Recent picture of Eugene with a co-worker at MD Anderson
I was working in a TV Production truck in 1984 for a TV Evangelist named Phil Arms. At that time, I was the only TV Production person on staff so everyone else on the crew was volunteer. We would multi camera shoot services and edit the video for broadcast. We had three cameramen and at least two people in the truck live switching and engineering the cameras. One afternoon the door of the truck opened and in steps a 15-year-old kid wanting to help. We had the crew filled for that day, so my first instinct was to tell the kid to get lost, we got it covered. But when I looked at him, I saw myself at 11 years old when I first started running sound for our church services. Since we already started recording, I pointed to a foldout chair that he could use to watch as we worked the program. After we finished about an hour later, I asked this kid what his name was. He said “Eugene”. I noticed that he had a camera tech book in his lap that he was looking through. The tech book was about a 5-inch-thick binder with about 1,000 pages and had everything an engineer needed to know about our broadcast production cameras. He closed the book and asked if he could take the book home and that he would bring it back the next day. Since we had four cameras, that meant we had four of those books and I had seen Eugene at these services before so I knew he would bring it back. If he did not bring it back, we had three others so it would not have been a big loss.
The next day as we were “matching” the cameras and one of them was not working correctly. We had been struggling to get this camera to get the proper video for broadcast specs. We were almost at the point of giving up on that camera and bringing it back to the truck to store it. Eugene steps into the truck with the book he promised to bring back. He saw that we had one of the other books open trying to diagnose a camera. He stood back and watched us for a few minutes, then said, “I know what the problem is.” We turned to look at him and I asked, “How do you know what the problem is?” He said, “turn to page 541, at the bottom of the page is how to fix it.” I could not believe what I just heard. The other guy in the truck that was working the problem laughed. I turned to page 541 and looked at the bottom of the page and what do you know, there was our solution. We did what the book said and suddenly, the camera was working like it was supposed to. I asked Eugene how he knew that. He said I read it last night when I was at home. Turns out that Eugene has a photographic memory and I immediately saw the value he would bring to our crew. I was amazed at what he just did and from that moment on, we became good friends. I counted on him to work as our engineer to match cameras and help keep everything working in the truck.
A few years later, I was working at Second Baptist Church in Houston as the Broadcast Video Editor. My shift at that time was 2 in the afternoon to 10 at night five days a week. I liked that shift because there was few interruption since most people on staff were gone for the day. When the last person left around 5 pm, I would close and lock the door to the media suite so no one would drop by causing me to stop what I was doing to show them around. The media suite was state of the art and it drew attention for anyone interested in a short tour. One evening the phone on the desk rang and I saw that it was the extension at the reception desk. That usually meant that one of the Pastors or other staff wanted in. I picked up the phone and it was Eugene. He asked if I wanted to go grab a bite to eat. I was ready for a short break, so I came out of the media suite and saw Eugene’s smiling face waiting. Eugene worked as an ambulance driver/paramedic and was working on his college degree at that time. We took his truck to a nearby restaurant. I noticed that he was wearing a yellow shirt with a smiley face, but it wasn’t the normal smiley face, this one had Xs for the eyes and what looked like a bullet hole in the forehead with blood pouring out. I asked about the shirt and Eugene said that he had forensics class that day and the topic was if a body had multiple gunshots to the head, how to tell which one hit first and which one was fatal. He wore that shirt to be funny in class. I could not help but laugh and I asked, do you know how to tell that? He said, it is easy and went on to explain the crack patterns in a skull around each bullet hole, not something I wanted to hear over a meal, but this was Eugene being himself. He was a unique character.
Eugene earned his MD and worked as an Anesthesiologist at MD Anderson. We kept up with each other over the years, so I had his phone number. Usually, we would text something funny or updates on our lives. One morning I woke up in the worse pain I have ever felt. Jennifer took me to the ER and long story short; they found a mass on my left kidney. I went to a Urologist who confirmed the mass but wanted to wait 6 months to see how it develops. I called Eugene the next day and described what I was going through. He said that I need to get to MD Anderson ASAP. He would find the best kidney Doctor and let me know who to ask for. He then said something I will never forget; he said “Here at MD Anderson, what we see a lot of is mismanagement at diagnosis and that always ends up bad. Get here quick so we can manage it properly.” I got in the next week to see the Doctor who then scheduled surgery in two weeks. I called Eugene and asked if he would be my Anesthesiologist. He said it would be his honor. He went on to say that since he teaches Anesthesiology would it be ok with me if he had a couple of his students there. I agreed.
The day of the surgery as I was being prepped Eugene was there with two of his students. He had them do the prep work on me as he watched. At this point in his life, he goes my Charles, but I have always known him as Eugene. While being prepped I asked him something and said the name Eugene. The students looked at him, then at me, one of them asked Eugene? Eugene told them, “There is one person on this earth other than my mother who can call me Eugene, and this is that man. No one else can call me Eugene.” It was good to laugh at a moment like this. The student then proceeded to set up the IVs so when he stuck me with the needle, I acted like it hurt (which it did not hurt). He stopped, looked confused and asked if that hurt so I smiled. Eugene said “Billy is trying to be funny, no it did not hurt. Maybe you should make the next one hurt if you want.” The student did a great job in setting up the IVs without any pain for me. While he was working on setting it up, he asked, “Did the Doctor really drive ambulances?” I responded, “He sure did”
It really helped me deal with what I was about to go through having a familiar face of my friend there with me.
A few hours later I was in recovery, Eugene was setting up the morphine drip. Jennifer was at the bedside. Eugene saw me open my eyes and asked was I ok. I said, “I really hurt, it hurts bad.” He responded, “I put a button in your right hand, just push the button with your thumb and the hurt will go away.” Jennifer said I started pressing the button without stopping. Eugene smiled and said, “He can push it all he wants but it only administers the drug every 20 minutes at this point.
I go back to MD Anderson every year for CT Scans to make sure the cancer has not returned. A couple of those visits we were able to meet up with Eugene for a few minutes. His work schedule was busy. Occasionally, I would get a text from him or I would send him a text to sort of catch up.
Tonight, I got news that Eugene was killed in a car accident. His wife and boys were severely injured. It is believed at this point that Eugene suffered a heart attack while driving home from Christmas with family in Missouri. They were in Northwest Arkansas when he went across three lanes of traffic, off the road and down the hill to hit a boulder. His oldest son kicked out the back window to go get help. His wife and other two boys had to be cut out of the car.
I am just numb at the news.