D.L. Stewart: Pizza, beer and Darryl Dever

The report of Darryl Dever’s death, I was pretty sure, was someone’s twisted idea of a joke. Maybe even Darryl’s himself.

According to the Facebook entry Thursday morning, he died on a golf course after being attacked by a swarm of bees yesterday. So I kept checking my messages, looking for a punch line. A “gotcha.” And then we could laugh about it when we got together for the lunch we had scheduled for a few days from now.

Or maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. Just last week, in fact, I had read an obituary about a local woman who’s survivors included a son named Daryl DeVer. Despite the spelling differences, I thought it might be Darryl’s mom, so I sent a text message of condolence to him in Columbus. He texted back that it was not his mother, because she had died two years ago.

“Well,” I replied, “i’m glad to hear your mom didn’t die again.” The instant I tapped the “send” command I regretted it, because I was afraid it came across as insensitive. But I had forgotten about his sense of humor, which could be irreverent and not always politically correct.

“Ha!” he texted back. “Let’s get together for lunch.You pick the place.”

So Wednesday morning I sent him a text message suggesting a couple of places on Brown Street where we might get pizza and a beer — which had a special place in our relationship — and reminisce a bit.

I don’t know if he ever saw it.

Because the report was not a joke. There was no “gotcha.” As the Columbus Dispatch verified, “Veteran Statehouse lobbyist Darryl Dever died Wednesday afternoon after suffering nearly two dozen bee stings while golfing in Michigan.” He was 64 years old.

Darryl was only 19 or 20 when I met him, a University of Dayton student working as a copy boy in the sports department of the Dayton Journal Herald. It was the early ’70s, a time when newspaper stories were written with manual typewriters on paper that was literally cut and pasted before being loaded into pneumatic tubes that would send them to the men who would convert them into type.

Among a copy boy’s job was to keep the paste pots filled, the paper supply replenished and the tubes flowing.

But another of his assignments was to answer the phones and take down results from the various harness racing tracks in our circulation area, recording the names of the horses, their drivers and their payoffs. All went well until the evening Darryl neglected to get the names of all the drivers, but decided no one would care if he just put down some other names. Which might have gone unnoticed if some of the names hadn’t belonged to real people, including the sports editors of both Dayton newspapers. The editors were not amused.

That was the Darryl I knew, though. A guy who laughed a lot and liked to make other people laugh. A jock who played baseball at UD and also played on a Journal Herald softball team composed mainly of pencil-necked geeks. On Saturday mornings he would show up for our games woozy and bleary-eyed — probably from the all studying he had done Friday night — and hit prodigious home runs, swaying only a little as he rounded the bases.

And, who underneath all the Goodtime Charlie exterior, could be sensitive and considerate.

At the end of a long assignment in 1975 that took me across the country and ended with me returning to Dayton by train at 3 a.m., I walked out of the station, tired, hungry and with only vague hopes of being able to find a taxi in Dayton that would get me home at that hour. But when I reached the curb, I was surprised to find a car was waiting. Unasked, Darryl had come to pick up. On the seat next to him were a pizza and a six-pack of beer.

“Welcome home,” he said.

That may have been the best beer and pizza I ever had.

I only wish we could have done it one more time, Darryl.

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