't need any of that to really be reminded how wonderful a guy Artie Brierley truly was.

During the time of his recovery, Artie's daughter Lauren pointed out to Artie a famous quote written by Charles Darwin. It goes: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change." Artie adapted incredibly well to the changes in his life over the last 9 years and was at peace with who he was.

I'll end with a very simple and very appropriate quote of Artie's from the back of the Ridgewood High yearbook - "Take life as it comes!"


  1. I just came across this blog. I don't know you or your friend, but I wanted to say, "What a WONDERFUL tribute to your friend!!" It makes anyone who didn't know him WISH that they HAD! And it was a great gift for those who did know him. We all hope that when we pass, someone will love us enough to give us a tribute such as you gave Artie.

  2. Karen - thanks so much for your kind words! He truly was one-of-a-kind!

  3. Rick,
    Nice job. I believe Artie would be proud at how well you eulogized him.

  4. That's a wonderful tribute to a great man.

    I was thinking about how tight you Glen Schoolers are, and I think it is because of Route 17. The other school districts bled into each other, and kids west of 17 always had some friends in other schools. But in elementary school, you kids east of 17 were pretty much trapped over there in your own enclave. Glad to read so many of you have connected.

  5. Kurt - yeah that probably had a lot to do with it - even though years separated a lot of us - its just so easy being around each other - and it doesn't matter what age really!

  6. Artie lived across the street from me and I always felt he was like a little brother to me. I played ball with him and Bill and Bob Corcoran. Artie had the same infectious laugh and joyfulness that his parents had. My family moved upstate after I graduated in 1968. Years later I ran into Artie at a sushi restuarant in NYC and he was still the happy little boy I knew. I'm sorry that life brought him such difficulties, but it sounds like he was joyful to the end. Mary Zisk

  7. Ijust happened across this blog... I don't remember Artie, don't think we hung in the same circle, but I do know quite a few of the names in the photos... Corey Duvall, Cindy Hoogland, pretty cool. I feel so far away out here in Missouri. What am I doing in Missouri??? I sure envy all of you for being able to get together. And, you know as well as I that your great frien Artie was certainly there celebrating with the best of you! You wrote a lovely tribute.

  8. Lindsay - thanks for catching up! What year(s) did you attend Glen or any Ridgewood schools?