DArren Coffey back

Mountaineer Progress       Feb. 14-20, 2008

He was a beloved son, brother, uncle, and friend to the hundreds who filled Serrano High’s auditorium to overflowing last Saturday. It was standing room only, a last tribute to a young man who touched many lives with his own

The service began with a Forest Service color guard, preceded by a lone bagpiper in full Scottish regalia who led the precession to the stage where the American and Forest Service flags were posted. The mournful notes of the proper struck the right chord for the service, an homage to a life cherished by so many and lost prematurely.

After the invocation by Rialto Fire Department Chaplain Tim Langle, there was a song, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” beautifully performed by Pat Garnes, accompanied by Eric Coffey on guitar and Chisako Inoshita on piano.

The Coffey family then paid tribute to Darren. Keith, the eldest of the four brothers, thanked the crowd for being there. He said that the reason the family moved to Wrightwood in 1986 was because of Darren’s respiratory problems when they lived down the hill. He needed the pure air of the mountains.

“Darren was a conservationist who loved nature,” Keith said. “And to the day he died, he was paying jokes on people.” Keith gave the reason for Darren’s joining the Ski Patrol at Mountain High. “I talked him into it, selfishly, because I wanted to spend more time with him.” He talked of Darren’s academic credentials. “In 2004 he received a B.A. in biology. It took him 11 years because he changed majors several times.” (Laughter from the audience.) “But he believed education is empowerment. He was working on his Master’s degree. In 2004, he started working for the Forest Service as a botanist.”

Keith then described his feelings and those of friends in the loss of Darren. “I’ve received so many e-mails saying he was cool, great, kind, awesome, loving, adventurous, and angel, the best, a tree-hugger—to name just a few. He was constantly trying to help people. His hair (long red hair) will go to help others (a reference to cancer victims in need of hair for wigs). I wrote a poem for Darren:

I lost Darren—

I lost my brother, I lost my friend, I lost my hero, I lost my role model, To the mountain he loved so much, Doing what he loved to do.

May his spirit give me strength, May he give me hope, I lost my brother, I lost my friend, We lost a great man, We lost Darren, But we will never forget, We will hold out hope, to see you soon. And to ski the fluff back together again.

We love you, Darren.’”

Then, in a change of pace, a family trait came out. “I would like to point out to you,” Keith said, “that I was Darren’s favorite brother.” More laughter from the audience.

The service had many poignant moments and there were family and friends dabbing at their eyes throughout, but there were also many moments of humorous anecdotes about Darren. And he, lying so silently in his casket next to the stage, would have loved it.

Jason Coffey was next. “Darren is a modern-day Henry David Thoreau,” he began. “Thoreau and Darren were philosophers of nature and sought to integrate nature and culture. Thoreau was a naturalist, and Darren was an eco-warrior. What a unique human being Darren was.” Jason described the fun the four boys had growing up, with their Legos, Tonka trucks and playing in the sandbox, where local cats regularly visited. (More laughter.) We used to see who could wake up the earliest on Sunday morning, because Dad brought home donuts every Sunday.” 

He talked of the Nintendo games they played, Darren knocking out Jason’s front tooth accidentally with a cue ball on a trampoline, and playing high school football side by side. Jason said he would miss, for one, Darren’s e-mails on global warming, with the argument as to whether it is a natural phenomenon or man-caused. “Big Red,” he said in closing, “I’m a better person because of you. We’re all better because of Darren. What did he inspire you to do?” Then Jason encouraged everyone to tell family and friends you love them, because you never now when it will be the last time you’ll see them.

Darren’s sister-in-law Tiffany spoke of how they always had the best of family times together. “Our home was filled with laughter and love,” she said, “We’ll miss Darren. He was such a gentleman. He lived a humble life. He didn’t care for big houses or fancy cars. He knew who he was and he liked who he was. That’s why people respected him and loved him He wouldn’t want us to dwell on his loss. We need to share our love with one another. He would want you to live a good life, be kind to one another. When you think of Darren, think of love. Live, laugh, love. Darren, may heaven always provide the fluffiest, freshest snow for your endless skiing pleasure.”

Eric Coffey was next, “Darren was a man of few words, as we all are. He would prefer to show rather than tell. He was my best friend. We could spend hours in silence together and I might break the silence with a question, “Darren, what kind of plant is that? Almost always Darren would know, and if he didn’t he would pull a book out of his bag and have an answer—We have another song for you. We’ll let the music do the talking.” Eric, Jay Buchanan and Adam Webster then performed “Wish You Were Here.” It brought many to tears. Afterward, Eric just had to say it: “I think it’s time to say, just for the record, I was Darren’s favorite brother.” Much laughter from the audience at that statement which was actually true, Eric was Darren’s favorite brother as everyone present actually already knew.

There was a special musical number celebrating Darren’s life, composed for the occasion and performed by Gayle Dowling, Brittan Egnozzi, Adam Webster, Jay Buchanan and Eric Coffey. Before they began, one of them said, “Darren was more alive than anyone I’ve ever known.” It was a song of farewell, with three guitars, a mandolin and vocals by all. Some of the phrases included “It’s up to us to carry on the work you began, Protect the earth you loved so much and keep her safe from man”—and “With the eagles you will soar, while watching over me.” —A fitting tribute to Darren’s love of nature.

Trevor Masters followed with these comments” “Darren was a man who led by example. He minimized anger, cultivated kindness. We were roommates for four years and never had a disagreement. He set his own boundaries, and took me to the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Darren was a conservationist. If only we could see the earth with Darren’s eyes. One of the more important things that Darren taught me was, ‘Don’t trade humanity for patriotism.’ He was the best friend one could ever have.”

Darren’s friend Katie Vinzant spoke of how unique a person Darren was. “He could see things in people that others couldn’t. He played practical jokes, had a high-pitched laugh, was open to adventure, and once he set a goal, he saw it through. He often described how he felt about his father and brothers, and always appreciated his friends. I can’t explain how much I will miss all our activities or how much I’ll miss him.”

Friend Ryan Kossack was the last to speak. “He made us feel perfect, as a best friend does. I am who I am because of Darren. Darren, I want to thank you for always being there when I needed you. The steps I take in life, I know you’ll be there in my shadow. Thank you for being the best friend anyone could ever have, and thank you for being Darren.”

The song, “No One Lives Forever,” was sung, then followed by the Ski Patrol presenting a plaque to Darren’s father. Another presentation to his Dad was one the Forest Service gives to all its employees for a lifetime of service, a bronze ram on a long section of tree bark. And finally, the Forest Service presented their flag to Darren’s Dad.

It was time for the forest Service bagpipes to pay “Amazing Grace.” That ended the service, with many in the audience deeply affected by the song. A poem written by a writer in 1981, David Harkins, was printed on the program, and in part, said:

“You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile because he has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back, or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.

You can remember him and only that he is gone. Or you can cherish his memory and lit it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, Or you can do what he would want” Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”