Tribute on the passing of a childhood friend

There’s something that as baby boomers we’re going to be doing more and more as the years roll by, and BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson is doing it right now: remembering friends who aren’t with us any more. Which is why he has written a touching story, his Tribute On The Passing Of A Childhood Friend.

Maybe it’s part of the stage of life when we cross milestones, like turning 50 and then 60, but I catch myself taking stock of my own life. It goes beyond career and accomplishments to more primal and important questions of a life well-lived.

In Steven Spielberg’s powerful film, Saving Private Ryan, the fundamental questions the survivor asked of his wife were simply … “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.”

Beverly Bancroft in a Wakefield High School photo, the only photo I have.

Beverly Bancroft in a Wakefield High School photo, the only photo I have.

What is on my mind is the passing a few months ago of a good friend from my high school years in Arlington, Virginia, and reflecting how much she influenced my awareness in life during a very short period of time, decades ago. Her name was Beverly Bancroft.

Beverly was a loner by choice in high school. I wonder whether it was because her parents were serious alcoholics, and she was embarrassed by things at home. But, we were friends, and she opened my eyes to the world.

Paul Robeson

While doing homework together in the enclosed porch of her house, she played the LP recordings of singer Paul Robeson. I had never before heard such a rich, bass voice, and I had no knowledge of Robeson. Even before the start of the civil rights movement, Robeson had renounced America over the country’s racism, hatred, and provincial ways. He had moved to Moscow, as much in protest as anything else, I believe, because in his songs, he sang of his love for America.

Most people in my generation were not aware of Robeson and his magnificent voice because his recordings were banned from the airwaves. He was viewed as a “commie,” and there were no stories about him in the newspapers.

Years later, while working at CBS News headquarters in New York, I heard a radio station play an entire hour of Robeson’s songs to commemorate his birthday. I was driving home, and pulled my car in a small park beside the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey, just to pause and fully enjoy listening to Robeson’s magnificent voice. Thank you, Beverly.

The folk concert

Then, there was that snowy Saturday afternoon in December during our high school years that she drove over to my house in her dilapidated post-World War II, German-made Taunus car with broken windshield wipers to pick me up and take me to a concert at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington. She told me the names of the singers but I’d never heard of them.

Pete Seeger in 1963.

Pete Seeger in 1963.

Walking into the ballroom of the Shoreham, which had been set up with chairs for the performance, was like walking into another world for a kid, like me, who had been raised in the sheltered environment of Arlington. There were people of all races, many cultures, different languages, and dress. There were even men with ponytails. People were laughing and embracing. It was a different world to my young eyes.

Pretty soon, the room hushed, and a group of three or four people walked out onto the makeshift platform stage followed by a thin man carrying a banjo. When he spoke to greet the audience, his reedy voice was filled with more joy than I had ever before heard. And, then, they sang … and my world of awareness was changed again with the songs of Pete Seeger and the Weavers. I have no recollection of the drive home but I knew that concert had altered my awareness about life.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers.

Some years later, I was visiting with Pete, and he remembered that concert fondly. Then, with his famously wide smile, he said he also remembered all that darned snow. Thank you, Beverly.

In the short time I knew Beverly … short in the span of a lifetime … she opened my eyes and left indelible knowledge and good memories that have always been a part of me.

I never saw her again after high school years. She graduated from George Washington University, and moved to Europe, never to return to America to live.

In London, she worked for Penguin books and met an author named John Berger. They married and moved to a remote village in the French Alps.

Haute-Savoie in the French Alps

The last letter I received from Beverly was in 1990. It was a lovely description of their life in Europe. Berger had become … and still is … famous in Europe for his writing, novels, poems, paintings and screenplays. Beverly wrote of how rock stars and celebrities would come to the remote serenity of their home to visit her husband, such people as David Byrne and The Stones. She wrote of the primitiveness of their mountain village in such a way that it seemed a sort of Valhalla in my mind’s eye.

Writer and artist John Berger.

Writer and artist John Berger.

What a great distance she had grown in her life from that sad little house in Arlington, Virginia, to the heights of the French Alps. Even in that letter, she brought awareness. I started reading her husband’s books – “Once in Europa,” “Pig Earth,” “A Painter of Our Time,” “A Seventh Man” – and, I saw the world from a broader perspective and understanding.

Beverly was married to Berger for 40 years. She died of cancer last year, a quiet woman who preferred the peace and solitude of her family and of life in France. I never told her how much she touched and enlightened my life with awareness.

So, I write these few words in tribute to Beverly Bancroft and think about how each one of us touches other people— family members, children, colleagues, strangers— throughout our lives. May all our interactions be with knowledge, purpose, love, enlightenment, and of things to be cherished.

My childhood friend was a private person. Yet, aside from my parents and family, I do not believe anyone left a more quietly inspiring or lasting mark on my early years … that I remember to this day.

Thank you, Beverly.

Footnote … here’s a recording of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, and a song they sang at that concert long ago …

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  1. David,

    Losing friends is going to become more common as our years continue to pass. Beverly died too young. Cancer has no respect for age. It is very cool that you have fond memories of her and took the time to write about them. She deserves the respect you have given her.

  2. Beautiful, moving tribute to a long-standing friend and what an amazing life, from America to the French Alps! Thanks for sharing, this gave me a warm feeling of how important friendship is in our lives. Because of Internet and all the noise on it, we tend to forget the beauty of simple things of the heart…

  3. Isn’t it interesting how people influence us in so many different ways. Many times we are not even aware of the effect we have had on others. Thanks for writing the thoughtful piece.

  4. Thank you for sharing David. This is one aspect of being a boomer, coming to grips with mortality that has a sadness to it and yet contains a sweetness as well. At least for me. It makes me sad as I lose friends and acquaintentances that I new as a youngster, and those I got to know along the way, and it brings me face to face with my own mortality. But it also allows me, and I would suggest us, the opportunity, if we are wiling, to remember those times past when innocence was mingled with laughter and happiness was just a smile away. You have paid a wonderful tribute to your friend, thank you again for sharing.

  5. Friends like Beverly are a gift.
    A friend who has passed taught me that when she lost a friend, she tried to embody the best qualities of that person. It was a great lesson to make one’s life a living tribute!

  6. David, I’m just catching up on some Boomer stories, and yours struck me right in the heart. What a lovely tribute to your friend, not enough people acknowledge the influence some people may have had on us. Sorry for your loss. Wendy

  7. Having just heard the sad news of John Berger’s death today, I found myself wondering about the woman with whom he shared such a deep and lasting love and have come across your beautiful tribute to your friend Beverly Bancroft. It was such a poignant and revealing surprise. I hope they will be forever together as he wished and anticipated in ‘And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos’. And thank you.

  8. I remember Beverly from Wakefeild. Thanks for your thoughts. She was a friend of my highschool girlfriend Gay Mesnier. Your name kind of rings a bell. I was a fan of John Berger from reading him in college and years later heard from Gay that they where togather. When I read his later work, like Pig Earth, id sort of see her in the story quietly watching as it ufolded on the page. Like you I never saw her after highschool.

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