March 24, 2004

Janki DePalma camera.gif

My name is Janki DePalma, and I want to share this brief story about Ray to you all, if only to show how small acts of kindness can touch people in unseen ways. Forgive the ramblings and the incomplete thoughts... they just seem to flow this way right now.

Roughly a month before his terrible accident, Ray participated in a Foundation-sponsored bowling tournament. About 40 SF BLL employees met at the Yerba Buena bowling lanes for the company wide bowling night. Offices around the country would compete for best scores and other prizes. Unfortunately, the usual chaos that comes with these events happened, and somehow, I was without a team. I was searching around, trying to find a team that hadn't started bowling, and more importantly, wouldn't mind me joining them.

A brief background, which makes this story make sense. In school, I was a tiny little girl, always the shortest in my class. While I was very good at school, sports was something that never went my way. I was always one of the last ones picked for sports... you know, the girl that when she goes up to play kickball the ENTIRE outfield takes four steps in. In high school, I joined a bowling league with my friends and was hands-down the worst bowler. It wasn't even funny how low scores were. To make matters worse, somehow, my team made it to the finals and we had to lose both games in order to lose the tournament. Well... guess who bowled the worst game of her life, costing the team the championship. Fast-forward 15 years later, I am the newest employee at the SF office and unlike most of the crew, am one of the few folks that have nothing to do with field work. I'm the marketing manager, and to some of the field folks, I may as well be the alien cruise director... as it makes just as much sense.

Back to my story... so here I am remembering all those childhood events while searching for a team that wants me, and fearing that my pathetic bowling skills will cost them the game. I come across a team of all guys: Eddie Miranda (the IT guy I pester all the time for help), Reed Garwood a pm that I often say hi to in the office but don't really know. Jim Witham, a field superintendent who has shared his celebrity run-ins while working at the Four Seasons Hotel, and two others, who I've never met. Topping out at 5'1" I look up and find what must be the TALLEST man in the world leaning down with a beaming smile and introducing himself to me. "hi, I'm Ray O'Neal". (oh! I think, realizing that I can finally place the name on the phone roster to a face). "This is Mike Price" he says, introducing the bowler next to him.

The guys start bowling and I'm sitting down, fretting about the inevitable gutterball that will happen. Not only am I the only girl in the crew, I was fearing that my pathetic game would really cement my relationship with these field guys. I go up, and lo and behold... I get a strike! One of my first in my life I think. I stare in disbelief! I turn to return to my seat and I see a bunch of the guys standing up, cheering. Ray's big hand is offered towards my face-oh, yeah, hi fives... for me?? Yeah! The game continues, and I get three strikes in a row, a turkey one of the guys says, and everyone is cheering. Jim Witham takes the pair of Foundation-brand bowling socks (part of the corporate giveaways we receive) and places them on his head, on either side and puts the Foundation cap over it. He looks something like Goofy from Mickey Mouse. Ten seconds later, Ray, Eddie and Reed all have their socks on their heads, laughing away.

As I continue to bowl, scoring a few strikes and spares, I'm getting more high fives, always led my Ray. He jokes, calling me "The Heat".

Secretly, this is the first and only time that I have ever been a valuable part of team. Ever. I was always the liability-the worst player, the weak link. And, given the group of field guys, most of whom were relative strangers, I was surprised to see them paying attention to me, the girl with the hard-to-say name.

At the end... turns out that I was awarded best bowler (a miracle if there ever was one), and our team won the best team. I noticed through the night how other teams looked over at us with envy, as we were hooting and hollering, slapping high fives and joking around. Ray gently teasing Mike and Reed on their games, offering the suggestion that maybe another beer will help (as it couldn't hurt). I noticed how all our games were getting better, because of the good energy that we were generating. I saw the team next to us, and over heard the rude comments the more competitive folks would make to the poor players. I actually heard "I wish I were on that team!" a few times. We looked and acted like five old friends bowling away.

After that night I felt like I had made 4 new friends. And in particular I was so touched by Ray's extension of friendship, and the little things, like leading the high-fives that made me feel welcomed in the group. I'm sure to the guys, it was just another BLL event, with free food and drinks. But to me, it was so much more. In that one moment, all those years of feeling so small melted away. I was THE HEAT.

You may wonder why I share this story with you, as in a way, it's kinda silly. But I think it's very indicative of the kind of person that Ray was. Open, friendly, kind, fun, silly... able to see an opportunity to make someone feel special and do that. After all, how much easier would it have been to just drink a few beers and catch up with his friends. Instead, he shared a little of himself with me... and I feel so lucky to have experienced it.

I'm including some pictures, though blurry, that show the fun that we were having that day.

Thanks for letting me share.