What do you say?
What can you say?
Do you give a call to a stranger to tell him he’s a hell of man who you have been admiring from afar?
Do you look up his name in the phone book — they still have those? — and ring some guy up you don’t know to tell him how you’ve been following his story and it has motivated you to become a better listener, father and husband?
That just all felt too weird, a tad out of place and a bit over-stepping. We have some mutual friends and securing contact information would have been easy, but in all honesty I felt too timid to dial someone up cold and tell them that I had an infinite amount of respect for him.
After all, this guy used to be an LAPD officer before moving to Pittsburgh, attending Law School and then taking a job in investment management. I didn’t want some old cop having some other middle-aged man call him out of the blue and risk being thought of as a weirdo to end all weirdos.
So I didn’t pick up the phone.
I just followed along in the newspaper and on the news with the story — just like many of you, probably — as one of the seemingly toughest SOBs you’d ever want to come across wrestled with something that, no matter how tough he knew he was, was eventually going to take him down.
The world sucks sometimes. Outcomes suck sometimes.
Neil Alexander of O’Hara Township met the conclusion he knew was coming on Tuesday morning when he succumbed to ALS.
He was just 49.
He left behind a cherished wife, Suzanne.
He left behind two young children who, by all accounts, were the center of his world.
Neil Alexander wasn’t one of those sports stars — who I often write about — but he left behind a legacy that no matter how famous or anonymous, how renowned or reserved, we could all use as a guide.
It was Alexander and his wife who, just last month, announced the creation of the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Institute.
As he was dying, Alexander was figuring out ways to give back.
Think about that last sentence for a moment. Go back and re-read it. Heck, read it again.
The thought of how Alexander carried himself in his final days is astounding.
Here was a man facing a certain end of to own life, however, he was just as worried about pledging to raise $2.5 million over the next five years for his foundation to battle ALS than he was about his own fight.
What a man. What a legacy.
This cruel disease which slew Alexander — in his physical being — has a baseball tie-in as, most of you know, is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It was the Yankees slugger who died of ALS in 1941, but beforehand gave his memorable “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech.
In it, Gehrig closed with: “I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
The thought of Gehrig’s speech forced me back to one this past May that Alexander gave that was documented by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which chronicled his tussle with the disease.
“When I was diagnosed with ALS, June 29, 2011, it was a crushing situation,” Alexander said, before continuing. “Suzanne and I felt like everything we had worked for just got blown up in one day, in one appointment.
“For me, when you’re told that you’re going to die soon — and between that moment and the time you die, a series of horrific events will happen and there’s nothing you can do about it — it makes you feel strangely singled out in a very cruel way.”
In a way, Neil Alexander was singled out from that day forth.
But, for me at least, he was singled out because he had the strength, dignity and poise to assume a very public fight against ALS and inspire countless people.
Neil Alexander did that.
And he will continue to do that long after Tuesday, the day he was taken from this Earth.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.