Memories of Alex Mathews: He was One of a Kind (by Pete McCall)
Monday, November 11, 2019
Posted by: Jackie Frend
Memories of Alex: He was One of a Kind
Nearly a decade ago, Alex Mathews and I sat through a lot of tedious meetings together. As co-chairs of the Guild’s Government & Tourism Committee, we attended numerous sessions on the future of the Mall, access of tour buses on Capitol Hill’s East Front and other challenges aimed at making our nation’s capital more visitor friendly.
We were often accompanied by our excellent mentors, Russ Preble and Carl Saperstein. They recruited Alex and me, as DC residents, to be their successors on their committee—a hard act to follow! Although we learned a lot, we often found our mission almost impossible. Some meetings tended to drag on and on—yes, they were boring!
There was nothing boring about my old friend and partner, Alex, who left our planet just before our Nats won the World Series. (Alex was not a baseball fan; he preferred opera.) As a seasoned guide, he was lively, passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, kind and considerate. I enjoyed being around him-- on tours, in fast-food courts and even at Board meetings.
An Air Force vet (and a Quaker), Alex recruited me to join him in guiding Honor Flight veterans, mostly from the South, to the World War II, Lincoln, Korean War and Vietnam Veteran memorials as well as Arlington and Iwo Jima. This was a highlight of my guiding career.
At the USMC memorial, I learned from Alex that an elderly Marine veteran from South Carolina had been wounded severely in the 1945 battle and dumped into a pile of dead troops. Fortunately, someone noticed a flicker of life in the injured Marine, who told his amazing story of survival more than 65 years later as an Honor Flight guest at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Wow!
After a meeting downtown, when Alex learned my wife, Celeste, had surgery on her elbow at GWU Hospital in 2009, he insisted on driving me there in his pick-up truck to pick her up. (I didn’t have time to go to my Capitol Hill home to get my own vehicle.) Celeste was delighted and astonished to see her mode of transportation.
During a routine checkup in 2013, Alex was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent extensive surgery. In “Bipeds of Brookland” (posted by Abbott Klar Real Estate on Feb. 17, 2017), Alex—a proud Brookland resident—was quoted: “I’m feeling that I’m just living on this amazing borrowed time, and I’ve got to use it well.”
A few months before his death, Celeste and I enjoyed a delightful Indian lunch with Alex, Tony Spadafora and Nan Raphael at Indigo in the NoMa area between Capitol Hill and Brookland. I recall Alex ate heartily (we both ordered lamb) and enlivened our conversation.
On October 30, Tony and I were planning to visit our ailing friend at the Providence Hospice when we received word about Alex’s passing that morning. He was one of a kind whose life was well lived.
--by Pete McCall