In memoriam: Tracy Airrion Pruitt

w: Johnathon E. Briggs

In memoriam: Tracy Airrion Pruitt

— April 14, 2024 —

There are some people who feel permanent. You just can’t imagine your world without them. They are fixtures, mooring posts of love and encouragement. A rock.

Tracy Airrion Pruitt was one of those people. He was my fraternity brother, he was family. When we first met in college 30 years ago, I had no idea he would become a consistent, anchoring presence in my life.

He is known by several names and numerous descriptors that reflect his passions, values, and various stages of being.

Tracy. Trey. Tre Dawg.

Husband. Father. Son.

Brother. Friend. Confidant.

Mentor. Coach. Role Model.

Scholar. Athlete. Competitor.

Quarterback. Golfer. Sports lover.

Alpha Man.

These were just a few dimensions of Trey, echoing the unfolding chapters of a life well lived.

Last week, Trey lost his battle with cancer. Tuesday, April 16, would have been his 50th birthday.

Me and Trey at our 20th Reunion at Stanford University (2016).

There are no adequate words to express how much my heart breaks for his parents, Ken and Jackie; his wife, Monica; their three sons, Elias, Caleb, Jacob; and the Pruitt and Hoggatt family clans.

Like all who knew and loved Trey, this news left me gutted. I wished it wasn’t true.

As someone who communicates for a living, I pride myself on being able to find just the right words. But as one of Trey’s dear friends reminded me, “There are no words.”

What’s left then are flurries of feelings (sadness, shock, numbness, anger) and cherished memories that bring solace.

Polar opposites

I met Trey in 1994 when we were both attending Stanford University. Were it not for a mutual interest in becoming members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., it’s unlikely we would have ever become friends.

He was a muscular football player; I was a skinny student journalist.

He was techie; I was fuzzy.

He had a macho façade; I had this sensitive 90s guy thing happening.

Even though we were polar opposites, we shared one thing: we both grew up without siblings.

Trey was the epitome of a brother and friend. No matter what, he always had my back.

By the time we crossed the burning sands into Alpha Phi Alpha, Nu Sigma Chapter, our fraternal bond was strong. We later got matching tattoos to mark the achievement. It was just the two of us, hence our line name: Tokana Nanyi Wawili Tutastawi Sana. Swahili for “From Two Shall Come Many.”

Tokana Nanyi Wawili Tutastawi Sana: Swahili for “From Two Shall Come Many.”

Some of my favorite college memories were the Thanksgivings I spent with Trey and his mom and dad, who were gracious enough to extend an invitation to me and my girlfriend at the time. Trey’s dad, Ken, regaled me with his stories and hard-won wisdom. Trey’s mom, Jackie, always baked her signature corn bread, which I rave about to this day. She eventually shared the recipe.

Breaking bread with the people who poured into Trey, helping to mold him into the man he was, left a lasting impression on me. The Pruitts provided a living example of what a grounded, loving, two-parent family could look like—something largely absent from my own upbringing. In fact, it was a dinner conversation with Ken that inspired me, in part, to search for and find my own biological father after a 25-year separation.

To quote the Alpha Hymn, “College days swiftly pass, imbued with mem’ries fond.” And in the decades after our graduation from college in 1996, Trey continued to be the epitome of a brother and friend. No matter what, he always had my back.

When I returned to Los Angeles in 1999 after a year-long stint in South Africa—jobless and broke—Trey lent me $200 until my first paycheck. It was a lifeline. And a long way from the college version of Trey who used to joke that he was once so stingy that he had a hard time sharing his Pop-Tarts with me when we were pledging.

In 2013, after my wife and I had a miscarriage for our first pregnancy, Trey empathized and said, “call whenever.”

When I shared in 2017 that my daughter had been diagnosed with autism, Trey said, “Just know you’re not going through this alone. Let Monica and I know if we can help.”

Go hard or go home

Trey was relentlessly loyal and supportive of those he cared about. He gave 110 percent to everything he did, including his relationships. No half steppin’. “Go hard or go home,” as he often said. I admired how he poured his time and attention into his three boys, how devoted he was to fatherhood—no doubt modeled after the parenting blueprint of Ken and Jackie.

The Pruitt family (2022).

Trey regularly reached out to check on me. And whenever I was in California, I always made an effort to catch up with him. Even as the years went by and our lives became hectic with new roles as husbands and fathers and professionals, Trey included me among the first people to share the big news of his life. And vice versa.

I attended his MBA graduation. He cheered me on as I completed my Master of Public Health degree.

He and Monica flew to Hawaii to participate in my wedding ceremony. My wife, Rhonda, and I flew to California to partake in theirs.

We shared news of pregnancies and births, milestone birthdays, and career moves.

But life, of course, is no crystal stair. Our conversations were also a safe space to share the challenges that come with adulting, that come with familial responsibilities, with being a Black man in America.

FaceTime glitch

In May 2021, I flew to L.A. from Chicago to visit my father, who was in a nursing home. Trey and I arranged to have dinner, but I stopped by his home first to see Monica and the Pruitt brothers. After a year-plus of pandemic isolation, it felt like a reunion.

Seven months later, in December 2021, Trey texted me to see if I had a quick minute for a FaceTime. I said sure, but for some reason, perhaps a glitch with an iPhone update, FaceTime kept crashing. So we had to settle with a phone call. That’s when Trey shared the news: he’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

The weight of this disclosure left me speechless. I finally said, “Oh my God, Sands.” Trey couldn’t see it, but my eyes had swelled with tears.

I felt so inadequate during that call, not knowing what to say except, “Please let us know how we can support you and Monica.”

Trey didn’t disclose the details of the difficulties he faced, but shared that he and his family had a plan of attack and he would be getting the best care possible. Then, in true Trey fashion, he urged me to stay on top of my annual health screenings. Before we hung up, I told him I loved him and would be praying for him.

Trey is no longer physically with us, but what he leaves behind remains: a legacy of family, friendship, community, and love. There’s nothing more permanent than this.

I never knew who all knew what Trey was going through. On Facebook and Instagram, he posted pictures of a life uninterrupted by cancer.

There he is on a hiking trip with his boys. There he is beaming with pride at Elias’ 5th grade graduation. There he is in Hawaii golfing on the greens with Monica, and celebrating each of his children’s birthdays. Life went on. Through chemo and surgery, life went on.

When my dad died last year at the age of 92, Trey called with condolences. In a blog post about the death, I mentioned the three faith traditions present in my family:

“We have Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that when a person dies, they cease to exist. There is not an immortal soul that survives when the body dies.

We have Christians who believe each person possesses a soul that leaves the body at death and goes to an afterlife in Heaven or Hell.

And we have Buddhists who believe that consciousness (the spirit) continues after death and may be reborn. Death is not a tragic ending. It’s a beautiful beginning.”

In this season of grief however I can’t find anything beautiful about Trey’s passing. He was just 49. The world feels out of order.

Empowering questions

To cope, I force myself to focus less on how quickly Trey died, and more on how much he lived.

Spiritual educator Michael Beckwith teaches that whenever we’re going through something debilitating we often ask disempowering questions. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Why now?

These questions will take your mind on a downward spiral.

Instead, Beckwith encourages the habit of asking questions that empower. What good is present that I cannot see right now? What is seeking to be born? What power is being cultivated?

I’m prayerful that time will reveal the answers.

Trey is no longer physically with us, but what he leaves behind endures: a legacy of family, friendship, community, and love.

There’s nothing more permanent than this.

Rest in Honor, Sands.


— Banner image by Diego PH on Unsplash


1572 words

4.14.24

Johnathon E. BriggsHusband • Father • Storyteller • #BlackDadMagic • ΑΦΑ

3 responses


  • by Jan Gruber
    April 15, 2024

    Absolutely beautifully written by a true friend! I only met Tracy once, but I’m close friends with Dan Ripoll, Terry Satterfield, Brey Layne etc. my heart and prayers go out to his family and loved ones!
    Jan Gruber, ‘97


  • by Miguel
    April 15, 2024

    Thank you, brotha man, for sharing. Deeply considered, taken to heart.


  • by LT
    April 16, 2024

    This is such a beautiful tribute Johnathan. Tracy was indeed a beloved and cherished brother and friend and I know he had so so much love for you. We will all miss him deeply. Thank you for sharing a part of his extraordinary story. ❤️

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About

Few may know this, but twice as many dads of newborns today are now in the 40-plus age group, compared to the 1970s. Six weeks before my 40th birthday, I became a first-time father, hence the title of this blog.

This life-changing moment made me think about my own dad, who became a father at 43. As my parenthood journey unfolded, I noticed that most of my friends had become parents earlier in life yet, here I was, changing diapers and battling sleep deprivation at (nearly) 40. I told my wife, “Parenting is definitely a young man’s game.” But is it really?

Where most of my friends were preparing for their children’s middle and high school graduations, I was mastering the art of the swaddle, perfecting the one-hand baby wipe, and learning to decipher my daughter’s gurgles and whimpers. It occurred to me that I had so much more to offer my daughter at the sure-footed age of 40 than I did at, say, 28, when I was still coming into my own.

Fatherhood@Forty: Memoirs of a Gen X Suburban Dad™ is a creative outlet to share my experiences and connect with other (relatively) late-in-life dads.

Here are a few factoids about me, Johnathon Briggs, the editor behind this blog:

  • I’m a former journalist (Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune).
  • I love exploring Chicago and the Midwest with my family.
  • I remain on a constant quest to stay fit.
  • I support charities that fight HIV, uplift families affected by incarceration, and ensure African American boys graduate from college.
  • I’m a comic book geek (mostly Marvel, but a bit of DC and Image Comics).
  • I’m a child of the ‘80s, so please expect occasional references to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

As a reporter for daily newspapers, I had the opportunity to interview fascinating people and to test out great products and brands for my readers. I hope to do the same for you as I blog about the moments that make up this adventure called fatherhood.

Feel free to tweet (@fatherhoodforty) or email ([email protected]) me if you’d like to collaborate or have ideas for a blog post.

Father on,

P.S. Check out The Art of Conversation podcast interview I did with Art Eddy from Life of Dad.

 


Disclaimer: Fatherhood@Forty may contain affiliate marketing links, which may result in commission on sales of products or services I write about. My editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. This disclosure is provided in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR § 255.5: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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About

Few may know this, but twice as many dads of newborns today are now in the 40-plus age group, compared to the 1970s. Six weeks before my 40th birthday, I became a first-time father, hence the title of this blog.

This life-changing moment made me think about my own dad, who became a father at 43. As my parenthood journey unfolded, I noticed that most of my friends had become parents earlier in life yet, here I was, changing diapers and battling sleep deprivation at (nearly) 40. I told my wife, “Parenting is definitely a young man’s game.” But is it really?

Where most of my friends were preparing for their children’s middle and high school graduations, I was mastering the art of the swaddle, perfecting the one-hand baby wipe, and learning to decipher my daughter’s gurgles and whimpers. It occurred to me that I had so much more to offer my daughter at the sure-footed age of 40 than I did at, say, 28, when I was still coming into my own.

Fatherhood@Forty: Memoirs of a Gen X Suburban Dad™ is a creative outlet to share my experiences and connect with other (relatively) late-in-life dads.

Here are a few factoids about me, Johnathon Briggs, the editor behind this blog:

  • I’m a former journalist (Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune).
  • I love exploring Chicago and the Midwest with my family.
  • I remain on a constant quest to stay fit.
  • I support charities that fight HIV, uplift families affected by incarceration, and ensure African American boys graduate from college.
  • I’m a comic book geek (mostly Marvel, but a bit of DC and Image Comics).
  • I’m a child of the ‘80s, so please expect occasional references to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

As a reporter for daily newspapers, I had the opportunity to interview fascinating people and to test out great products and brands for my readers. I hope to do the same for you as I blog about the moments that make up this adventure called fatherhood.

Feel free to tweet (@fatherhoodforty) or email ([email protected]) me if you’d like to collaborate or have ideas for a blog post.

Father on,

P.S. Check out The Art of Conversation podcast interview I did with Art Eddy from Life of Dad.

 


Disclaimer: Fatherhood@Forty may contain affiliate marketing links, which may result in commission on sales of products or services I write about. My editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. This disclosure is provided in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR § 255.5: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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