ENGLEWOOD — Monty Birdsey did not go gently into that good night, but neither did he rage against the dying of the light, like the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas recommended.
Instead, he shared his final journey and tribulations with humor and courage on the Facebook page called “Remember in Englewood When …”
Many in the community responded.
Birdsey, 68, died June 23, soon after he was diagnosed with inoperable stage-four lung cancer. A Celebration of Life is planned for Birdsey from 2-6 p.m. Oct. 19 at Indian Mound Park, 210 Winson Ave., Englewood.
He began posting updates about his condition on the closed-group Facebook page, which is popular among Englewood locals and others. It has more than 4,200 members who share stories and photos, mostly decades old.
While Birdsey, too, posted some stories, many of his posts were more immediate.
“Trying to stay positive and not think about my personal situation,” Birdsey posted June 5. “Rather than think about what it’s like to get a death sentence from a doctor, I thought about this. When the oncologist told us today that I had stage-four lung cancer he was looking me directly in the eyes.
“The look of sadness and compassion on the man’s face was heartbreaking. Can you imagine being him and giving people a verbal death sentence day after day?” he wrote. “My God, what a job to have.”
He also encouraged people — often in all capital letters — not to smoke cigarettes like he did.
On a particularly tough day facing the inevitable and enduring pain, Birdsey wrote, “Monty’s not some unfeeling strong man. Somewhere inside us all is a scared little boy or girl. Already feeling better, thanks folks, I love y’all!”
Birdsey didn’t take for granted those who responded to his posts, those who offered their best wishes, comfort and prayers and encouragement. On June 2, he said, “So it’s chin up, Birdsey, let’s do this. As always your thoughts and prayers are appreciated.”
“He could be very intense,” his wife of 18 years, Jean said. “Anything he did, he did to the max. He rose to the top. He was an all-out person.”
Birdsey attended Venice High School, Jean said, but he graduated from Sarasota High in 1969. As a high school student, he participated in anti-war protests, she said, but soon after graduating high school, Birdsey joined the U.S. Navy, serving from 1969 to 1972 and was honorably discharged.
After the service, Birdsey pursued a career as a sales manager, first for Coca-Cola in Gainesville. He returned to the area in 2001, settling in Port Charlotte. He joined Jean with her vacation rental housekeeping business.
Andy Rock — retired Englewood Area Fire Control District chief — grew up with Birdsey. From their elementary school days, they had been good friends, but in high school they parted ways, drifting off into different directions. Rock recalled how Birdsey loved baseball, how he was an excellent ballplayer, but how he didn’t play in high school.
“He could be mischievous,” Rock said. Birdsey recalled one of his elementary school escapades on Facebook where he and other boys would swing from the palm fronds, yelling like Tarzan, partly to impress the girls. Rock came to his rescue after a swing went wrong.
“What ever kind of palm it was it had long sharp needles three to four inches long,” Birdsey wrote. “On my second or third swing, my foot hit a dead branch on the ground. Feeling like something was in my foot I look down. Wow one of the needles had gone through my ankle! The needle was still attached to the branch and I was unable to move much. Being the helpful guy he was, Andy Rock broke the needle from the branch and carried me into the office.”
Rock wasn’t surprised Birdsey revealed publicly what he was going through with the cancer. “He was forthcoming about himself, open. He could talk your ears off and loved to tell stories.”
Birdsey’s younger brother, Lamar, agreed with Rock, saying his older brother enjoyed Tom Sawyer-ish adventures and antics as a boy. Lamar also recalled how their father told his older brother, then 14, it was time to get a job. Birdsey first went to work at Jack Tate’s grocery at the end of Engelwood’s West Dearborn Street, and later as a bag boy at L.A. Ainger’s grocery.
“Mr. L.A. Ainger was a visionary in the supermarket business,” Birdsey wrote, also remembering how pork chops were on sale for 79 cents a pound.
Twin sisters Midge Orren and Tammy Birdsong were small girls when their family lived across the street from the Birdseys. Their older brother, Dee Platt, and Birdsey were friends and often enjoyed adventures together. While kids up north were having snowball fights up north, the Birdsey and Platt children enjoyed staging pine cone fights.
“I hadn’t talked to him in decades,” Orren said. She had hoped to see Birdsey, since he posted stories about her older sister Wanda who was 20 when she died in a car wreck and when the twins were 10 years old.
“But then he was gone,” Orren said. She admired how Birdsey confronted his fate.
“Yeah, I have manned up with reality and am (resigned) to the fact that I probably won’t see another birthday,” Monty wrote in June 13 post. He was born in January 1951.
“There are however, times when I project and realize that in a short while I won’t be here,” he wrote. “Let me tell you, no matter how ready you are, that is something that stops me in my tracks. Can’t describe it, but it’s weird as hell. Just thinking — damn I’m here but I won’t be.
“Sorry to be rambling on but I did say I would share my emotions during this adventure,” he said.
Birdsey is preceded in death by his parents, David and Montine; his sister, Cindy Birdsey. He is survived by his brothers, Lamar and Tim; his son, Ryan, and daughter Heather (Birdsey) Schultz, and four grandchildren.