My first helicopter instructor, who became a friend, died yesterday. Joris Naiman was a gentle soul, aged 61, and succumbed to liver cancer, to which I lost my dog George back in 1991. I went to visit Joris last week at his home on the dammed-up portion of the Charles River known as the “Lakes District” in Waltham. We watched a pair of mute swans taking off and landing. Joris and his wife Lesya explained to me that the swans had reared seven children to adulthood in the previous season. Joris shared all that he knew about their feeding and breeding habits and explained the legal status of these visitors from Russia. Joris and Lesya had converted part of their living room into a greenhouse overlooking the river and thus Joris was able to indulge his love of nature from a recliner chair. We talked about plans for the summer and certainly nobody in the room thought that there would be a chance of Joris being gone this week.
Joris worked hard on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service despite a realistic appreciation for the limits of what government regulation could accomplish. I would often phone him at work at 9:00 pm. He could recognize that the politically connected or simply savvy could work around most regulations while simultaneously not being cynical. Joris enjoyed aviation for most of his adult life. He and his wife would fly a four-seat Piper on sunny days to various corners of New England and then get out to hike in the woods. He was very eloquent on the joys of helicopter flight, explaining that it was only with a helicopter that we could feel as though we’d escaped from the laws of gravity and our Earthbound natures.
Joris and Lesya were great dog-spoilers. My Samoyed Alex would stay with them while I went away for a long weekend and he would come back with a treat-stuffed smile and a new fluency in Lesya’s Ukrainian. Although he did not have children, Joris was a favorite of my daughter Greta.
Joris was a moderating influence in nearly every conversation. If you were talking about how the future was incredibly bright Joris might remind you that things tended not to work out as planned. If you were suffering a misfortune Joris would remind you that things probably wouldn’t be as bad as you feared. He kept an even emotional keel right through my last two visits (in March and April), mentioning the irony of the nurses at the Lahey Clinic waking him up at 4:00 am to ask whether he was sleeping well in his hospital bed.
http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/milestones shows that Joris and I had known each other for 10 years. I will miss him.