They broke the mold

October 31, 2012 | 18 comments

Two weeks ago, our good friend Joedaniel (JD) Horne was found dead in a hotel room. It wasn’t a suicide and no foul play is suspected; he had been in poor health for a while, and a combination of factors finally overwhelmed him.

JD Horne

Joe forwarded me an email that had the subject “JD Horne died.” I thought it was a crazy coincidence that this guy who passed away had the same name as our friend JD — who, obviously, was not going to die any time soon. I read and re-read the details that spoke of the same person we knew, that would seem to confirm that this was indeed our friend, but I could not get my brain to process it. JD had enough life in him for 10 people. He was more energetic and charismatic than anyone I knew. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I thought he’d live forever.

JD was the one who started clown night, and it was exactly the kind of thing he would do. The rest of us boring people might suggest going out for a drink; JD was the kind of person to whom it seemed obvious that if you’re going to go out for a drink, might as well bring 40 of your closest friends, dress up like clowns, and rent a yellow school bus for transportation. He and his friends liked to play golf, so he organized a yearly golf tournament which took place in various locations throughout the country and involved dozens of people.

It always made me nervous when he and my equally intense husband got together, since I never knew what they were going to come up with. A couple of months ago Joe contacted him to say that our son was interested in doing a canoing trip, and he wanted to know if JD and his kids were interested. JD said he needed to think about it, then immediately replied saying he was in, and had a plan in which they’d make it a massive, days-long event and raise tens of thousands of dollars for his favorite cancer charity in the process. Joe called and asked me if I could pick them up if they did a practice run in the spring. I asked where I would need to go, and he gave me directions to a place on the river that’s a six-hour drive from our house.

JD was also a brilliant lawyer, and was for a time a partner at the top law firm in Austin. He was also a loving dad to his three young children. In the week leading up to his funeral, I experienced a pang of confused sorrow every time I looked at my calendar. There, on Saturday, it said JD funeral. So many times over the past decade there had been Saturday items on our calendars that began with JD: JD clown crawl, JD golf tournament, JD party (must dress as pirate to enter). Some sort of event bursting with life and interest and activity always followed the appearance of his name on my calendar. I could not process the juxtaposition of JD and funeral.

Then, as many of you probably know, Barbara Curtis died yesterday.

Barbara Curtis

If you had asked me at the beginning of this month to list the top 10 people I know who are intense, crazy-in-a-good-way, unforgettable personalities, both Barbara and JD would be on the list.

Barbara, like JD, was a friend I looked up to for her fearlessness and for the fact that she was so unapologetically herself. She didn’t compromise her values to conform to the status quo — not when she was a radical in San Francisco, not when she made the “crazy” decision to adopt three children with Down syndrome when she already had nine biological children, not when she converted to Catholicism amidst no shortage of public criticism. She never made herself out to be a saint, and was as brutally honest with herself as she was with others. Yet, as she demonstrates beautifully in her powerful letter to her oldest child, she had an unfailing sense of hope, and a great trust in the power of God to bring good even out of our biggest mistakes.

Though I never met her in person, I considered her a friend. We would email fairly often, and our correspondence often started with her sending me a kind word of encouragement — often at the exact moment that I most needed to hear it. She was a mentor and a role model for me; I always wished I could have even a fraction of her unique brand of joyful courage.

At JD’s funeral, they ended the service by playing a tender song called Terry’s Song that Bruce Springsteen wrote for a dear friend of his who died. It was a hidden track on one of his albums, as if meant to be private and personal, not meant for wide distribution. I bought a copy as soon as I got home that day, and have listened to it about a hundred times ever since. I’ve been going on long walks and listening to that song over and over again, soaking in that mournful refrain, When they built you, brother, they broke the mold. Sometimes I weep openly, tears streaming down my face as I plod down the sidewalk, trying to comprehend it all.

And now when I hear this song, I think of Barbara as well. We knew she wasn’t going to make it when it was announced on Monday that she had a massive stroke, and I’ve been trying to prepare myself that yet another friend is no longer here; yet another person who seemed so strong and so full of life has, incomprehensibly, been taken from this earth. I look forward to seeing JD and Barbara again in another life, and it gives me an odd kind of comfort to think that these two people have paved the way for the rest of us.

Until we meet again, I’ll pray for them, and I hope they’re praying for me. And every time I hear Terry’s Song I will hold their images in my mind as I sing loudly and totally off-key, When they built you, brother, they broke the mold.


If you feel moved, here is a link where you can offer a financial donation to help Barbara’s family during this difficult time.


  1. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    Prayers for their souls. Friday will be a perfect day to remember their lives as well.

  2. Elisa

    I’m so sorry for your loss. =( They both sound like wonderful people that will be sorely missed. Praying for you and all their friends and for their souls…but it sounds like they are already up in heaven, rejoicing….maybe in a clown suit.

  3. Joy

    Oh my goodness, I hadn’t heard the news about Barbara Curtis. That’s terrible. And I was just thinking about her, in one of those weird, “random” thought ways.
    Praying for the loved ones of both these individuals. You wrote a lovely, honoring tribute here.

  4. Tasha

    So sorry for your loss and praying God comfort you during such a painful time.

  5. sara mcd

    Jen, I am so very sorry for your loss.

  6. Kayla @ The Alluring World

    I’m so sorry Jen. JD and Barbara, as well as their families, are in my prayers.

  7. Tania @ Larger Family Life

    A beautiful and touching post in both their memories. So sorry for your losses. My thoughts and prayers are with you x

  8. Leanne

    I’m praying for you and your friends and their families. What an incredible loss.

    The song that does it for me is James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” I lost a good friend from high school and this song is both cathartic and heartbreaking at once.

  9. TSO

    Beautiful song and post. I feel like I got a sense of your friend here.

  10. The Reluctant Widow

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I know from personal experience, that words just simply can not assuage the pain you feel when someone you love is no longer present in this life. I admired Barbara too. I didn’t read her blog as often as I would have liked. I have an aunt with Down Syndrome who is precious and dear to me. Those who know my aunt, know life has been made better for knowing her. I know the struggles and the joys my grandparents experienced raising one child with DS, so I greatly admired Barbara for adopting three. I am sure the world is a lesser place today for the absence of these two individuals you loved and admired.

    I will pray for you and Joe, as well as for the repose of the souls of JD and Barbara.


  11. Tammy

    My recent blog post is about respecting your pain and the pain of others in loss … with that in mind, you did a nice job of honoring your friends.

    My husbands death was also very sudden and everyone struggled to see how he could go from active and vital to gone so fast. The Mass we had for him was very old school and many people who had not been to a Catholic Mass in a long time or ever had a chance to peek at the glory of the Church…under those circumstances, when I had to pick readings, I went hard-core and picked John 6 as the gospel. Even death is a chance to be a witness to our faith. Hugs, for real

  12. Patricia

    +Blessed repose & eternal memory for JD & Barbara! I am so sorry for your loss. We also unexpectedly lost a friend 2 weeks ago, John Michael Harvey. He was only 55, full of life & energy, with 5 children & 3 grandchildren whom he adored. He slipped & hit his head & died as a result of a skull fracture. Even though we attended his wake, funeral & burial…I still get the fleeting thought in my mind that it all must have been a mistake, that he isn’t really gone. I had recently spoken to him & we were going to see him the following week. Please remember him in your prayers — Thank you! He was especially devoted to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. May God comfort the grieving family & friends of JD, Barbara & John may He have mercy in their souls.

  13. Shannon Miller

    Jen – I’m having trouble grasping the fact that Barbara is really gone from here, as well. You are so right that she was so full of life, it seems just impossible. And yet somehow knowing that she is in Heaven with the Lord she loved makes Heaven seem that much closer to me. I miss her already – I can’t imagine the loss her family must feel. But what a legacy she’s left for all of us.

  14. Sue from Buffalo

    I miss Barbara, too. Thank you for posting such a loving tribute to your friend, JD, and Barbara.

  15. Kate Wicker

    Jen, I am so sorry about your loss and since I have been completely out of the social media loop, I had not heard about Barbara’s death. This was heartbreaking news for me. Thank you for sharing this information and most of all for illuminating hope in a time of personal tragedy for you.

    Peace and prayers…

  16. Courageous Grace

    I too was deeply saddened to hear of Barbara’s passing. She was truly an inspiration to me, in fact it was her encouragement that inspired courage in me to have my son tested for Autism.

    May both Barbara and JD rest in peace.

  17. shannon

    Thank you for the memories. That is how I remember him too. I still have a hard time believing this is real. I can only hope his humor and brilliance will shine through in our children. I find myself looking closely at them hoping that I can see him. I pray that Bailey will be okay. They were so close and she is so much like him. She is incredibly witty and theatrical. It is nice to read stories about him…Thank you, again.

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