Nine years ago today, I lost my brother-in-law Andy Peek to pancreatic cancer. He was my brother-in-law, but he was everything to my sister Rhonda and to her and Andy’s young son Mason. The passing of the years does nothing to fill the void left by his too, too early death.
I didn’t get a chance to spend much time with Andy. Met him for the first time in December of 2002 while in California for my brother’s wedding, and then saw him once or twice a year after that whenever I made it back to visit my family. I last saw him during the week after Christmas 2007, just a few days before his death.
Much of what I know about Andy comes secondhand. But despite my scarce opportunities to spend time with him, I do have indelible, poignant memories of my own.
The first time I met my future brother-in-law was at Peter Chu’s Skyroom in Redding. I came away from the meal quite impressed with him. It wasn’t for the wonderful way he treated my sister, nor for his generosity in treating my large, hungry family to a delicious meal. It was learning that he’d recently had dental surgery (fillings) without novocaine or painkillers of any sort that really left me in awe. He eschewed painkillers not because of religious or moral objections, only because he didn’t see them as necessary. He didn’t raise the topic (Rhonda did, perhaps to emasculate her father and brothers) and he didn’t seem comfortable talking about it. I was certainly impressed by his toughness if not by his intelligence (that would come later).
On August 7, 2005, several members of my family spent a day in Lassen Park. Andy and Rhonda were there; Rhonda was six months pregnant with Mason. It was a gorgeous day in a special place. I remember it fondly for the three “lifebirds” I saw, for the chance to show my mother-in-law Vera one of the most beautiful spots in California, and for the best opportunity I ever got to spend time with my brother-in-law. No one who was there that day will ever forget the tender solicitation with which he treated Rhonda. Every pebble on the hiking trails we took represented a threat to her and their unborn son, but Andy would not be caught unawares. The chances she might’ve fallen further than into his protective arms were not great.
During our Christmas 2006 visit to California, a group of us–Andy and Rhonda included–booked an Alaskan cruise for late May. A big adventure for all of us and, believe me, the sort of thing that should not be put off. It was shortly after the holidays and after an unremarkable annual physical that a vague stomach discomfort preceded Andy’s awful diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He lived for less than one year with it. A hellish year of chemo and radiation, though I’m sure he wouldn’t have described it so–he was busy fighting to beat long odds while simultaneously taking necessary steps to provide for the future of his wife and young son.
I was 1500 miles away during that terrible time and did not live the day-to-day horror of it as did my sister (she, with a toughness to match Andy’s, wouldn’t describe it quite that way and wouldn’t have spent the time anywhere but by his side). Insulated from it, my memories are few. There was his phone call to us in May to wish us bon voyage and to apologize (again) for missing the cruise. Finally, being at his house a few days after Christmas 2007, less than a week before his death. I’m not sure Andy recognized me or Joann at this point, and he had difficulty getting out of bed with help. That evening, Mason had a scary medical emergency that required the response of paramedics. Andy watched the chaotic scene from the couch. We were unsure of how much he understood of the event. He certainly read Rhonda’s distress and knew something important and frightening was happening to his son. When at last the situation was resolved, Andy struggled mightily to stand, to shake the responders’ hands and thank them, and to do what he could to comfort Rhonda. A courageous gentleman always.
With each year that passes, Mason grows into more of the fine man he will be. He’s already extraordinary; manifestly his father’s son. Andy would be so full of pride. Someday Mason will fully understand the enormity of his loss, and he will be very proud of his father.
Mason is already very proud of his mother, and for good reasons. She has persevered through an unimaginably difficult decade now. After losing Andy, she has lived through the death of her dear best friend Gabby, and the tragic double drowning of her elder son J.P. and her grandson J.J. Through it all she has been an extraordinary parent–mother and father–to Mason. Andy would be so full of pride. I am proud of her.
January 11, 1952–January 3, 2008
I learned much about Andy after his death. About the many lives he touched through his kindness, his strength, and his integrity. His commitment to family and friends was absolute. I can readily believe those who say he never had an enemy.
Andy’s family owned–still own–the Shasta Livestock Auction Yard and the Western Video Market. He was a very successful business man, but without any of the pretensions a less successful and more insecure man might affect.
Andy’s memorial service was held at the Shasta District Fairgrounds (where Andy was a former chairman and ex-director). Many hundreds attended, and a parade of those whose lives Andy touched spoke. Ranchers from across the Western United States told of how Andy’s and the Peeks’s generosity literally saved their ranches and businesses. The Andy Peek Livestock Scholarship was established and generous donations were made that day and continue to the present one.
The February 2008 issue of The Progressive Rancher magazine featured Andy on its cover. Click here or on the image of its cover above to read remembrances of him.
May he long live on in the hearts of those who loved him.