Gene Chrzanowski, Georgetown Law School graduate, Air Force JAG officer, lawyer, and lately, Sport Fishing Charter Boat Captain in Key West, Passed Away Tuesday, May 9.
Many at the point when reflecting on their life look back with regret on unfulfilled dreams. Not Gene. He left a successful, high profile legal career of 29 years to become one of the top, most respected and beloved sport fishing charter boat captains in Key West. His profession and lust for life kept him fit, active and young in spirit, right to the end.
In 2012 I had the privilege, as I have had with so many RC alumni, to interview Captain Gene Chrzanowski, class of 1966, for a feature in the RC alumni magazine, THE LION.
In the published article I wrote: “He (Gene) has led a life straight out of a Jimmy Buffett song, and a Key West lifestyle that even Jimmy would envy!” Well, Gene personified the lyrics of another Buffett tune, the title of which is, “I’d Rather Die While I'm Living, Than Live While I'm Dead."
And boy did he live — and with no regrets —- even when enduring a bout of cancer that started with his prostate and spread aggressively and rapidly.
In addition to his charter sport fishing operation, Captain Gene regularly provided Key West offshore fishing reports for a local radio station and did a monthly article for a local magazine -- a talented writer, his articles appeared in FishMonster Magazine. In his October 2012 piece, he wrote: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Those were the famous words uttered by Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig the day he was honored at Yankee Stadium. However, Gene uttered those same words everyday for the past 15 years.
The life and career path of Gene Chrzanowski was unusual, to say the least. After Roselle Catholic, he graduated from Holy Cross, then on to Georgetown Law School. Gene passed three full bar exams - D.C, Virginia and California - all on the first attempt. He served in the US Air Force Reserves after law school from 1973 to 1976, as a Legal Assistance Officer, with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Gene then practiced law for 29 years in those three places and walked away from high status and high paying jobs four times just for personal satisfaction reasons. However, the one exam he was most passionate about passing was his charter boat captain’s license.
I recall asking Gene a question that the rational mind begs to ask: “Why on earth would anyone in his right mind walk away from a respected law career to be a ‘6-pack’ charter sport fishing operator in Key West?” Typical of Gene, his response: "Why was I dumb enough to remain a lawyer for 29 years? I now live on a beautiful boat, a 47' Buddy Davis, and take people on offshore fishing trips. My ‘home’ is in the best location in the best place I've ever been - Key West - surrounded within 100 yards by six great bars and restaurants that have the nicest people in the world working at them and patronizing them. I get to meet and make close friends with some of the greatest folks in the world as customers and I get to make great memories for them by very often catching some of the most spectacular and best-tasting fish in the world. You can only do that when you never get married and don't have children.”
My heart sank when I received the news that Captain Gene had passed. While I knew how this was going to end, I wanted to believe it was not reality. I was buoyed by knowing that just two days earlier, in typical Gene Chrzanowki style, he had the rare opportunity to attend hos own “going away party” hosted by his many, many friends. It also helped going through the many photos on his boat’s Facebook page to see Gene in his bigger than life, life!
Since I connected with Gene for the article, I may have unconsciously lived vicariously through him. Maybe he's why I moved to an island in the “lower latitudes” -- certainly not one that's up to his standard or lifestyle. Yet one thing has resonated with me from my connection with Gene, his island life-style aside, is he learned over time what made him happy. He listened to his inner voice and realized what pursuits he did and did not enjoy -- all to get to a point where he definitively knew, without second-guessing or regrets, what made him happy in life. That is a trait to which too few can lay claim and a legacy that is all his.
Back when I asked him about his "favorite quotation" it led Gene to a connection from his RC days.
“My old Polish memory tells me that our Salutatorian, Mike Linkevich, quoted a Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” I'm also sure that he was discussing higher principles. Still the older I get, I've come to realize that the last lines of the poem are a pretty good summary of my life -- never got married, never had kids, left good jobs to try something different.”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost
Key West singer-song writer Tim Williams produced a music video in honor of his good friend, Captain Gene Chrzanowski --
CLICK HERE TO VIEW
by Tom Libonate '64