For Duane L. Conway, his daughters were his little princesses. His little boys were his joy. And family and true friends were for making precious memories that always return like the breath of spring.
For him, life was worth living. Each day a gift. And health and wholeness, the pursuit of legacy, fitness and dreams, something he shared as his passion and profession.
That much is detectable from photographs of him flashing that effervescent signature smile. Clear from the way friends and family remember the 6-foot-2 former offensive lineman who once played football at Eastern Illinois University.
That much is evident by the outpouring of support and also the mourning of a community touched by a candle too soon extinguished.
The news came last Friday. Sandra Walls said her son — affectionately called “Wayney” — had gone to a south suburban hospital for a colonoscopy. Afterward, his heart rate started to drop, she said, adding that he had no history of heart problems.
His heart stopped five times, the mother said. Each time, doctors managed to revive him. Then his heart stopped again. It was the final time, Conway’s life ended on a cold winter’s day, at 41.
Soon came the posts on social media. I happened upon one of them expressing shock and grief. Then another. And another. It turns out he had roomed with my cousin, who happened to be his college teammate.
“I was literally wiping tears off, trying to bowl,” my cousin Lee Evans told me of learning the news.
I did not personally know “DC,” as friends called him. But I immediately recognized his photo as the young man I had met in passing at a local café. He seemed like a good guy. He was. That is the consensus of those who knew him.
“If somebody had a problem with him, it was something wrong with them,” my cousin said.
Those who knew Conway describe him as loyal, a true friend, God-fearing, a good man, a great father. And his truest measure, they say, was the way he loved and lived.
“He liked to work out and help people, to keep them on the straight and narrow when it came to their health,” his mother told me.
A member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Conway was an entrepreneur and personal trainer. He founded FFL Consultation, a Matteson-based health and wellness practice. Still, this was not his first love.
“I think he would want to be remembered as a man who loved God, who loved his family and loved his children,” Walls said.
“That was my buddy, confidant, prayer partner. He was very uplifting as a friend,” said Tiffiny Yates, who met Conway in college and developed a lifelong friendship. In a single day, Yates said, supporters raised more than $10,000 to help with funeral expenses.
“Even in the darkest hour, he has touched so many people,” said Yates.
Perhaps none greater than his seven children.
“He was always pushing us to be the best we could be,” daughter Dorcas, 18, said.
“He always found a way,” daughter Sydney, 16, told me, recalling times of singing and dancing with her father. Among the things she’ll miss most about him, she says, is “his smile.”
But because of the kind of father — the kind of man — he was, there will always be memories that return, like the breath of spring.
Visitation is 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Leak & Sons Funeral Home, 18400 S. Pulaski Rd., Country Club Hills. Services will be held 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, Feb. 20, at New Faith Baptist Church International, 25 S. Central Ave., Matteson.
A fund has been established to help Conway’s family: http://www.gofundme.com/legacyofDuaneConway