After loss of a friend, males’ bonding thrives

The four guys had a great time over the weekend. Just as they always do, except for the year when one of the guys threw out his back. And there was another time when one of them took some medication, then a sip of wine and promptly passed out.

Mild diversions, to be sure.

This year, Bill, Dave, Don and Bob hit the Getty museum, strolled downtown L.A., took in a concert at Disney hall, ate some fine food and drank some wine.

Then, as they always do, they scattered on Sunday, most likely not to see one another until next February, when they’ll do it all over again.

But they never let the weekend pass without toasting the memory of Maurice McDonald.

That’s how it started, with McDonald’s death in 1976.

The four -- Bill Watt, Dave Miller, Don Landis and Bob Geering -- were pallbearers for their friend, whose inability to kick cigarettes probably was the reason he died of cancer in his late 30s.


After the funeral that February day, the four friends had lunch and, as can happen at such moments, decided to get together the next year. They didn’t sign a blood oath, but the idea was to reunite and pay tribute to McDonald and appreciate that they were given a chance that he wasn’t.

Lots of times, those ideas have short shelf lives. Along about Year 3, they die on the vine.

Not with these guys. With three of them in their 70s and Watt coming up fast on the big 7-0, they haven’t missed a year yet.

That amazes me. I ask Watt why it’s hung together.

“It’s about the friendship and the connection to something,” he says. “I’m not quite sure what it is. We’re friends, but not the kind of bosom buddies who hook up all the time. Your question gets to the very heart of this thing: It’s like a longing to maintain a connection somehow that’s important.”

Miller said the common bond is that all worked, at one time or another, on Irvine Co. projects. They shared an interest in architecture, design and homebuilding -- and that bond has remained a theme of their annual visits.

Another theme is their love of food and wine. Watt is the acknowledged main chef; last weekend he served up barbecued tri-tip and shrimp with shells, marinated in garlic and olive oil. On another night, he dished up spaghetti carbonara.

But beyond the professional bonds and the food, there is McDonald’s memory. The others (I contacted everyone but Geering) remember McDonald as delightful company, a tall, athletic man who was “poetry in motion” on a ski slope. And, unfortunately, a chain smoker.

In fact, they’re a bit fuzzy on when McDonald died. They originally told me it was 1978, making this their 30th annual celebration, but Times research indicates a Maurice McDonald dying at 39 in 1976, and the group says that may well be right.

It’s a historical footnote. The thought behind remembering McDonald isn’t diminished.

Miller adds: “Maurice, like so many other people, was always thinking about what he was going to do in the future. He lost that opportunity. He died young, he was never able to do the things he so long talked about. The four of us have the opportunity to share our lives and experiences in terms of ‘Are we doing what we really want to do?’ ”

Landis remembers that first lunch when they committed to reuniting the next year. He thinks they went skiing. Over the years, they’ve rotated the get-together site between Northern and Southern California.

Miller lives in Bishop and Geering in the Bay Area. Watt and Landis live close by in Orange County, but seldom see each other.

I ask Miller to muse about how their old pal might feel about being the original reason the guys made their pact.

“Maurice would be astounded,” Miller says. “He was the most unassuming, kindest kind of person you could possibly imagine.”

The group makes it clear that their get-together is about the here and now, with reminiscence thrown in. They don’t travel solely on Memory Lane, nor is the idea for it to be a Last Man Standing story.

It’s not even meant as a tribute to McDonald but, of course, it is.

That’s because he left enough of a mark three decades ago to inspire his friends to celebrate life.

I say that makes McDonald a charter member.

Landis agrees: “I’d say very definitely he’s part of the group in terms of us toasting him, and more than once, every year. But I’d just say it has to do with the friendships. And he fact that here today, gone tomorrow. Life being as grand as it is, it’s also fleeting at the same time.”


Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at

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