by Patrick J. McArdle
THE IMAGERY WAS STRIKING. Standing outside Holy Trinity Church after the Friday morning funeral mass, I waited and watched. The championship boat-mates and coach of Greg Carroll, now his pallbearers, escorted down the aisle their teammate and friend, the first of their corps to cross the finish line of life's mortal course. My mind flashed to the daily routine of the crew portaging their fragile eight-man shell from river to boathouse. A collective snatch and jerk and then centipede waddle, it was a ritual of strength, timing, balance and teamwork that Greg had repeated hundreds of times with these very same teammates. Now port and starboard of this earth-bound shell, they hoisted Greg's final vessel down the steps toward its concluding journey.
My thoughts jumped quickly to an image from the classical studies of my youth: the slain Spartan soldier borne home atop his shield by his comrades-in-arms. The image conjured up sentiments of glory, duty, honor and courage, all root words from the Greg Carroll lexicon of life.
I recalled the archetype Greek hero, Achilles, who according to Homeric legend, chose a short, glorious life with eternal fame over a long, uneventful life. Greg believed in heroes and what they stood for. Not unlike the immortal Achilles, Greg always displayed in his usual larger-than-life manner, a deep intensity of feeling, at times masking his underlying wisdom, loyalty and compassion.
His greatest heroes were personal ones. But not in a private sense, for he would gladly rhapsodize about them at length: his wife Michelle and daughter Julia, whom he loved and adored above all else; his parents and sister whose gentle and generous disposition he shared; his two brothers whose daredevil exploits he would describe with equal doses of admonishment and boastful pride to anyone who would listen; his renowned rowing coach whose return to Georgetown he had longed for and worked hard to secure; his best friend and towering teammate whose prowess with an oar, Greg had once convincingly argued justified election to Georgetown' Athletic Hall of Fame; and the Jesuits whose teachings he had absorbed for eight years and whose way of thinking he adopted for his own.
GREG WAS A PURIST, confident that most in life could be reduce to simple truths. And these truths he kept either in his head, to be pronounced at moment's notice, or within arm's reach, recorded on little scraps of paper. "There are three kinds of people in life," Greg would quote to me from the Carroll version of Bartlett's, "boat movers, passengers, and boat stoppers." He left no question as to self-characterization, nor as to the type of person whose company he preferred. Remis velisque, he might have similarly offered from his list of favorite Latinisms as his own prescription for living. Literally, "with oars and sails," but in proverbial Ciceronian context, " with all one's might."
In an impure and imperfect world, quality is not easily quantified. Greg was a perfectionist, ever striving toward excellence. And he knew that competition provided the most visible measure of excellence, no doubt why he competed with such intensity. In bello parvis momentis magni casus intercedunt, another latin phrase he kept tucked away with a paraphrased translation appended. "Battles are won by those who blunder the least."
He loved a good challenge, often taunting his would-be opponents in an effort to raise the psychological ante. And he love to win. Greg would carefully measure his foe, looking for every possible weakness to exploit, a lesson he learned well from his scholastic days as a wrestler. And then he would proceed to complete - to use another phrase from the Carroll book of quotations - "with the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces." He would infuriate you one minute with his direct-to-the-jugular approach and then, victory in hand, charm you off your feet the next with his broad grin and a hearty laugh.
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY is a realm of perpetual youth and Greg was a natural in this environment. He spent many years coaching on the river where his young rowing charges learned first-hand of his strict adherence to structure and rules. Yet his jokes, silly and bawdy both, his inexhaustible supply of trivia, his frisky playfulness, and his candor were a constant reminder that he had always remained young at heart. He was wonderfully proficient at every variety of board and party game and was a card-carrying member of the U.S. Croquet Association. When he didn't quickly dispose of his wicket opponents with the skill of his mallet, he would just as surely vanquish them on a footnote to an obscure subsection of the official rules that he had committed to memory.
At play or at work, Greg was a man of action. From his scraps of latin quotes, he accurately defined himself: Facta non verba. Deeds not words. It is no surprise therefore that the outdoors held such a special allure for Greg. Whether it was rowing and coaching on the Potomac or chopping wood during weekend jaunts to the family cabin in the Blue Ridge or sailing excursions on the open sea or fixing up the cottage at Fisher's Island or just strolling across the campus several times a day, Greg recharged himself by getting out into the open air.
I had recently come across an outdated 1983 membership directory of the Potomac Boat Club and began perusing the list of names. Along with the customary name and address information was each person's colloquial name, "Bill" or "Jack" or "Tom," etc. And there it was, official, in black and white, right after the name of J. Gregory Carroll, the moniker "Mr. Everything." As one of his teammates eulogized, "it ain't bragging if you can do it." Greg had another latin maxim for it: Esse quam videri. Substance rather than appearance.
ALONG WITH THE HUNDREDS of mourners at the cemetery, tears filled my eyes as I listened to the last rites for Greg. Then from a distance came the call of competition familiar to all who have rowed: Etes-vous prêt? Partez! The roar of Greg's own miniature cannon pierced the air. And I then realized that I wept for more than just a friend. I wept for a hero.
Godspeed to you, Greg. Remis velisque.