Love Being Around the People

One of the nicest guys in my local poker ecosystem passed away this week.

For purposes of this blog and because my life is better for having known him, I’ll call him “John Devlin.”

John Devlin loved to play poker. More than that, he loved being around poker players and generously welcomed into his home anyone and everyone with a shared passion for our wonderful game. As a local poker ambassador, he was unsurpassed.

John Devlin truly didn’t care what you look like, what you do for a living, how much money you have, where you went to school, who you sleep with, how you dress, whether you prefer tournaments or cash games, who you vote for, where else you play poker, how many times you tell the same bad beat story, where in the world you were born, or what mistakes you made as a younger person.

John Devlin looked for and cultivated our shared interest in poker. He brought disparate people together for hours on end. This is the singular quality that stood out over many years as a beautiful and kind friend. At a time when too many people spend too much energy being divisive, we need more John Devlins.

When I mentioned I was driving  to Boston to help my daughter move, he asked if he could ride with me as far as Maryland Live! casino. John Devlin was already at the age where road trips were difficult, so we made a deal (pun intended). We would play poker and spend one night near the casino. The next day, I’d head to Boston, and he would catch a shuttle to BWI Airport – about 10 minutes from the casino – for a short return flight home.

I don’t recall whether he won or lost. He was good company the whole time, happy to be in a large poker room, to test himself against unfamiliar players, in the middle of the action, watching the myriad comings and goings of this diverse slice of humanity. I remember emerging from the bathroom in our hotel room shortly after checking in. John Devlin was asleep on the couch. I took a picture and shared via text message with his business partner back home, adding a caption of “Action John” or something like that. It seemed clever at the time.

Once we made it down to the final two players in a pub poker league tournament. John Devlin was a regular in pursuit of the season-long points title and quietly offered me the nightly winner’s prize if I would surrender. Deal!

John Devlin loved to win a pot with a bluff, then toss 7-2 off-suit onto the table with a mischievous grin. He also loved to see other players win; their joy would be his joy.

He adored his t-shirt that said “Dear naps, I’m sorry I hated you as a kid.” So much respect.

He had many health challenges in his later years, but they never seemed to dampen his spirit. Sometimes he would join the game in a wheelchair, his hands shaking from Parkinson’s Disease. Other times I would take a break to visit him in the next room, confined to a hospital bed but ever cheerful.

“I just love being around these people,” was a phrase you would hear often.

Poker. Community. Kindness. Humor. Meritocracy. Humanity. Amazing Grace.

Rest in peace, my friend. “The memory of the righteous will be a blessing,” wrote the author in Proverbs (10:7). May the memory of John Devlin be a blessing to all who knew him.

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