I received shocking, tragic news this week when I learned my college roommate passed away at the age of 51.

We met at the very start of college. We lived in the same building freshman year. We became friends and moved in together as roommates for our junior year. As seniors, we shared an apartment in downtown Albany with a third friend. Over the 30 years since, we enjoyed many years with lots of contact, though in more recent years less frequent contact.

During the year we were roommates, his life took a tragic turn when his dad, not even 50 years old, passed away of a sudden heart attack. He was always worried he would suffer a similar fate.

He and his wife endured a great hardship as parents. Their daughter was born with a rare, genetic disorder. They weren’t sure if she would make it past a day, and when she did, they were told to expect her to only live for one year (and that the longest anyone with her condition had ever lived was to age seven.) But they delivered such great love and care that she lived to 16.

Fortunately, their son, a college freshman, is a healthy, vibrant young man. My roommate explained, in his summer 2010 eulogy for his daughter, that their son learned at a very young age about empathy, compassion, and accepting others not like you. Their son already is, and I know he will continue to be, an amazing person. It will be hard but, with the help of his mom, he will come through this challenge.

The theme of my roommate’s eulogy for his daughter was her smile and the unconditional love she gave to everyone she touched. He said the 15 additional years (after her one-year life expectancy) were a gift.  And that’s the only way I can look at his time with us; a gift of 51 years, the last 33 of which I knew him.

My roommate leaves me with memories of many fun times during college, a time which continues to hold an indelible place among the best times of my life. For that, I am grateful. RIP.

Please join me in sending thoughts and prayers for strength for his family.