Memento mori.

John Fuller used to tell a story about the passing of his older brother, Nicholas Anthony Fuller, who passed away in March 1998 in Antigua, West Indies. It's hard to believe that that was exactly 20 years ago this week. Funny how time slips away.

As my memory recalls, John told me that everyone who attended his brother’s funeral service in Antigua came up to him and said: “Nick Fuller was my best friend.” Nick had been in charge of the American Consulate in Antigua and owned The Lord Nelson hotel. Everyone considered him a friend.

John said he never saw anything like it.

With all due respect, I disagree.

For many, many years as the owner of Hillcrest Pharmacy on South High Street in Hillsboro, John Fuller was – at one time or another – almost everyone’s best friend. Whether it was filling a badly needed prescription in the middle of the night, or giving away more of the store’s Russell Stover’s boxes of candy than he ever sold, John was, indeed, everyone’s friend. And there was never a better friend.

Almost 30 years ago, when I was making $4 an hour for a now-defunct newspaper company, I supplemented my income by working Sundays at Hillcrest Pharmacy. (For full disclosure, I had an inside track for the job. John was my youngest sister, Kathleen Fuller’s father-in-law.)

I have had many bosses in more than 45 years of gainful employment. The two best – bar none – were Charles Ryan and John Fuller. I learned more about business and how to treat people from those two employers than any others. For all of my days, I will miss them both.

John made every customer who walked into his pharmacy feel special. He made them feel welcome – like they’d just stopped by to visit a friend.

After working with John (he often said “You don’t work for me, you work with me”) for a few weekends, I walked behind the counter where he was filling scripts. I offered to loan him a few dollars.

“Get outta here!” John hollered good-naturedly. “What are you talking about?”

Well, I tried to explain it. Customer after customer would walk in, and very few would pay upfront for the medicine. Some had insurance. I suspect many others did not. John always filled their doctor’s prescription and never seemed to worry about payment. That’s just how it was. He once told me almost everyone paid in their own way, just not always immediately. And let’s face it, as a successful businessman, he certainly had to maintain his accounts receivables in order to survive. But I suspect he mostly did so with kindness and understanding with others’ respective predicaments.

His granddaughter, Cali Fuller, shared a similar experience on a Jan. 21 Sunday afternoon while John and I were playing blackjack at his kitchen table. She had interviewed her grandfather for a story in business ethics, as I recall. She said something along the lines of her grandfather taught her that you can be honest and ethical on the way to success. You don’t have to be ruthless.

It was a good lesson then – and it still is. Always the teacher. That was John.

Through many family get-togethers and Cincinnati Reds road trips over the years, John always shared his wisdom, his advice and his compassion and love for his family and friends. He had an equally strong passion for God and country. He was knowledgeable about everything from world history to classical music to the Reds’ starting lineup in any given season.

John would put together trips to Reds’ games. Early on, it was more of a family thing, I’m sure. But I was fortunate to attend several games with John, his sons, Tim and my brother-in-law, Chris, former Judge Jim Hapner, a family friend, John Pollock, and my son, Colin.

Colin made our final Reds road trip just prior to the passing of former judge and state lawmaker Jim Hapner. I am so glad that Colin got to experience that special day.

“I miss Jim,” John told me in the middle of our last card game in late January.

“Jim was a dear friend.”

Naturally, that comment brought to mind the day John, Jim, Chris and I were watching a Reds game in the spring of 1991, when we started talking about which team would win that year’s World Series. At that particular moment, the Riverfront Stadium scoreboard displayed the Major League Baseball standings.

After a couple of draft beers, I think I picked the Reds to repeat. After all, the 1990 Reds were wire-to-wire world champions.

I’m not sure that Jim or Chris picked any team. But out of nowhere, John said “I’ll take Minnesota, and you can have the field.” (“Having the field” meant we had every other Major League team, and John only had the Twins. It’s like the old saying, if it’s a mortal cod lock, and you have a farm, well, bet the damned farm.)

Did I mention that the Twins were in fourth place at that moment?

I jumped all over it. So did Judge Jim Hapner. John accepted our friendly wagers.

The next afternoon, Jim called me and said we may have taken advantage of John on a sunny and pleasant spring afternoon after one too many beers. So, Jim and I met up with John at Hillcrest Pharmacy and offered to cancel the bet.

In true John Fuller gusto, he said he would not cancel the bet, but he would double it if we had the er, intestinal fortitude.

Thus, the bet was doubled. I think the Twins were eight games under .500, something like 2-10 at that time in early 1991. Frankly, Jim and I felt fairly comfortable with our wager.

As fate would have it, the Twins finished 95-67 in 1991, first in the AL West, which was quite a turnaround from 1990, when the team finished last in the division with a 74-88 record. They were the first team to go from a last-place finish to a World Series championship.

Leave it to John to win that bet. He knew. He knew Kirby Puckett was just about the best player in the game in 1991.

As a side note, John never spent those winnings. Instead, he framed our payoffs and placed them on the wall at Hillcrest for all to see.

I wrote an “Irish-Rumanian Sports Wagering Agreement Resolution” after the Twins won the 1991 World Series. The resolution – which Pam has saved all these years – concludes as follows: "We, the parties of the first and second parts, do hereby resolve to cease and desist from any wagering in which one unspecified party continues to suffer from ill fortune and monetary loss."

Of course, I didn't learn. The resolution was non-binding, and I continued to lose most future bets with John.

Our Reds group was together again on a snowy Opening Day April 1, 1996 (no foolin’) against the Montreal Expos when – just seven pitches into the game – home plate umpire John McSherry called a timeout. He said something to Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee, and for all intents and purposes, dropped dead not far from home plate.

I remember watching the right field umpire – probably Steve Rippley or Jerry Crawford – racing toward McSherry in an absolute dead run. Instinctively, I knew something was seriously wrong.

After some delay, it was decided that it would be best to postpone the game. Later, Reds manager Ray Knight recalled a comment from shortstop Barry Larkin: “Barry told me very quietly and with very much emotion: ‘Ray, I've had a lot of deaths in my family. In good conscience, out of respect for life, I can't go out there.’”

We were sitting in the lower left-centerfield red seats in Riverfront Stadium, just quietly talking about what had happened. Pretty soon, the stadium had emptied and an usher walked over and very politely asked if we planned to leave soon. I remember John asking how old the umpire was.

He was only 51. Life is, indeed, a precious gift.

McSherry's funeral was held at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Catholic Church in the Bronx, and he was interred in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery. It’s hard to imagine that was 22 years ago.

Funny how time slips away.

On Wednesday evening, Feb. 28, I called my sister to check up on John. Kathleen confirmed what we all feared. Chris was staying with his Dad. The end of John's earthly journey was near. Less than two hours later, our home phone rang.

John passed away on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 28. He was 86.

In addition to serving the community as a local pharmacist, John also served on Hillsboro City Council and belonged to St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro. He contributed greatly to more charitable causes than we will ever know. That said, he will not appreciate this column. I realize that. But John was a dear friend to many people. It would not be fair to them if we did not honor John’s life and service. I’ll seek forgiveness, if necessary, from his sons at a later date.

John is survived by his wife, June; sons, Mike (Mary), Tim (Connie) and Chris (Kathleen); and his beautiful grandchildren of whom he was so, so proud.

Pam and I talked past midnight after the inevitable news about John. We cried. We laughed. We were glad that John and June were able to attend Caitlin and Stephen's wedding and understood that they wanted to be there for Meghan and Jeff.

We also agreed that there are few men any better than John Fuller. Simply put, John was the best.

The last words John said to me were "Please thank Deirdre and Paul (my sister and brother-in-law) for a beautiful Christmas dinner. It was good to see everyone."

That was typical of John. Always thinking of others. Always appreciative. Always generous.

Pam, who is an RN at Highland District Hospital, recently had John as one of her patients. She shared that the last thing John said to her just prior to being discharged was "I'm going home, and I love you."

Yes, John is going home. We love you, too.

Requiescat in pace.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.

Note: A memorial service for John Fuller will be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hillsboro at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 25 with Father Michael Paraniuk officiating. The Murray-Fettro Funeral Home in Greenfield is serving the family. Condolences may be sent to http://www.murrayfettro.com.