Harvard-Radcliffe Class of '89

Steve Eilers Remembrance 

by Paul Ciampa

(Obituary link)

My favorite book is a Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I loved that book

because the story was so robust and full of life. Each page was a joy – vivid and

memorable. The main character, Owen Meany, was a great, caring friend --

idiosyncratic, with a booming voice, and a larger than life personality. When that

book ended, I was deeply disappointed. I wanted more from Irving; I wanted that

magnificent piece to continue. It gave me such great pleasure. That book reminds

me of my dear friend Steve.

Steve and I have been friends for 30 years. We have shared so many great times

together. As Stu told me the other day, we had more than a lifetime of truly fantastic

times with Steve during his stay on earth. We should be grateful for that. And I am.

Our friendship centered around many of our common interests. Of our common

interests, I’d have to start with food. And if one food defined Steve, it would

be….that’s right pizza. No one story would do Steve justice here, but my most vivid

memory was when Steve and Tim Urquhart visited me in New York for our annual

Renaissance Weekend gathering. After attending the Army Navy game, and then

hitting Keane’s Chop House for dinner, we hit a few bars in NYC with some of my

work colleagues. Later in the evening, Steve was hungry so we headed to Ray’s

pizza to get a slice. There was already a line of at least a dozen people. In New York,

you don’t cut lines like that…unless of course, you are the Chief. Upon entering the

pizzeria, Steve’s focus immediately turned to the various pizzas in the display and,

oblivious to the line, he wandered straight ahead towards the pizza oven. The oven

door opened and he saw a beautiful pepperoni pizza. He pointed at the pizza and

asked the employee straight out – “is that for sale?” The bewildered employee took

one look at the passion in our friend and shook his head “yes”. I saw a person or two

in line get ready to say something, but then looked at Steve and decided not to get

between the bear and his honey.

Another common interest we had was travel. My first real journey was with Steve-

we travelled in Europe together after college for about a month. We met in Paris

and went to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and then back to Paris for the 200 th

Bastille Day. So my first trip to two of the world’s most romantic places, Paris and

Venice, was with Steve. I can still recall him walking up the Pont Neuf with his large

duffel bag (no backback for Steve…who was never afraid to buck

conformity)…bouncing towards me. I can clearly recall so much of that trip…

My wife, Mary, and I had the good fortune of having Steve and Evelyn, along with

Turq and Fiona, visit us on Cape Cod this summer. It was a trip down memory lane

for Steve, who spent his childhood summers there. He had such amazing memories

of his childhood there. He loved the Cape. During his stay, we introduced Steve to a

new delicacy – Sundae school ice cream, which Steve religiously devoured. Pints

and pints of it. It was so great for the kids to spend time with him. He connected

with them as he did with so many kids. They relished this Big Bear who was so

gentle with them. After he left, I went to have an ice cream which was all gone – I

asked where it went and Francesca laughed and said “Uncle Chief ate it.” Mary and I

enjoyed the laughs, the warmth, the friendship…and we enjoyed getting to know

Evelyn. I am so thankful, Evelyn, that you enabled us to have this one last special

time together.

Steve always enjoyed exchanging ideas on politics. We did not always see eye to

eye. Indeed, in college, when I ran for House President, Steve supported the other

guy, despite our friendship. Steve felt he was better suited for the job. It was

disappointing for me to hear this, but Steve was open and honest and thoughtful. I

lost that race…but Steve being Steve, our friendship was better than ever


Steve always stayed current as well. I recall in b school that Turq, Johny and I were

so focused on our studies. I was thrilled to study the classics – Peter Drucker and

Ted Levitt. Chief on the other hand…well a visual does it best. I’d come back from

class and find Chief on the couch…People Magazine next to him, the USA today not

far, a United flight guide always at the ready, the short shorts on that he loved to

wear, with a tee shirt tucked in, and a subway sandwich wrapper in the same

vicinity. He kept me in touch with the current day for sure…and pulled me out of my

academic isolation.

Sports was definitely our strongest bond. As Bo would say, Chief knows football.

My last text with him was a congratulations on the Indians going to the World

Series…to which he responded “Thanks Champ! Good to see so many good things

happening in Cleveland.” We had been to the Sugar and Rose Bowls together, as

well as the Army Navy game. We had memorable times at Wrigley and the Jake, at

the Cow Palace and Chicago Stadium…in Colorado and New York. We saw hockey in

Cleveland and baseball on Cape Cod. We even sat in the Fenway Monster Seats with

Goose Gossage in the famous Red Sox come from behind in 2004, when Varitek

taught Arod how to proceed to first base. Thank you Chief – you made that

wonderful day as rich and vivid as it could possibly be.

Steve has been one of my best friends for the past 30 years. I have struggled with

his loss It is selfish, I know, but I really wish I could have one more pizza with him –

his style, deep dish, with pepperoni, and for breakfast. I wish we could take one

more trip together – perhaps to another of the world’s wonderful romantic places –

with our wives this time. I would love to discuss politics and hear him dissect this

past election. His insight I know would help me better understand it. On the day of

his passing, I had just finished Hillbilly Elegy, which Steve had told me I had to read.

He was right. I would of course love to hear his thoughts on the Cubs and the

Tribe..on the Jamie Collins trade…on the Cavs…on Tom Brady…on so so many topics

we frequently discussed. So often in the past month when these topics popped up, I

instinctively went to email or text Steve. He is that present with me.

I have struggled with Steve’s passing. I think of him often. At times, I am pulled to

tears. At times, recalling memories, I laugh out loud. I feel that I understand where I

need to get to. I need the wisdom to understand that Chief lives on in me on a daily


To return to Owen Meany again…I loved what his best friend, John Wheelwright,

said about Owen after Owen had passed all too soon.

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because

he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my

mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of

Owen Meany.” 

Rest assured, I am not a Christian because of Steve. But my humanity – my daily life

– has been so enrichened because of my relationship with Steve. I enjoy eating pizza

more because of Steve. Each time Mary and the kids and I take a trip, it was

encouraged in part by Steve and his love of travel. Each time I am more respectful

with others when discussing politics, it was because of Steve and how respectful and

thoughtful he was. When a friendship survives and thrives despite differences in

opinion, it was in part Steve’s spirit helping us along. When I see the Patriots

scoring a touchdown, I will see the block made that opened the whole – nothing

gave Steve greater pleasure than seeing the line do their job. And when Turq and I

gather each year hereafter, we will know that it was Steve that brought us together.

Chief was my Owen Meany. A larger than life person with a booming voice, a strong

handshake, and a maiming high five..a terrific friend with so many vivid, wonderful

stories. A piece of work and a work of art. Someone taken too early in life. A story

that I was enjoying too much to want it to end.

I keep reading Owen Meany with my kids…I have not let the end of the book end my

love for it. It remains alive in me…much in the way I know Steve will forever remain

alive and a friend…someone whose wonderful memory will flicker in me throughout

my life. Thank you Steve for so much…

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