In Memoriam: Gordon W. Hake

By Judy Hake


July 18, 1998

Dear Gordon:

A year ago today, you died.

It's hard to believe it's already been a year... I can still hear the sound of your voice so clearly, picture the warm twinkle in your eyes, hear your cute little jokes and the sound of your laughter. Amazing to me that a person who was so alive could be taken from us so suddenly. How someone who was so much a part of our lives could just go away like that, without warning or recourse.

I haven't been able to write this any sooner because it's still too painful. I can't write even a paragraph without the tears coming. How can I write when I can't see the page?

I remember so clearly meeting you for the first time back on Thanksgiving in 1993. Bruce had told me so much about you. You were so important to him... his little brother (who actually towered over him by about half a foot) who was also his best friend. Bruce was always so proud of you and so concerned for you. I was really looking forward to meeting you.

I remember walking into your father's house, and there you were, sitting on that couch that always sinks down to within about four inches of the floor when you sit on it. You rose... and rose... and rose... Bruce had told me how tall you were, but meeting you was still impressive. You were this mountain of a guy, and you came toward me with hand outstretched, that warm smile on your face, saying in that lilting voice, "Hi Judy! I'm really glad to meet you." You were a gentle hulk of a man who had a way of making people feel special right away, like you were really interested in them and delighted to know them. It was apparent that you really enjoyed people. I was immediately comfortable with you, which was unusual for me.

At that Thanksgiving dinner, you paid me one of the nicest compliments I've ever received. We--your father Jerry, Bruce, you and me--were all sitting at the table playing Scrabble while Margaret (your stepmom) hovered nearby entertaining us with her humor and bringing us coffee and goodies. I left for a few minutes to take a rest room break. When I returned, Bruce embarrassed both of us by telling me you'd said I was a 12 on a scale of 10. It was a delightful compliment then, and the more I got to know you later, the more I realized what a wonderful compliment this was coming from you.

Needless to say, I loved you from that first meeting. There was an instant rapport, comfort, and friendship. Bruce and I weren't married then, but I felt like you were already my brother.

It was such a delight to go into business with you two years later. It was so exciting for all of us, making plans to pioneer this new frontier called the Internet. You lived in our basement for two months while we got it off the ground. It was a sacrifice for you, but we were all willing to make sacrifices to make this happen. I remember you setting up your Mac downstairs and starting to build Web sites. You obviously had a natural gift. I loved going downstairs to see the fruits of your labors. Bruce and I were so proud and delighted with the things you created.

I still remember the wonderful things you cooked while you stayed with us. We were always going to try to continue to get together for dinner after you moved out, but it rarely happened. We were all too busy then.

Finally you moved into your own little house in Silver Spring in November of 1995. You were set up to be available online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You sat there in your office, surrounded by clouds of smoke and either the sounds of Jerry Garcia or CNN. You would often be working late into the night. Flurries of emails back and forth between all of us were the order of the day.

In December our T-1 was officially hooked up and activated, and we were ready to roll. Immigration Lawyers on the Web (http://ilw.com) was born. The first orders started coming in. Our lives were totally submersed in this new adventure we had undertaken.

For a year and a half, we continued like that. You worked nearly every waking minute in your little house. Bruce practiced law and did the techie computer stuff in our house. I went off to work my full-time job in Washington D.C. and then came home to help with the administrative aspects of the business. It was all exhausting and exhilirating. We were growing, slowly. It was a lot of work without too much reward except that we were creating something and the Internet was still new and exciting.

In February 1997, we moved both Bruce's law practice and the Internet business into an office in Silver Spring. It was a major adjustment for everyone and had its high-stress moments. It was apparent you didn't really want to make the move. But we felt it was the only way we could continue to grow the company.

In March, I quit my full-time job and started working with you and Bruce. This was the time I treasured most in all the time I knew you. Bruce would come in late, and that would give you and me an opportunity to talk regularly every morning. Often it was just about the business, but sometimes we'd get into personal conversations about different things. You told me about some of the relationships with women you'd had and how you really wanted to find that special one, but you just couldn't figure out how to fit a social life into your schedule. You were also concerned that your health wasn't good because you were spending all your time in front of the computer, smoking too much, not getting any exercise, putting on weight. You kept talking about making changes, but you could never figure out how to do it.

I got to know you pretty well in those days. We had a rapport and ability to talk to each other that I really treasured. Even when sibling rivalry jumped up and bit you and Bruce, and you would be ready to kill each other, you and I could talk. I like to hope I helped you understand Bruce a little better. I wish we could have had more time to do more of that.

But God had other plans for you. I guess in the big picture, sibling rivalry is a small thing to God.

As our sweet friend Margi said, God decided it was time for you to go build His Web site.

On July 7, just as I was about to walk out the door to go to the office, the phone rang. I picked it up and said hello. There was a long pause, and then your voice said, very weakly, "J-j-j-udy?" I said, "Gordon?" You said, "Juuuudy?" Something was very wrong. I said, "Gordon, what's wrong with you?"

We found out later you'd had a brain aneurysm burst the previous evening about 6 p.m. You'd passed out on the bathroom floor and laid there all night, drifting in and out of consciousness. Somehow you managed to drag yourself to the phone out in the living room and call me the following morning. You knew there was something very wrong. We thought maybe you'd had a stroke.

It's a miracle you were still alive that morning. Most people would have died instantly. It's incomprehensible how you managed to get to the phone and then, later, walk to the ambulance on your own.

The next 10 days were a nightmare. We thought you would make it. But there were moments during that time that I will always treasure. I hope the rest of your family has such moments to cling to, too.

I remember in the first day or two, down at Georgetown University Hospital, I sat alone with you in your room in ICU. You had such a headache, and nothing they gave you for it helped much. And they couldn't give you anything very strong because it would interfere with their ability to monitor your condition. That morning, you kept drifting in and out of sleep. You would wake up every few minutes, look at the clock, and say, "Judy, is it really only 11:15? How could that be right? I feel like it's been about 2 hours since I last looked, but it's only been 10 minutes." That kept happening, and you kept being puzzled. I felt so bad for you that they couldn't give you something to knock you out so you wouldn't have to endure the terrible headache.

You were always loving and glad to see me when I arrived. You couldn't talk much--you were so exhausted, in and out of confusion, and tormented by the headache. But you were so warm and loving to all of us, in spite of that.

Your condition improved... and then it took a drastic turn for the worst. We still had hopes you'd recover, but things were starting to look very dark and gloomy. Pretty soon you really weren't able to communicate much with us at all.

One of my cherished memories was after you'd lapsed into semiconsciousness. You didn't respond to my arrival at all that day. But I went around the bed and took your hand, and you gripped my hand as if it was a life raft. You had a fever then, and your hand was very hot, but you clung to mine like you never wanted to let go. After awhile I had to pull my hand away because it was so hot in your grasp... but I hated to. I don't know if you knew you were hanging onto my hand or if it was just a reflex... but I treasured that moment.

Later they took you away to do some more emergency surgery. Somehow I knew, as I watched you being rolled away on the stretcher, that I was saying goodbye to you.

When they brought you back, you had already left us. Your body was still alive, but your mind and maybe your spirit had already gone on to a better place. I will never forget Bruce's agony as he beheld you and curled up against the wall with his hands over his face. He couldn't come close and touch you like that. It was too much. He couldn't say goodbye.

At 5 p.m. on Friday, July 18, your body left us, too. Those moments are still so vivid.

Oh Gordon, we miss you so much. I still sometimes hear your voice when I arrive at the office in the morning. Bruce is working his way through the dark valley of grief. I often feel like you are still with us, like your spirit is lingering with us, offering support and encouragement and love, just being there with us. I hope when the darkness lifts that Bruce will feel this too.

I will always be very grateful for one thing: that I had those months before you left to spend with you, talking to you and getting to know you. That is one of God's great gifts to me. If we hadn't gone into business with you, I never would have really known you the way I did. I am so grateful for that opportunity.

I love you, Gordon. I can hardly wait to see you again.

Photo of Bruce and Judy Hake


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