Friday, March 05, 2010

Remembering John Gorke: don't throw snowballs

As I pastor, part of what I "enjoy" the most about officiating funerals for well-loved persons are the shared stories and memories of the person being remembered: whether from me or (even better) from loved ones who come forward to share a memory or snapshot. There is nothing like a story to capture the heart of a person....very often no one heard the story except the teller.

Here's my story about John Gorke.

I can't help but reflect on him today (as you see him literally reflecting on himself in this photo I took)...

I was maybe fourteen.

Our family had recently moved mid-year from California to New York.
Fitting in a new neighborhood, school...and a whole different culture was no small task.

One day some kids from the next development started throwing snowballs...some even with rocks embedded in them.. at me; I assume because that is how one welcomes the new California kid when you are a New York teenager.

They coaxed some kids from our neighborhood into joining the welcome wagon snowball attack. The gang was growing, and it was growing a bit dangerous.

How these ruffians coaxed John into tossing at me is uncertain, he was such a nice kid.

Actually, they didn't talk him into it.

I noticed that only John's snowballs consistently came nowhere
near me.

That seemed odd, as he was a big, athletic dude.

I realized he was missing me on purpose.

He couldn't have been that bad a shot.

After all, this is the guy who became a well-respected state trooper (policeman).

But the snowball fight tipped me off to John, and soon after we bame friends, as I became best friends with his sister. And I got him to confess: he threw terrible shots on purpose; he didn't know me, but knew I was the new he saved face, and saved snowrocks from reaching me.

Fact is, John knew what if felt like to be picked on; to be an outcast; to have stones and words thrown at him. I heard some heartbreaking stories from him that gave me insight into his compassion that defused and subverted a snowball war that was not just all in fun.

I thanked him, and a friendship began.

John was fairly quiet......though he could at any and random times burst into loud "KISS" lyrics.
And you are not surprised that he was the one who had compassion on me when the person behind me in line at the KISS concert threw up on my jacket. (:

I even kind of saw him as a neighborhood cop...the good cop.
One who would lay down his snowball, his preferences, his life for a friend.
He would opt out of a fight, and would fight for a preferential option for the outcast.

My photos of John were taken in 1980, after we had moved away, but my brother and I drove out to visit these cool friends.

I snuck this picture of him while he was asleep, I'll bet he never saw it.

Oh, and return to my other photo of him at the top of the page.
It would look like he's looking at himself in the mirror.
But take a look: he's really looking at me.
There's a picture of hum: always looking after others, not himself. (Reminds  me of another friend who is now well as Philippians 2:4: "Don't look after your own interests, but look only towards others.")

John would, as a person and a cop, take a bullet for a friend...even for a citizen he did not know.
But how the story ended is even more tragic.

VIDEO:State police captain talks about crash that killed trooper

Ironically, my brother and I had, just months before John's death, started reconnecting with John via email and facebook.

We were, and remain, his only two Facebook was an honor....I think he joined just for us.

He never even got to add a profile photo to his Facebook (Though I might nominate the one at top).
His last email to me included the line,
"Wow, you a pastor? Who would have guessed?"

Not me...not in a million years.

I would have put even less money on KISS still be on tour thirty five years they are!

Anything can happen.

But just maybe God used you all those years ago to model what a pastor is and does.

The last time I saw John was circa 1990, ten years after these photos. In the ensuing decade, my whole life had changed. I had become a Christian, and was studying at seminary to become a pastor. My wife and I took a trip up to New York one weekend to see my old haunts.
But what haunted me about that visit was sitting with John at the counter at Friendly's Restaurant in Liverpool, New York.
I looked at my wife, who was agreeing with me what a warm guy John was;
that this guy, now a young married cop, was ministering to us.

That's partly why I refuse to throw stones today.
Even one wrapped in a snowball.

Please pray for John's family (wife and three kids);  there are no easy answers.

But since I missed the funeral, I hope in some small way to encourage them today with this word of thanks for a life well lived...

..that might sovereignly have a lot to do with me living my life well his honor.


  1. Dave, your story has touched my heart in so many ways. You are so right. John is the most compassionate person I have ever met and always my protector especially when we were kids. Always looking out for me and later my kids also. We all miss him so much. I look at his picture every day and smile at all the wonderful memories we share. Thank you for posting such a wonderful story about this most remarkable man and I love the photos.

    Patricia Gorke Scofield

  2. Wow, Patti..Great to hear from you.
    Great comments.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!