If you're really lucky as a kid, your parents might have a friend who is smart, worldly and funny and who later moves from being a sort of voluntary uncle to a friend of yours in his own right.
That's the kind of person Doug Hinds was.
He was in my life from as early as I can remember, and while you could talk to him about just about anything, there was never anything better to talk to him about than Duke basketball. He lived and breathed it.
He came to Duke in the '60's, just when Duke basketball was building a national reputation under Vic Bubas. He and my mother, who was about 10 years older, forged a deep bond over this. They began attending road games together up and down the ACC and beyond.
True story: my mother was driving up College Park to catch the Maryland game. Somewhere near D.C., she saw Doug on the side of the road, unannounced, waiting for her to come by. He knew she would be coming by, he knew about what time, and he knew that she would see him and take him the rest of the way.
Doug lived and breathed it, and unlike a lot of people, he didn't bail out when things got tough. When the Bucky Waters era started to fall apart, and the fan base splintered, and Duke became a basketball basket case, he never gave up. He never sold his tickets, never stopped supporting the team, never stopped hoping things would get better.
Today, with Duke an international presence in the sport thanks to Mike Krzyzewski, it's hard to remember those days, but a lot of people did give up. Some people even advocated leaving the ACC because Duke could supposedly no longer compete. Some others started buying tickets in different towns, including some not too far away.
There was always a core though of people who never wavered or left when things got tough. Doug was at the heart of that group.
And when things did turn around, first under Bill Foster, and then again under Coach K, he was there, even though getting there wasn't necessarily easy.
An attorney by trade, Doug spent quite some time working for the GAO in Washington. That was not a terrible commute -- just Maryland in reverse -- and he was in Cameron faithfully.
Things get more difficult when he moved to San Francisco, but nonetheless, he made more games than anyone who wants to keep their practice alive probably should have.
One suspects in fact that the practice justified the passion.
It was also easy to be intrigued by him because on many of these trips from California, he was accompanied by stunningly beautiful women and never, the best of my knowledge, by the same one twice. These were not mindless conquests, but often brilliant in their own right, skilled doctors, business women and attorneys. I remember having a long talk with one who had just argued a case before the Supreme Court, just wanting to have some idea of what that would be like.
As I grew older though, I started to wonder if he was truly happy being single. This was a question that was never completely answered, although I got some idea later.
Not long after I became a father, my mother called me and said that Doug had left a CD of lullabies for me that his friend Linda had made. When I picked it up, I saw that Linda was Linda Ronstadt. My mother had no idea this was.
As it turned out, Doug had met both Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris and had become close to both of them. He never mentioned this until much later.
When my mother, for whom the main forum on this site is named, was hospitalized at the end of her life, we weren't overly concerned at first. We assumed that she would be fine.
Nonetheless, Doug, at this point in semi-retirement, flew in and stayed for the duration. He was a constant presence and a source of strength when things truly began to go downhill. He was the only non-family member who was there every day by my mother's side. He was endlessly kind to us and always tried to help in whatever way he could.
The best part of this was when he told off a doctor on the phone, probably infuriating her. We pieced the story together later, but essentially, he told her that he was unhappy about the care given. She essentially said that she was going to tell this guy off in return.
Didn't quite work out that way.
When she came in the waiting room, a tall attractive (and much younger) German, he was no longer angry and instead turned on the charm. Five minutes later, he had her phone number and a date for that evening. Whens he left, he turned to us, held his finger up like the barrel of a gun, blew the smoke out of it and put it away.
She told us later he was a great guy and she couldn't remember exactly what she had been mad at him about.
It was somewhere around this time that he had his first stroke. It was a very mild stroke and he recovered quickly. Anyone in that situation would start to consider their own mortality and look at their own life, and I wondered at this point if he regretted never settling down with someone. He kept a very dapper appearance, but he was clearly aging and quickly.
Another interesting anecdote: the lacrosse case happened at around this time. When I asked him his opinion, he said: I will guarantee you this -- this will become a great disappearing case. There's nothing to this, and soon enough it will crumble.
He was absolutely right of course.
I should also mention what had to be a major disappointment to him: his lifelong friend, Michael Peterson, was found guilty of murdering his wife in a Durham case which received a great deal of attention.
I also asked him about this, and he said he had been to their house many times, and said that he had said on more than one occasion that the staircase at the center of the trial was profoundly dangerous and that somebody would eventually fall down it to their death.
He also said that in his opinion, Durham police were going to be unfair to Peterson no matter what. Given what we saw in the lacrosse case, regretfully, we have to think that could be true in any case in Durham.
During the trial, Doug sat behind Peterson every day. He also did what he could to help with the appeal. He was just that sort of a man.
However, his life was changed forever by a second, much more serious stroke. He made it perfectly clear that he didn't want any pity nor did he want his health discussed publicly and specifically not on this website. We of course honored his wishes and have never mentioned anything about until after his death.
It was at this point when I wondered if he was regretting being a bachelor his 60s. His nephew, Tom, really looked after him. Everyone should be so lucky to have a Tom in their life. He's an immensely decent man to have taken care of his uncle the way that he did, even though it wasn't always easy, and was bound to have been a strain.
He talked about how Doug's goal in rehab was to get back to Cameron, a return he never got to make.
This hunger and passion for a sports team clearly mystified him. At one point, he said, the staff offered Doug a wheelchair with Carolina blue armrests, which he absolutely refused to sit in. He forced them to come up with one in the right colors.
You could see Tom's eyes rolling through the e-mail: what is it with you people?
Sadly, Doug found it difficult to use his voice and chose not to communicate extensively for the last part of his life. I tried to call a few times but he simply didn't answer his phone.
I did get an answer one time, though: the phone rang two or three times and an annoyed woman answered: Doug Hinds room, this is Linda.
Yes, I'm pretty sure it was that Linda, though of course I didn't try to find out or anything. I asked if Doug was there, and she said that he was sleeping. I asked her to tell him that I said hello and she said that she would.
At the time, I felt she was very rude. In retrospect though, she was just trying to protect her friend, for which I'm grateful.
In 2001, my mother was hospitalized during March with streptococcal pneumonia which very nearly killed her. She was in a coma from the ACC tournament until after Duke prevailed in the Final Four. Missed the whole damn thing.
This happened twice as God is my witness: we felt obligated to her to keep the tournament on as much as possible in her room. We knew that she would have wanted that and thought that maybe it could be a positive stimulus.
During the ACC Tournament Finals, a nurse came in, said she was a UNC fan, and asked how Carolina was doing. The blood pressure reading immediately took off.
Later, during the NCAAs, UNC had some positive comments from CBS. Once again, the blood pressure went up. We laughed until we cried: even in a damned coma!
I thought of this again Wednesday after learning of Doug's death. I don't know what shape he was in during the Final Four, but given what I know about Tom and his bewildered indulgence of his uncle's great love for Duke basketball, I am sure he made the same decision we did and saw to it that the games were on regardless of Doug's condition. Like Mom, I'm sure that some part of him at least was totally engaged and awed by the intensity of the championship game and thrilled by the outcome.
This is the other side. For those like Doug and Liz, who suffered so many bad years, but stuck with the team they believed in, comas and strokes were not enough to keep them away.
At least that's what I'd like to believe.
Doug was an unbelievably pure fan; he lived and breathed the stuff in a way most people could never understand.
There was so much more to him than just basketball, but nothing brought out more passion and more joy in the man than watching it played by young men who played for Duke.
He suffered a lot these last few years, and that's heartbreaking, especially for a man who was so full of life. But I can also hear him saying something like this, because he really did say stuff like this: I don't want to go, I want to go on for a long time yet, but if I have to go, at least I got to see Duke win a national championship for my last game. There's something to be said for that.
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