The words “senseless accident” were written in The Evening Sun’s obituary section Wednesday, July 22. Those two words completed the opening sentence in our paper’s farewell to former Norwich resident Brian Conant, who was struck by wayward car on the driver’s side of his own car. Conant, a man of strong religious faith and a devoted husband, was merely waiting for traffic to pass before exiting the parking lot at his place of worship. Conant’s wife was seriously injured, as was his mother-in-law. Brian, however, took the brunt of the oncoming car’s force, and he teetered on the edge of death before finally succumbing last weekend.
Just saying the words, “Brian Conant is no longer with us” seem implausible and difficult to fathom. On the “senseless scale,” this death rates awfully high for me, especially due to my personal association with the Conant family for at least 30 years.
I was in the same graduating class as Brian’s older brother Eric, Brian was a year behind me in school and graduated with my sister Christina, and another older brother of Brian’s, Mark, was a good friend of mine in my late teens and early 20s. I also knew Brian’s younger brother Dave, who was a frequent participant in our weekly Sunday afternoon sandlot football games. All of the boys, to a fault, were exceedingly polite, respectful, and good-humored. And when it came to pick-up games in which each of us attempted to live our own little moments of glory, the Conants were consummate sportsmen and examples of fair play.
As for Brian, I have one significant sports memory, and it dates to my senior year in high school. Brian and I shared the same physical education class, and on a mid-April day, the class was outside playing a game of two-hand touch football.
The exact details of the game play are a little sketchy, but I believed I had received a pass, and was running for a touchdown. I lost my balance a little bit and was leaning forward when Brian closed in fast and touched me. He didn’t touch me exceptionally hard, but the force of his touch, combined with my off-balance moment, sent me crashing hard to the ground. I landed on a rough, bare patch of hard-scrabble turf directly on my left shoulder. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. I was on the ground for a couple of minutes, and it felt like I was stabbed in the lower neck. Nearly any movement by my left arm was met with a piercing, nearly excruciating pain. I was helped off the field to the nurse’s office, and eventually sent to the emergency room at Chenango Memorial Hospital.
I was diagnosed with a broken clavicle (collarbone), and I was fitted with this “figure eight” type harness to hold my collar bone in place. I was told I needed to wear the harness for three weeks, and the first two weeks, I couldn’t take it off at all – not even to shower. Suffice to say, I learned the ins and outs of a sponge bath in a hurry.
When I returned home early in the evening, my thoughts quickly came around to golf. I was a four-year member of the Norwich golf team, and the Section IV tournament at Cornell University was just three weeks away. The sectional tournament was my last hurrah as a scholastic player, and it was also my last opportunity to advance among the individual medalists.
As the tournament neared, I was hopeful that my broken bone would mend itself quickly, but after playing six holes of a practice round five days before the tournament, I realized I was still physically unable to compete. I told my coach I had to withdraw from sectionals. My high school golf career was over.
Yes, I was extremely disappointed by my stroke of misfortune, but I did not play the blame game and was not resentful in the least toward the person who had a hand in my season-ending injury. From the moment I was hurt, I could tell Brian felt terrible. In the days and weeks that followed my injury, every time I saw Brian in school, he asked me how I felt, and he apologized to me many times over.
Brian’s contrition went above and beyond what was necessary or expected. I knew the quality of Brian’s character – and he was just 17 at the time – so there was no reason for any malice on my part. We were playing a game, he was playing fairly, and an accident happened. How could I be mad at Brian Conant?
Rekindling the memory of an event nearly a quarter-century ago, the impression I had of Brian Conant then is the same as it is now: He was unquestionably a man of good character, and above all, he was a real good person.