We mourn the passing of the young more so than the loss of our elder loved ones simply because their death is so unexpected, that it comes far too soon.
A.E. Housman, in his classic poem "To an Athlete Dying Yong," praises a young and famous athlete for dying before he is old and forgotten, but also mourns the passing of a youth who lived life to the fullest.
Courtney Erickson wasn't a famous athlete, but he was well-known within the MAAC for his behind-the-scenes work in a variety of capacities. And, as we mourn his passing Friday morning at the far-too-young age of 44 after a courageous battle with cancer of the pancreas and liver, we have lost a good friend who most definitely lived life to the fullest.
His connections to sports, to Siena athletics and to the MAAC are many. For a time he worked in Siena's sports information office before moving on to bigger things, many of them in the poltical field. He worked for nearly a year in the Washington, D.C., area for Barrack Obama's re-election campaign and, recently, received a personal note from the President lauding Courtney for his courageous personal fight with cancer. But he was never far from sports.
In recent years, he was Siena's video replay coordinator at men's and women's home basketball games. He was a regular fixture at MAAC tournaments, helping out behind the scenes either for the league or lending a hand to any of the sports information directors that might have a need.
His smile and good nature was always on display, even in his final weeks. He was a brilliant individual, a honors graduate of Cornell University, who used his life skills to help others.
He was a basketball umpire and basketball official at the high school level, helped local high school students prepare for SAT exams and served as the specifications coordinator for Schenectady County. His career ambition was to become Schenectady's mayor, almost assuredly because that is where he could have done the most good for the most people.
But the menial duties were hardly beneath him when the need arose. When Siena couldn't supply a student to wear its Saint Bernard mascot's uniform for MAAC tournament games, Courtney fulfilled that particular duty. When there was no national anthem singer, and no recorded anthem available, before a Siena women's game not so long ago, Erickson (keeping game statistics at the time) stepped from behind the scorer's table to center court to belt out a well-done acapella version. He might have been a little rusty from his high school days when he earned all-Eastern selection as a chorus performer while at Linton High School, but he saw a need and stepped up and filled it.
Things like that epitomize Courtney.
Courtney's facebook page is already filled with tributes ... from athletes, from media members, from MAAC officials, from politicians and from just friends. It is a tribute to how many lives, from how many walks of life, he touched.
Count this as another tribute. I am honored to have called Courtney a friend, someone whose company was always enjoyed. True friends are few in life, yet Courtney was one to hundreds of us.
Yet his best days might have been in his final months and weeks. Despite a mid-winter diagnosis that was anything but positive, Courtney never complained about his physical plight.
Instead, he attacked it with seeming joy and an optimistic belief that he would overcome his physical ills. He rarely, if ever, let it detract from living a full life. He attended this March's MAAC tournament, continued to referee and umpire until late spring. He continued to socialize with friends, to fulfill his employment responsibilities and just continue to enjoy life.
For that, he was a shining example of how a life should be led, even with the knowledge that there likely isn't to be much of it remaining.
In late May, Pete Iorizzo of the Times Union newspaper featured Courtney's plight.
Within it, Tom Marcucci, a longtime friend of Courtney, is quoted as saying "He's not suffering from cancer, he's kicking its ass."
Courtney's plan was to beat the odds, to wage a fight against the unbeatable foe ... and, beat it. And, then, to become a public advocate for cancer victims, an example of how to beat it it.
Courtney kicked its ass for as long as he could, longer than most expected. And, in doing so, he fulfilled his ambition to be an example.
In the months as he approached an almost certain death he showed us how to live life to the fullest.