Everyday for the past several years I have seen my friend, Gene, walking the halls and floors of the Unum building. For the past who knows how long, Gene's the man who walked through two massive buildings emptying all the recycling bins, and lighting up the face of most everyone he connected with.
Everyone knows Gene - Eugene for proper, Geno for fun. He just bought a new Cadillac. He already had a nice Caddy with a license plate on the front "Single and Loving It," but this new one had it all.
Gene's a big man, a bear of a man. He's definitely a man you wanted on your side in a fight.
Gene and I officially met several years ago talking about our love for Southern cooking - bar-b-que ribs to be exact. We always had a food story for one another. He would tell me that if he were younger he would get him a bottle of "The Bull" and have at it - or maybe some "Voka."
I saw Gene almost every morning. If I walked into the Atrium cafeteria early enough, he was sitting down eating oatmeal and raisins, biscuits and gravy, eggs or some other breakfast treat.
If I saw him later in the day, he always made it a point to take off his work glove and shake my hand. I would catch up behind him sometimes and throw my arm around his back, barely reaching the other side. He would say "what's up, youngblood."
When I saw him, I was usually on my way to a meeting, but time stopped around him and the next meeting did not seem as important. If it was football season, we were talking about "dem Gawja Bulldawgs." If it were the summer, we were talking about "dem Hotlanta Braves."
I never spent more than five minutes at a time with him, as he would not let me and made sure we went on back to work.
When Gene saw me near a vending machine he would buy me a drink or offer me one. I soon made it a point to beat him to the punch and buy him a drink before he could get to me. He got the best of me one day and brought a can of Dr Pepper to my desk. I actually saved that can for a month or so because it brought a smile to my face. I bought a drink for him a couple weeks ago, when I saw him looking through his pocket for money - "Hey, man, I owe you one."
Last Thursday, I was getting ready for our weekly staff meeting. On my way to the meeting, he came around the corner and we gave our customary "pound" handshake.
As I entered the meeting room, he popped his head in and told everyone, pointing at me, "that's my main man." He proceeded to tell my fellow managers and me about his twin, Eugene - that he was NewGene and his twin brother was in the other building.
We all laughed, and he proceeded on, pushing his large cart on down the hall.
I took Friday off so Thursday was the last time I would see Gene alive.
Eugene Johnson was 71-years-old when he passed away Saturday.
Rest in peace, my man. God has the NewGene now.