Justin Plumlee was my brother.
I met him at staff week at Quaker Lake Camp in 2003. We bonded while washing the chairs behind the old lodge with a hose and washcloths. Our friend Jay was there, and we laughed over conversation about Umbros and future wives.
We called him by his last name. Plumlee.
Plumlee and I laughed. He was the funniest, best guy. It didn’t matter if you went on a road trip with him or spent two minutes with him. Laughter and Justin were a package deal.
Plumlee was the biggest sports fan. We watched games together and we talked trash about our rivalries and screamed about the teams we both loved. Our State/Carolina rivalry was almost as strong as our friendship.
I’ll never forget the 2004 State/Carolina football game because of Plumlee. I was at home listening on the radio because it was blacked out on TV. State scored a touchdown at the last second and I flipped. But then the unthinkable happened – they put the score up on the board and took it back DOWN. They claimed it wasn’t a touchdown. It was blasphemy.
A minute after this 180 of emotions, I hear my phone ring. It’s Plumlee. I knew exactly why he was calling.
“What the HELL do you want, man!?” I yelled into the phone, knowing he was calling to rag on me about the game.
“Dude, I was calling to say “hey”.”
He’d been leading the Quaker beach retreat, and he honestly had no idea what had happened. As much trash as Plumlee liked to talk about our rivalries, he cared more about our friendship and how I was doing in my life. This was an innocent coincidence that still makes me smile. Of course, I know that if he had known about the game, he would have been calling about that.
We took road trips together. We went to Braves games in 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2012. We sang ridiculous songs in the car rides and always pointed out the “Peach Butt” in Gaffney, SC, on the way.
We drove around Greensboro and scared people. There was a while there where we’d go to Hams once a week, catch up on life, and drive downtown scaring anyone we could find. One time we scared a dude so bad he dropped his milkshake in front of his girlfriend. Another time we scared a couple and two minutes later my car died. Karma.
We also blasted “Separate Ways” by Journey and air-played instruments like in the music video as people stared at us at stoplights. We would text each other whenever we heard the song on the radio. I always smile when I hear it, and I always will.
We chatted our way through relationships. Plumlee and I both got stuck with that “hopeless romantic” heart. Sometimes it paid off and sometimes it didn’t. We got each other through the heartbreak and we celebrated the love.
Speaking of love, Plumlee loved Amanda. He was the first friend of mine Amanda really got to know. He and Ben and Kyle moved in nearby when we first started dating, and we hung out all the time.
I hung out with Plumlee the day after Amanda and I had our first date. We went mountain biking and he left me in the dust. He was an amazing mountain biker and outdoorsman. We finished riding and I told him about “this girl” I’d hung out with the night before, and how I had a good feeling about her. He was stoked, and hoped it worked out.
Years later, he was one of the first people we called after I proposed. Amanda and I were outside in the parking lot of the Cat’s Cradle making calls. We woke Plumlee up to tell him the news. He was in Atlanta for a Braves game and the first thing he said to me was “It’s about time.” I could hear the smile on his face.
We took him out to Grays Tavern to ask him to be a groomsman in our wedding. He said “of course,” and that he’d be honored. The Panthers beat the Bucs that day. They beat them again today. Plumlee is everywhere.
He brought his groomsman suit to my bachelor party weekend at Folly Beach. He wanted to make sure it was the right color. He was so excited, and I was so happy for him to be a part of our wedding. I’ll never forget the smile he had on his face when he showed me that suit. Of course it was the right color. It was perfect.
Plumlee and I took a walk on the beach on that Friday. We walked to the pier and talked about life and old times. He asked about my friends and I asked about his. We laughed over old memories and talked about things we wanted to do in the future. We pointed out the fact that, no matter how long it had been since we’d seen each other, we always picked up right where we left off before.
Those are the best friends. Friends like this are the family members we get to choose.
Justin Plumlee was my brother.
We celebrated his life this weekend. It was a beautiful service and it was so crowded that it was standing room only. There was so much love and laughter in the air. He was celebrated with tears and stories and music and smiles.
It was perfectly Plumlee.
So thankful for being fortunate enough to have him in my life. So thankful for his family. So thankful that my friend Ryan is going to be OK. So thankful for the people that were there and so sorry that this happened. So thankful for love and for hope. So thankful for friends and family. So thankful for hugs from loved ones and strangers. So thankful for laughter and for taking life one step at a time.
So thankful for the example that Justin Plumlee set by the way he lived – a life of love, laughter, and kindness. A life where you leave a positive impact on everyone you come into contact with. A life we should all strive to live.
Plumlee, we love you.
Gary, Terri, and Morgan, we love you. Mark, Gray, Evelyn, Ben, Kyle, and Sara, we love you. Quaker Lake family, we love you.
Ryan, we love you.
Kathy, we love you.
Thanks to everyone for being who you are. Thanks for reminding us that we are not alone during these times. Thanks for love and hugs and laughter.
Thanks to Mom, Dad, Carra, Debbie, Stan and family and friends and TWLOHA. Thanks to Jess and Phil and Daniel and Nate and Badders and James and Barry. Thanks to Brooke and Bea and Kellie and Cate and Meredith.
Thanks to Amanda for being the best friend and love a guy could ever hope to be with.
We celebrated Plumlee this weekend, and we’ll continue to celebrate him by striving to be our best, because that’s what he taught us to do.
And the next time we see each other, we’ll pick up where we left off.