Helpful ReplyA Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill

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buffetbuster
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2019/07/05 13:56:25 (permalink)

A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill

First of all, I hope people forgive me for posting this in the Roadfood News forum.  No other forum seemed appropriate.
 
Like so many others here on Roadfood and back in his adopted hometown of Westmont, I am missing ChiTownDiner terribly.  It might seem odd that you can grow so close to someone that lives 450 miles away and only see in person a handful of times over the course of a year.  But that is exactly what happened.  Similar to what Joe Rogo wrote in his wonderful tribute, we conversed with each other just about everyday, either through text, phone or social media.  In the 10-12 years I have known Gregg, he became my best friend.  Not only that, he was the best friend I've ever had. 
 
A few weeks ago, I saw that Gregg posted on Instagram (he was a prolific Facebook user, but I'm not on Facebook) that he and his family went out to dinner in part to celebrate his being cancer free for 10 years.  That was good enough a reason to call him that night and congratulate him on this significant milestone.  We talked for close to an hour, laughing over some of our favorite stories and recalling that awful night in 2008 when he phoned to tell me that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer.  Many tears were shed that night.
 
Mariton and I were leaving the next day for our trip to Hawaii, so he asked plenty of questions about that and then spoke about how excited he was for their upcoming vacation with friends to Montreal and Quebec City.  We said we would catch up on the details when we returned from our respective trips.  Little did I know that would be our last phone call.  But as last phone calls go, I couldn't have asked for a better one.
 
My motive for writing this is purely selfish.  As hard as I took the news that Gregg was in a coma and then finding out about his eventual passing, looking through old photos brought back a flood of happy memories.  I am hoping that writing about Gregg here and sharing some of those stories will continue to help with the grief.
 
Ideally, this would all be in one post, but it will end up being divided into a handful of separate posts.  I have easily a thousand photos of our adventures over the years (don't worry, I won't post that many), but my internet connection can be spotty and the last thing I want is to do is a long write up and then lose it all.  This is hard enough to write once.
 
post edited by buffetbuster - 2019/07/05 14:52:25
#1
kozel
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 14:29:48 (permalink)
Well said! He will be missed.
 
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buffetbuster
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 14:38:48 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby Wintahaba 2019/07/06 13:52:28
Of course the first thing that comes to mind for most Roadfooders when they think of the name ChiTownDiner/Gregg Pill is food. He truly enjoyed food unlike anyone I had ever met before or since.  It was sheer, unadulterated joy.  Despite his reputation, his appetite wasn't actually that much larger than most others, but absolutely no one enjoyed talking about, planning to get to and eventually consuming food more than Gregg.





Those smiles say it all!
 
His knowledge of food was down right encyclopedic.  And he was always happy to learn more about the subject.  I know I learned plenty from him.  During that last phone call he told me that at a recent dinner out, he asked the server so many questions, they brought the chef out to talk to him.  Who does that?  Gregg Pill, that's who!  I must have laughed for five minutes when he told me that.
 
Sure this is a cliche, but he was equally at home at a fancy, black tie dinner as he was at a run down bbq shack.  He knew quality when he saw it, but wasn't the least bit a snob.  So many times I will visit a place that has great food, unique atmosphere or one perfect dish and say to my wife, "I would love to bring Gregg here."
 
If food isn't the first word that comes to mind, then it is probably spreadsheet.  He would create the most amazing color coded spreadsheets of all the restaurants he was planning on visiting over the course of a weekend or trip and it seemed over the years they just kept getting longer.  He was so proud of those spreadsheets and loved to show them off.  Considering how much work it had to take to create those, I don't blame him.  Some of my favorite spreadsheet photos over the years:
 





 
The one for the Roadfood Crawl in Nashville last year was so big, it was too much for just the two of us. 

We had a to call in the Roadfood troops to help wrangle it...


 
Next up, some of the most memorable meals we shared.
post edited by buffetbuster - 2019/07/05 14:43:12
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JRPfeff
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 15:40:19 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby nagle 2019/07/05 20:03:26
Cliff,
 
I know how close you and Gregg were and really feel for your loss.
 
I cannot say that I was especially close to Gregg, I'd see him at events, but rarely sat alone with him to talk. Nothing close to his friendship with you or Joe or dozens and dozens more. But I too feel like I lost a best friend with Gregg. I think that was Gregg's true gift. He made everyone feel like they were best friends. That includes the hundreds of visitors to his wake and funeral, and likely thousands more not attending.  Gregg always made me smile.
 
Thank you for this wonderful thread.
 
Jim
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buffetbuster
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 17:09:39 (permalink)
When I think back about the very best memories with my friend, so many of them are over meals.  We shared hundreds of meals together over the years, as visiting 6-8 places a day, they will add up quick.  There were a few clunkers here and there, but most of them were memorable or better.  One thing was guaranteed though, the company was going to be fun.  A few favorites:
 
* So Gregg, Donald (CajunKing) and I are loose in Nashville and we end up at Rotier's.   Now both CK and I are charter members of Overordering Anonymous, but for Gregg it is practically an art form.  After the three of us strategically place our orders, our waitress takes it back to the kitchen.  When she comes out, she starts removing the extra chair and rearranging the furniture.  One of us asked, "What's going on?"  She replied, "You ordered so much food, I have to add an extra table!"

 
* On the 2014 Roadfood Bus Tour, we made a stop at Lexington #1, long my favorite bbq restaurant in the country. We were fortunate to end up at a table of eight, including Mike Shell, Steven Rushmore, Michael Stern, Gregg, Cousin Johnny, Mariton, her cousin Erika and I.  Since we were so many, that allowed us to try as much of the menu as possible.  There was sliced, chopped, coarse chopped, fried skin, just about any possible way you could imagine serving a North Carolina-style bbq.  There was just so much food,  and each dish was better than the previous one.  This was one of the best meals of my life.   And since Michael Stern did the ordering, this had to be the only time I ever saw Gregg Pill (happily) on the sidelines during the ordering process.  What I remember most is sitting next to Gregg, giving each other "can you believe how friggin' good this is" faces.
 
* On a trip to Charleston, it was his first visit to the late, great Hominy Grill.  Everything was spectacular, so much so that we talked about that meal for months afterwards.  The last time I was at his house, I noticed he was using a Hominy Grill coffee mug.
 
* Another great breakfast together was at Marcy Jo's Mealhouse, near Columbia, TN.  Great old-time country atmosphere and the food was terrific.  Marcy Jo's is owned by the country duo of Joey + Rory, plus her sister.  Gregg loved his biscuits and gravy breakfast called Rory's Overalls, named after the fact that of their gimmicks is that Rory is always wearing overalls.  Joey was on tour when we were there, but Gregg asked Rory for a photo.

On a whim, Gregg purchased one of their CDs and we ended up liking it so much, we played it non stop.  Our favorite song was a catchy ditty called Cheater, Cheater, which became our nonofficial theme song for the Glee Club gathering.
 
Sadly, Joey was diagnosed with cancer and we both watched from afar the series of touching videos she made before passing away.  We did go back in 2018 before the Roadfood Crawl.  Rory wasn't there, but we did get a group photo with Joey's sister.

 
* Even though it was so long ago, the first meal I think of with Gregg was our dinner at Texan Café with Cousin Johnny back in 2008.  This trip was the first time that we had actually made plans to travel together and honestly, we had no idea what exactly we were in for.  When it comes time to ordering and eating, Johnny and I can hold our own.  But this guy ChiTownDiner made us look like amateurs.  We could see how huge the portion sizes were on other tables, but this wasn't about to slow him down.  Despite knowing a massive chicken fried steak that was on its way for his dinner, he still ordered two huge appetizers.  Johnny and I just looked at each other like, "Is this guy for real?"  We were all so full, we could only order one slice of pie each.  
 
We had never seen anyone so genuinely enthusiastic about their food before.  There were so many laughs that night and both Johnny and I thought he was just the greatest.  No doubt this was the meal that cemented our friendship.
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phlmaestro
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 18:24:09 (permalink)
Those are such great photos.
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 18:40:56 (permalink)
Thank you, Cliff.  Those photos brought tears to my eyes.  I am certainly glad Michael and I had the chance to participate in a few eating extravaganzas when Gregg was there.   Always smiling, always laughing and always enjoying his meals and spreadsheet.  He was a GREAT guy.  Even before I met him in person, I already knew from his posts and pictures that he was a TRUE Roadfooder.  We miss you, Gregg!  
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 18:41:29 (permalink)
phlmaestro
Those are such great photos.


Beautiful memories!
 
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buffetbuster
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/05 22:48:51 (permalink)
One of the things I most appreciated about Gregg was how well he treated my wife.  That was something not to be taken for granted.  We have all been there before: a close friend starts dating or ends up marrying someone that you don't like.  What do you do?  You can't tell them.  Do you start spending less time with your friend?  It has happened to me before and it is awkward.
 
I never had to worry about that.  Gregg made Mariton feel very welcome right from the start.  And she adored Gregg right back.  That sure made things easier for me.
 
A few years ago we were in Chicago, driving around visiting a bunch of restaurants.  During conversation Mariton mentioned that she had an expensive, unusual watch that she had been unable to replace the old battery with a new one.  She was frustrated.  At our next stop, he did a quick google search, made some phone calls and found a jewelry store that could put in a new battery.  It was out of the way and of course there was plenty of traffic, but he did it happily, because that is the type of person he was.  Mariton was estatic.
 
Whenever we would come to Chicago, Gregg liked to surprise us with where we would be going.  Last year we pulled up in front of a huge grocery store and I was thinking, what are we doing here?  But Mariton recognized the name Seafood City and was thrilled.  Ah, it's a Filipino grocery store.  She took her time, walking up and down each aisle, even calling her mother and brother back in Pittsburgh to find out what they wanted her to buy.  And since we had driven to Chicago, it would all fit easily into the car for the trip home.  Let's just say we had plenty of jackfruit

around our house for a while. 
 
Needless to say, my wife isn't a big fan of spending the day in the car, driving from restaurant to restaurant, but when Gregg was involved, she was ready to go.  Because she knew she would spend the entire day laughing. 
 
When Mariton would ask me where are we going this upcoming weekend and I would reply, say Omaha, she would often ask why are we going there?  I would tell he about some cool non-food related things for us to do, remind her of a restaurant she had really enjoyed in the past, telling about some new places for us to check out and she would be fine.  But she would never ask that about Chicago, as she knew we would automatically have a great time with Gregg and his wonderful wife Patti.  They took us to so many fun places, a flower show,

Cloud Gate,

Navy Pier,

Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Oak Park or my personal favorite, the architectural boat tour.

I was so happy to see this photo

of the two couples included among the photos used at Gregg's wake.
 
Last year we spent a couple of days in Central Illinois.  Our last stop on the first day was at Green Gables, a bar that serves an excellent burger.  We had left that morning at 5:00AM and had been at it for over 12 hours and all three of us were tired.  On top of that, the place was crowded and the burger was taking forever.  Nothing was being said and truthfully, I just wanted to get to the hotel.  Next thing I know, Gregg snaps a photo of me, plays with his phone for a few minutes, starts laughing and then suddenly, Mariton is laughing, too.  Apparently there is some app where you can doctor photos, which he did and then texted it to her.  So she joins in, taking a photo of him, making him look like a samurai with funny teeth.  Soon, all three of us are howling.  It was immature and silly, but somehow he found a way to snap us out of the doldrums.  Most of those pictures got deleted, of course, but I did manage to find the first one he made. 

Actually, that a pretty close resemblance to the real me.
 
Another time we flew into Chicago on Mariton's birthday.  Gregg and Patti picked us up at the airport and took us to a high end Japanese restaurant, where she enjoyed a fantastic sushi meal.  This was one of her favorite memories of Gregg.
 
It is fairly common for Japanese to show a peace sign when getting photographed, something my wife has adopted.  And Gregg had to get into the action, too.  A few more photos of Gregg and Mariton together:







That last photo was right before we returned the car rental at the end of the Minneapolis Crawl in April and was the last photo I took of my friend.
 
post edited by buffetbuster - 2019/07/07 10:06:50
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lleechef
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 08:13:12 (permalink)
Thank you Cliff!  More great photos of Gregg.  
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 09:54:04 (permalink)
Precious and amazing memories!  Thank you so much for sharing them!
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leethebard
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 09:59:55 (permalink)
The love pours right out of these photos! Beautiful.
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chickenplucker
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 10:25:58 (permalink)
Thank you Thank you Thank You
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Davidsanders
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 10:42:28 (permalink)
Thank you, Cliff, for this wonderful tribute of friendship and love.
 
David
 
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mar52
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 11:47:27 (permalink)
Thank you, Cliff. 
What a great smile Gregg had.  You can see it's real, not posed.
This is really giving me insight to the man I really never had the chance to know.  Wish I did.
 
 
 
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Wintahaba
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/06 13:58:37 (permalink)
Very heartfelt Cliff. Thanks.
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buffetbuster
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 09:57:36 (permalink)
Okay, true confession time.  I may have the reputation of being the #1 pie fan on Roadfood, but it was clearly the ChiTownDiner (with David Sanders coming on strong).  Gregg spent more time talking about and eating pie than even I did.  He would check the daily specials at Bang Bang Pie and Hoosier Mama Pie Company every morning and if it was a particularly interesting or delicious sounding pie, I would receive a text alerting me to check it out.  He coined the term The Famous Chicago Pie Triangle, an area formed by those two previously mentioned great pie shops, along with Spinning J.  Ideally, I think he would have lived inside that area, to be that much closer to so much appetizing pie.
 
And he was also very thoughtful when it came to pie.  When we met in Des Moines in 2017, he drove well out of his way to stop at two different restaurants to pick up pies.  As soon as he arrived at the hotel, the four of us had a veritable pie feast!  This year, on the way to the Minneapolis Crawl, he and Danny stopped at the great Stockholm Pie Company to pick up pies for the entire group.  My party didn't arrive until a day later and he had entire double lemon pie waiting for us, as he knew that was a personal favorite for Cousin Johnny and I.  He proved over and over how good it was to be his friend.
 
One disagreement though, as he was more of a fan of fruit pies, along with anything that had streusel, while I prefer cream and meringue pies.  Despite this difference, we somehow managed to carry on our friendship.  As a matter of fact, there was something about pies that brought out the little kids in us.  Some of my favorite Gregg Pill pie photos over the years:










That last photo was taken at the Iowa State Fair.  He watched very intently as tables of pies went by.  If those people knew what danging was lurking close by, they would have hired armed security to act as pie escorts!
 
But it wasn't just pie.  The man LOVED bakeries.  No day's itinerary was complete without a few bakery stops.  In fact, if you looked at any of his spreadsheets, my guess it would be 1/3 bakeries of some sort.




That last photo was a help yourself bakery in Des Moines.  Do you have any idea how much fun it was to watch Gregg loose in a bakery like this.  You can see the look on Cousin Johnny's face, thinking, "There won't be anything left for me, will there?"
 
His favorite item in a bakery and I believe his single favorite food was the almond croissant.  According to him, the best version he enjoyed was at his beloved C'est La Vie in Sarasota.  When he was in town, he would eat here every single morning, usually chatting up the owner.  I had secretly hoped to take him to a bakery that had an even better almond croissant, but had failed miserably.    
post edited by buffetbuster - 2019/07/07 10:03:46
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leethebard
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 10:16:47 (permalink)
He sure lived every moment....enjoyed every moment. Wish I could have sat and had a conversation with him. Thank you for letting me know, just a little, this wonderful man!
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 10:27:38 (permalink)
Thank you Cliff for more fantastic pictures and beautiful memories of wonderful, smiling Gregg.  Brought tears to my eyes.  
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 10:40:32 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby nagle 2019/07/07 16:43:25
My orchestra has another tour to Florida in February, this time with a concert in Sarasota. I will be renting a car for the entire tour and will be able to make it to C'est La Vie the day we arrive and also the next morning before we go on to Naples. While I normally don't eat almond croissants, I will definitely have one each visit in honor of Gregg.
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buffetbuster
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 11:23:09 (permalink)
Gregg was such a natural people person.  It was mentioned more than once in this thread about his bigger than life personality and it was true.  People were just drawn to him.  And it sure came in handy while on the road visiting Roadfood restaurants.  Waitresses and restaurant owners treated him and anyone with him like long lost best friends.
 
My favorite story was during the original Crawl in Cincinnati.  Six of us (Gregg, Danny, Gary, Dale, Cousin Johnny and I) descended upon Eckerlin Meats in Findlay Market.  Gregg started chatting with the owner Bob, asking questions and telling him that we were in town for a food tour.  Of course Bob wanted to know more and soon the spreadsheet came out.  The only one better at making friends than Gregg was the spreadsheet.  Bob told us he was going to make up a sausage sampling for us and invited Gregg behind the counter to help with the goetta.  I could barely contain my laughter and amazement as Gregg was back there stirring up the goetta. 

Next thing you know, Gary is behind the counter helping with the sausage.  To make a long story short, the nice people at Eckerlin Meats gave us a variety of delicious sausages to try,

all for free.  Just one of the many fun experiences I have enjoyed over the years that wouldn't have happened if Gregg wasn't the world's greatest schmoozer.
 
BTW, before we left Eckerlin Meats, Gregg gave Bob some cash to pay for meals for some of the homeless in area. 
 
Here are some of other business owners we met over the years, many of whom wanted to take photos with us because of Gregg:







 
Another time in Nashville, he made up homemade signs that said PieBusters and met me at the airport holding them up.  Yup, that was Gregg and that was my ride.  While we were eating our way around Music City, we stopped at the downtown location of Puckett's Grocery.  We grabbed armfuls of the their pre sliced pies in plastic containers to go.  The young lady at the counter was impressed by our overly ambitious haul and was chatty.  Somehow, Gregg managed to talk her into stepping out in front of the building to pose for a photo with the PieBusters sign.

post edited by buffetbuster - 2019/07/07 12:10:36
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buffetbuster
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 11:27:11 (permalink)
Davidsanders
My orchestra has another tour to Florida in February, this time with a concert in Sarasota. I will be renting a car for the entire tour and will be able to make it to C'est La Vie the day we arrive and also the next morning before we go on to Naples. While I normally don't eat almond croissants, I will definitely have one each visit in honor of Gregg.


That's a great idea David.
 
Weve been to Sarasota a few times in the last couple of years, but it was never during a time when they were open.  Next time through, we will make stopping in a priority.  
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Davidsanders
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/07 11:59:11 (permalink)
buffetbuster
Davidsanders
My orchestra has another tour to Florida in February, this time with a concert in Sarasota. I will be renting a car for the entire tour and will be able to make it to C'est La Vie the day we arrive and also the next morning before we go on to Naples. While I normally don't eat almond croissants, I will definitely have one each visit in honor of Gregg.


That's a great idea David.
 
Weve been to Sarasota a few times in the last couple of years, but it was never during a time when they were open.  Next time through, we will make stopping in a priority.  


I'm already worried that the Farmers Market restaurant won't have the strawberry pie!
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Rocky Enfield
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Re: A Life Well Lived - Remembering Gregg Pill 2019/07/08 15:33:17 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby abe_froeman 2019/07/10 11:44:11
Cliff,
 
When I heard of Gregg's passing my heart immediately broke for you.  I know that you two were truly kindred spirits and the term "A brother from another mother" immediately came to mind.
 
A appreciate your sharing all these wonderful photos and memories.  I am sure it is bittersweet for you as you reflect on the loss of your dear friend.
 
Take Care,
Rocky
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