Stories about Randall Melvin Hoffman

Stories about Randall Melvin Hoffman

by Ace Hoffman

Of course, you never forget a brother. First of all, you never have very many of them, and second of all, usually throughout your life, in one way or another, they're the closest thing to you. Even when you're fighting and feuding. Even after you're married. Even when you've grown up.

I have a half-sister, a step sister, a step brother, and a brother. This story is about another brother, Randy, who was 18 months my senior, and who died on November 19th, 1994, of Leukemia, at the age of 39.

It is a letter to my high school's Headmaster and Dean of Students. Sections of this letter were published in the Alumni News and I received a very nice letter back from the school. It should be obvious from this letter that I recommend GFA highly to anyone who can manage to go.

Jim Coyle, Headmaster
Ed Denes, Dean of Students
Greens Farms Academy
Greens Farms, Connecticut

December 16th, 1994

Dear Jim and Ed,

I hope everything is going well for you and Greens Farms Academy this holiday season. I had a wonderful time visiting my old high school last summer for my 20th class reunion, and in particular, seeing the two of you.

I only wish I could have gotten into the science lab to see if my brains were still there! A fetal pig brain, a fetal shark brain, and possibly others. If they are still there (which they should be) I would like to send a label to attach to them. They should have an old label on them now anyway, of course... The pig brain, as I recall, had 10 of the 12 cranial nerves still attached.

The silly things one remembers... Out of 1000 days or so, four years of glorious education in the finest environment I can imagine, ending now more than twenty years ago, I remember clearly debating with myself over whether I had the right to take my beautiful dissections home, lest they ever be discarded...

Jim, I do not think you knew my brother Randall Melvin Hoffman, because I think he only went to GFA one year (10th grade), the first year it went Coed, when Miss Lauber was the headmistress. I started in 9th grade that year. However, Ed, I think you might remember Randy.

Randall died of Leukemia on November 19th, 1994 after a very brave battle. At the service, our father, who fought on the front lines through Italy, France, in The Battle of The Bulge, and all the way into Germany in World War II (mortar man) described Randy thus: "I'm a combat veteran... I've seen men die. I've seen men be brave. I've seen men pray. I've seen men run away. But I've never seen anyone as brave as Randy was as he fought for his life these last six months."

The last time I saw Randy was on my birthday, August 14th, in the hospital, after he received a bone marrow transplant from our younger brother, Daniel. He was hairless, of course, from the chemotherapy. He had tubes running out of his chest, and a patch over one eye, which he had recently lost to a bad infection. He had a full knowledge of what the medical terms were for everything he had already been through and for everything he had yet left to face. He had gone "code blue" twice in the previous month. He was sterile, from the chemo. He had no wife or children.

In that state, and in that place, Randy quoted Lou Gerig's famous words to me: "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Randy was never much into sports, and probably didn't even know what stadium the Yankees play in--although he could pin me down any time I tried to beat up our younger brother Daniel, and thus he became the wrestling champion for two years at Helen Keller Middle School in Easton. But he certainly knew Lou had died shortly after making that speech.

Randy made it easy for me to pretend to be brave, and not cry as we sat together and listened to a demo tape his band had recorded shortly before he found out he was ill. We stopped the tape after each song and I critiqued it. ("The bass player's punching every note of that song like they're each the most important note in the song...--ahhh, Randy? Are you the bass player in the band? Sorry!" "No, that's okay! That's what I want!) I never liked his classical stuff, but this was rock--something I understand. So he wanted my opinion.

He left the hospital room for the first time that day, with me helping him. He staggered a little-- just once, a few feet from the bed, dragging his life-giving pumps and tubing apparatus behind him. "Randy, don't fall and hurt yourself. You might die if you do, and the family would never forgive me!"

He looked like The Invisible Man, with a baseball cap to hide his bald head, and a patch over one eye, and dark sunglasses for the other, and a robe and slippers--the usual dignified hospital garb. As we entered the nursing station area everyone clapped. Wendall came up, who Randy described as his "best friend". Wendall goes to the hospital and helps people like Randy, and AIDS patients and so forth. (If you don't believe in saints or angels, visit any hospital.) Wendall told Randy most people push the apparatus in front of themselves, rather than dragging it behind. It was only then that I realized this was Randy's first time out of the room.

About a week later, he left the hospital entirely to begin a slow recovery. But unfortunately he died about three months later during what he, and we, thought was to have been a long convalescence.

I'm sure many that knew him the one year he attended GFA--I think it was just one year--will remember him. Randy had a way of making his presence felt. Had he finished high school at GFA, he would have graduated in 1973. He left GFA and Connecticut to live with our father in Pennsylvania. I do not recall him having any complaints whatsoever about his time at GFA--I remember he liked the school as much as, or nearly as much as, I did.

Indeed, it was his idea to go in the first place. I had refused to go for some reason, maybe turned off by having to wear a tie or something. I had already started at Columbus school in Westport instead. I had been there two or three days when Randy came home from his first day at GFA.

"Rusty, you have to go to this school!"

He then started listing the reasons: "There are less than 30 students in your whole grade. There are often only 10 or so in a class! The building, the rooms, and the grounds are all beautiful. It's near a beach, it's got grass and ivy everywhere. The science and music labs are full of equipment. The food in the cafeteria is delicious. And Rusty, of the 30 kids in your class, 27 of them are girls!!!" I went to GFA.

At his service many people described Randy as their "best friend" (far more than any of us deserve!) He was known for his gentle manner and his hilarious self-deprecating humor. Randy was a gifted composer, from classical to rock, and he was my best friend too, and Daniel's.

I regret to have to write to the school with this sorrow, but I'm sure many there, possibly yourselves included (I rather hope so), will remember Randy and will want to know. My warmest regards to both of you.

Russell Hoffman
Class of '74
cc: various.


The following was written about two years later (November, 1996)...

Leukemia is especially nasty because it attacks sort of at medium speed, any time in life. One day you realize you havent been feeling well for a while, then you go to the Doctor and he recommends a blood test, and you wait. A few days later, your life is forever changed by a short conversation with the Doctor.

From then on you have to suddenly know everything about a complex and brutal illness and all the torturous methods available to try to treat it, which often succeed with only a small percentage of the cases. But when it's your ass on the line, statistical analysis is only half the problem: How much pain are you willing to go through to live, anyway? Leukemia patients get asked this kind of question all the time. I'm sure Randy was aware of his own bravery when it happened. He was proud of himself as he went through Hell and was surviving it. He knew what his experience was worth. "I'm different now, because of this" he said to me at the hospital. I looked at his bald head and puffy face and patched eye, and nodded.

We both laughed and changed the subject.

After he died, someone told me that the other patients at the ward were in dispair. Apparently there is a culture there, in a cancer ward. Some would come, get sicker, and die. I guess Randy had been there the longest, and had survived two "code blue's" and the full onslaught of treatments--and then even left the hospital for a few months--and then died. They asked: "If Randy's died, what hope is there for us?"

I guess what I hate most about Leukemia, though, is the idea that so much of it is caused by man's own pollutants. For example, Randy lived downwind of Three Mile Island, he was living in New Jersey at the time. That could certainly have been the cause. But you never know. You can't know. All these people dieing and yet you can't pin the blame on any one thing, or one event. If my liver fails me for too much drinking as a young adult, or if I fall off my mountain bike and break my neck, at least it will be reasonably obvious that I erred. I don't minde making decisions about my own risks. But some lazy corporate polluter--you can't find them. The earth needs cleaning if for no other reason, so that less people die of Leukemia. Leukemia research is good, but the real problem is on the outside.

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