LatinaLista — Long before Tim Chavez achieved notoriety as the political columnist for The Tennessean who was unceremoniously let go by the newspaper while he was in the hospital battling for his life against leukemia, I knew Tim when he was a goofy high school student with a quick wit and a sense of humor that made it hard to stay offended by his adolescent jokes.
When I met Tim, I was living in Oklahoma City where my family had relocated. I had accepted a job as a bilingual assistant in an elementary school while going to college. The teacher I reported to was the mother of Tim’s best friend Mark.
Tim and Mark were inseparable high school friends who took it upon themselves to be the little brothers I never had. Every week when I would have to go to the teacher’s house to make something for our class of kindergartners, Tim and Mark would coincidentally be there too.
For hours on end, I would be subjected to the awkward flirtations of both boys as Tim would crack one joke after another to get my attention. Over time, I found a boyfriend and before long was planning my wedding. Those two got more involved with school, finding prom dates and figuring out what they were going to do with the rest of their lives.
I felt sure Tim was on his way to a career as a stand-up comedian. He felt sure I was on my way to being a bilingual teacher. We were both wrong.
The irony that both of us ended up as journalists was not lost on either of us. Over the years, I kept up with Tim’s career until he finally settled in Nashville.
It wasn’t until last year that we finally reconnected.
Life was not going good for Tim. He was divorcing his wife, his mother had died and he felt pretty abandoned by the women in his life. Our conversations were, at first, reminiscing about all those good times we had sitting around the kitchen table at Mark’s house.
Tim filled me in on the years we had lost contact and vice versa. He started calling or emailing me on a bi-weekly basis just to check in and see how I and my family were doing.
It wasn’t long before our past relationship as a quasi brother and sister resurfaced. Never good at speaking Spanish, Tim told me he wanted to call me his “hermana grande” because he wanted me to his big sister.
I told him it was one thing for me to his big sister and quite another to be his BIG sister. I convinced him to just refer to me as his hermana.
He would always start our conversations by telling me that he was the vice president of my fan club because he knew my mother was the president. From there, our conversations took different directions. From talking about our blogs to discussing politics to even telling me about how he was trying to adjust to living a single’s life.
Yet, during this time, Tim had found a newfound devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and with helping his local Latino community. He was even practicing his Spanish more.
Tim was very modest about the work he did in Nashville with the local community and I didn’t realize his devotion to them until last December when he called me so excited about celebrating the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe at a church he attended. He had donated some money to the church in his mother’s memory and was so pumped about the celebration.
We never talked much about his illness. He always said that he knew God had given him a gift of a few more years that he shouldn’t have had but he felt optimistic that he was going to overcome the leukemia in some way.
Since January, Tim and I got busy with our respective lives. Though we talked, it wasn’t as often. Two weeks ago, something told me I should pick up the phone and call him. However, that thought was replaced with “I’ll call him tomorrow” as I got busy writing something.
For Tim and I, writing was the lifeline we shared to make sense of people, who as Tim liked to describe, through the “poverty of their experiences” couldn’t see the harm their rhetoric and actions had on a community that struggled to live equally.
Though there were many sides of Tim, the Tim I will always remember is the goofy, joking high schooler who blossomed into a brave defender of people’s rights.
He was the kind of guy that made this big sister very proud.