Chris suffered a heart attack while on a layover in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil earlier this week and is currently confined to hospital there under observation. It was a tense, eye-opening few days for those of us who know and love Chris until he posted yesterday that he was on the mend. A significant coronary artery was very nearly completely blocked and had to be stinted on an emergent basis. Chris has had coronary issues before but I think we'd all been lulled into believing that they were under control. At any rate, the tone and lightheartedness of his "I'm back..." post thinly veiled the gravity of the situation.
That post was such a relief and was typical Chris. I have known him for substantially all of the 30 years of my employment and have never met a more consistent character. He's gone a little grey, but remains the often brash, smiling, happy, eager-to-please, easy-to-love, "where's the party?", mate from down the block, rubgy-playing, lover of all things NZ family man that he's always been. My partner Philip put it succinctly, "Chris is the REAL DEAL!" The trivial fact that such a character could also be mortal never occurred to me, I guess. Well, Chris, you have my attention!
It seems out of fashion to be really passionate about something these days. It is almost de rigueur to be cool, aloof, and uninvested; sort of makes you mysterious, I guess. Well, Chris is definitely from a different age! Our former employer, Continental Airlines, became Chris' home-away-from home of sorts. When he left his family in New Zealand, he formed new familial roots with us, his colleagues, and we with him. Chris is our "brother from another mother" and no blood kin was ever more true!
This past August, Chris revealed his depth of affection for Continental and for us, his CO siblings, with a gala night that he organized to recognize our "spiritual leader" and friend, Gordon Bethune (photos are contained in an album on this page). While the evening was ostensibly to recognize Gordon, it veritably exuded Chris' feeling for his 30,000+ "family" members and was very much a quasi-family reunion. The event was magical for me and others have said the same: not because of opulence or extravagance, or high-tech audio-visuals but because of HEART.
How can a heart that big, that wide-open, that fierce ever be in peril? It just can't be possible....
but it is.
I learned a valuable lesson as a result of my Dad's decline and death, last year. Don't wait! When someone is important to you, tell them so. Share the joy of letting them know that they have made a difference in your life, in the lives of many, just by being there. So...
Chris Valkoff, the "land of the long white cloud" may have produced you but you are ours, all ours. The love and friendship that you have shared with us over the years is a precious gift. I hope that we somehow reciprocate.
For the life of a flightless bird named, Chris, I live in gratitude! (Thank you, God for one more precious blessing!)