A Truly Great Man

The Good Is Oft Interred with Their Bones… But Not so for This Man

His name was Gregory Proctor. We met only twice, each time on the occasion of a several-day business meeting in the Washington D.C. law office of K&L Gates where he was the Senior Practice Assistant to a partner at the firm.  In total, the words between us could not have spanned more than 30 minutes.

But that was all it took to appreciate the magnitude of the man. The first meeting left me with a sense of wonderment and inspiration; the second brought home the realization that Gregory was more than a mere mortal. Sadly, it was the mortality we all face that has brought me to write about him. Gregory died suddenly a few weeks ago, the aftermath of a fall, only a few days into his 67th year.

It was March 2015 when I first walked into the lobby of 1601 K Street NW, the Washington DC office of K&L Gates and was greeted by a gentleman. “Good morning, Mrs. Chadwick.” he said with impeccable diction, “I am Gregory Proctor.” He had one hand extended and with the other he made a gesture as though ushering me into his home. The affect was disarming and, in an instant, the stress from the harrowing cab ride through the construction-ridden Capitol had evaporated.

“Good morning,” I responded, as I shook his hand and tilted my head back in order to meet eye to eye. Gregory stood nearly seven feet tall (or so it seemed to me) and was the picture of elegance – a lithe frame draped in sartorial sophistication, black eyes that glistened like coal and a smile that seemed to come from deep inside him.

As he guided me through the lobby, I pondered – who is this gentleman and how does he know my name? It was a logical quandary, because I was among several women attending the board meeting.

For the next few days, Gregory was a ubiquitous presence – always ready to fill a request, solve a problem, find a solution. When one of the board members muttered to another in frustration that he had forgotten his reading glasses and wondered how he’d decipher his scribbled notes, it wasn’t long before the conference room door opened and Gregory glided silently to the gentleman’s place at the table and deposited three pairs of “readers”. When he had overheard the board member’s dilemma, he had slipped out to the CVS store.

After the meetings came to an end and Gregory was bidding us good-bye, I couldn’t refrain from asking him a question: “How did you know who I was when I first arrived?”

His response tripped off his tongue, with a combination of whimsy and propriety. “Why, that is my responsibility, is it not?”

The twinkle in his eye created an image in my mind of the man – Gregory, at the end of a long day in the now nearly empty law office, researching the background, committing to memory the photograph, and finding out a little bit of what made each of us board members tick. 

Three years later, when the board members met again at the same office in Washington D.C., I found a spate of time for more conversation with Gregory and that was when he shared, with great pride, that he had been a State Department employee for years before he went to work as a secretary to President Ronald Reagan. I learned, too, that he had been a ballet dancer and continued to be a presence in the world of fashion. And that was when the pieces of the puzzle began to come together – the elegant carriage, the attention to detail, and might I say, the intense research on each of us board members – a “secretary” in the State Department could mean a thousand different things, couldn’t it.  Conjuring the image of the prim and proper Gregory Proctor as a spy was entertaining. It was only more powerfully confirmed when he let on that he knew I worked with middle school girls in Harlem. That was a bonding moment, and our friendship was cemented.

However, there was an important part of Gregory’s life that I discovered only when I read the words below that were in the order of service for his funeral on March 21, 2019.

“Gregory joined Greater Works Christian Church in 2009…and was ordained on June 20, 2013. Reverend Proctor served as a dedicated Sunday School teacher, Bible Study teacher and was the longest running leader of the church’s Homeless ministry at the Prince George’s County Homeless Shelter for Men…..As a cancer survivor, he was dedicated to encouraging persons who had been newly diagnosed and helping to build their faith.”

The news that Gregory was also a man of God came, less as a surprise, and more as an aha moment. It all made sense, and his death reminded me of a stanza in the poem by May Sarton, upon the untimely death of her father, George Sarton, the brilliant professor of the history of science.

And when he died,

he died so swift

His death was like a final gift.

He went out when

the tide was full,

Still undiminished, bountiful;

The scholar and

the gentle soul,

The passion and

the life were whole.