The heart of Andy Markwart

This eulogy was given by Mike Wilson at the funeral of Andrew J. Markwart, who died of cardiac arrest at the age of 43 on February 24, 2006. Markwart, editor of The Furrow magazine, was a friend and former Farm Progress Co. colleague.

How do we measure the life of a man when his days here on this earth are complete? Is it by the number of years? His economic and professional success? Or do we measure it by the emptiness in the hearts of the people he left behind?

After all, the human heart is why we're here today: The man with the biggest heart in this room has left us. His broken heart left all of us with broken hearts, too. Beyond our shock, beyond our sorrow, we move on to celebrate Andy Markwart's life and try to find the meaning in this loss.

Andy Markwart: a friend's friend who shared his laughter and spirit with everyone.

I knew Andy for more than 20 years, but I feel like I knew him all my life. I loved him like the brother I never had; sometimes I felt he knew me better than I knew myself.

Andy was my best friend. And to his credit, a lot of people here will say the same thing. Look around and you'll see hundreds of Andy's best friends. That's just who he was — he was a friend's friend and he shared his laughter and spirit and heart with everyone.

We spent many days together early in our friendship, as FFA National Convention photographers. It was at one of these gatherings in the early '90s that my wife Molly and I introduced Andy, my buddy, to Thelma Schoonmaker, her buddy. It has been a joyful blessing to watch their love grow over the years and celebrate the birth of our children together.

Andy had many loves in his life. He loved to golf. Sometimes we'd come back from a round of golf and, to our wives' dismay, sit there and rehash every single shot, sifting through the wreckage of a mediocre round of 96, to proclaim one as "shot of the day." As some of you know, he and I, along with Rich Dunn and Chris Feaver, would take a long weekend each year and go on a golf road trip. It was dubbed "The Odyssey," and the quest was to golf in every state. Okay, the quest was also to drink beer and play poker in every state, too - but golf was the main objective. For the record, we made it to 31 states, plus Canada.

Some of our happiest times were on a golf course. Sometimes, when it was just Andy and I, we would make silly bets. But never for money. It was usually something ridiculous, like, "if I make this putt, you walk off the green on your knees barking like a dog.•bCrLf For the record, Andy barked a lot more than I ever did.

In fact, he was a sucker for a wager. I know a lot of people made friendly wagers with Andy, and it usually had to do with their alma mater against his, the mighty Michigan State Spartans. One time Andy and I bet on a football game between Michigan State and University of Illinois - that's my alma mater - and the bet was, whoever lost had to use the name of the team mascot somewhere in a future issue of their magazine. I lost, and that's why in the May-June 2005 issue of Farm Futures - if you read closely enough - you'll find the word spartan somewhere in the magazine. But I got him back last fall. We bet on the World Series and I took Chicago. So if you're reading the most recent issue of The Furrow and you happen to come across a reference to the Chicago White Sox under Andy's byline, well, let's just say that was no accident. To his credit he wrote it in a way that made perfect sense to the reader.

Andy with the ag editor band "Quasimojo," at last summer's Agricultural Media Summit in Milwaukee. Son Owen loved to stand next to Andy when he played music.

Language was another of Andy's loves. He was a gifted writer and he loved to stretch his writing skills. He also loved to rhyme. Once, when we were working in side by side offices at Prairie Farmer magazine, we decided we would only speak to each other in rhyme - all day. This is no simple task, especially if you're in a hurry. We'd shout through the doorway, "I need a new headline, can you write it before deadline?" or, "It's almost noon and just a hunch, but I'm getting hungry so let's break for lunch.•bCrLf Just silly things that made work fun, because that's what Andy loved.

Andy also loved music. We shared a passion for rock and roll and blues and anything performed by Van Morrison. We had endless debates over the musical worthiness of just about every rock star who ever walked the planet. Some of the happiest times were playing and singing with Quasimojo, a band we put together with other ag editors. And he was so proud of his lifelong band mates in the Pinheads, from his college days.

Once, on a golf trip with Rich and Chris, we spent hours deep in discussion over Van Morrison's greatest hits. We ended up putting together a compilation of the songs we liked most, and called it "Vanthology." One of those songs, In the garden, is on Andy's Top 15 "songs that matter," a compilation of songs he liked most that we are sharing with everyone today at the funeral. We talked often about the meaning of that song, which tells a story of a lost soul, filled with sorrow and great sadness, followed by joy, rapture and redemption. Another Van song we loved is, Whenever God shines his light on me. Perhaps today we can take some comfort in the words of the first verse:

When I look up, in the darkest night
I know everything's gonna be alright
In deep confusion, in great despair
When I reach out for him, he is there
When I am lonely, as I can be
I know that God shines, his light on me

I really believe that God is shining his light on Andy today.

Andy had a lot of special gifts. For one thing, he was an entertainer. He was our Elvis. That boy could make us all laugh until we cried. He could do a mean Mick Jagger. His cockney accent was 'spot on.' The banter was electric. But he certainly wasn't just rock and roll and good times. He had a tender side. He was a poetic champion. He wrote funny lyrics, and he wrote beautiful lyrics for weddings and his children. He would often become philosophical late at night when the party began to wane.

Andy had a gift for making others feel good about themselves. He knew how to build people up, and he did it effortlessly. When Andy was in a room, people gravitated to him because of the lively conversation, his self-deprecating wit, or one of his irreverent, spontaneous comic bits. If you had just met Andy, soon enough you found yourself laughing at his stories and making a new friend.

But to me, Andy's greatest gift was this: He made •nice' cool. He was cool because he was always true to himself. He was both James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, rolled into one tall skinny guy.

He never took himself too seriously, and maybe that was the greatest lesson I learned from our friendship. He used to say he was just a •go along, get along' guy, and he really was. Sometimes we would look at each other before speaking at a meeting or playing a song for a crowd and he'd say, "Make it nice for the people." And that's what he did.

Andy (right) rocking out with blog author, Mike Wilson, for a gathering of agricultural journalists in The Netherlands in 2003.

So now, our Elvis has left the building. The love we have for Andy can't change how much we will miss him. There were more songs to sing, more stories to tell. All of you have your Andy stories, and I hope you will tell them often. Because when you do, they will certainly make you and everyone else who hears them laugh and smile.

I know Andy is in a better place right now. Despite this empty feeling we all share, he is somewhere right now, making the music in heaven even sweeter. If he were with us today he would certainly say something to lighten the mood and ask us to get on with the business of living because after all, that is what he did best. I have no doubt we will all see Andy again when we make the same journey.

Andy's star blazed brightly for his short time on this earth, but it cast a powerful, amazing light that lifted us all. We were so lucky to have him in our lives.

And as it turns out, the measure of a man's life has nothing to do with the number of his days, or the dollars in his bank account. It's about the fullness with which it is lived. Andy packed more living into his 43 years than any of us will in a lifetime. Today we honor our friend, husband, brother, son, father, and band mate, with the memory of how he lived every day.

That is how he would want to be remembered, and remember him we will.
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