Courtney Erickson had a way about him. Maybe you knew him since high school or you just met him five minutes ago. But as soon as you had a conversation with the man, it was like you had known each other for years.
“It’s too hard to explain,” said Rand Booth, a friend since high school. “Within just a couple minutes, there’s a comfort level with him, like you can share anything with him and just talk forever.”
In the three days before Erickson died, more than 300 people from all walks of life stopped by his room at Ellis Hospital. There were friends from Elmer Avenue Elementary School, Linton High School, Cornell University and his many jobs in sports and politics over the years.
At any one time, there could be 20 people trying to cram into his room. In fact, hospital staff had to move Erickson from the fifth to the sixth floor to avoid disrupting other patients.
He died Friday morning after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 44.
The Capital Region community and beyond mourned news of his passing. Erickson had a foot in everything, it seemed. People remembered him vividly from Siena’s sports information office and men’s basketball games, where he coordinated video replays. He was recognizable in stripes, as he was a longtime umpire and referee at local high school games.
He spent some years away from the area — “He was a small fish in a big pond for a while,” said his best friend Tom Marcucci — working as a field organizer for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, as well as a legislative aide at the White House and an aide to two congressional representatives from New York. He spent time as a sports production assistant at CNN in the 1990s, and belonged to any number of volunteer organizations — “I couldn’t even keep track of them, to be honest with you,” said Marcucci.
When he returned to Schenectady, he and Marcucci set a goal: They would replace the dilapidated fountain in Central Park’s Iroquois Lake with a new one in honor of two Schenectady friends who had died in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The project would have a ripple effect, they hoped, causing residents to want to clean up and beautify their streets and neighborhoods and bring the city back to the place they remembered growing up.
Friends agreed Schenectady was lucky to have Erickson back. He loved politics and felt he could effect more change on the local level than on large-scale campaigns. He worked in Schenectady County’s Purchasing Department and attended community meetings. He wanted to one day be mayor. He loved his hometown, and his hometown loved him.
In November, Erickson organized a 25-year class reunion for the Linton High School Class of 1987 that went above and beyond the usual. As he and three other classmates began organizing the event, they realized an unusually high number of their classmates had died since graduation, so he spearheaded a memorial celebration that would coincide with the reunion. He had a small white bench inscribed in their honor. He had a priest say a few words. He invited the family of his fallen peers to the event. And he cried openly as he recalled Amanda Daley, who died in a car accident in 2006, had been his first love.
But Erickson was like that, his friends say.
“He was smart as a wiz but kind of like a kid in so many ways,” said Booth. “He was very sensitive about so many different things. He would get in genuine tears over people’s plights, no matter how well he knew them or not. There was just so much emotion. He cared so much.”
He was diagnosed Jan. 4 and told he had six months to live. Over the last 180 days, Erickson’s face thinned but his spirit swelled. He tried a few rounds of chemotherapy, but didn’t like their side effects, so he tried alternative therapies and positive thinking. They were costly and not covered by insurance.
His friends pulled together and organized a golf tournament and dinner fundraiser at the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. On May 19, more than 100 people showed up, though his friends suspected hundreds more would have if they hadn’t reached capacity. They raised $20,000.
“We figured we’d get him a couple thousand dollars, whatever we could,” said Booth. “I honestly never realized how big it would get. It was a great event. It was a rainy day, but we all still had a blast. And I got to play with Court the whole day.”
Whenever Mark Anbinder stopped in the Electric City to catch a Union College hockey game, he could count on his old college buddy to make time for him.
“Even if he only had a half-hour before a ref or umpire gig or a political meeting, he’d make a point of coming to say hi when he knew I’d be at a game,” recalled Anbinder.
Everybody wanted their own “Court time,” his friends recalled. In the last few months, those people found their own ways to repay his friendship. They arranged to have him fly a plane. His colleagues who worked for the county donated sick time so he didn’t have to feel bad taking days off when the pain got too bad. They asked Mayor Gary McCarthy if he could make him mayor for the day, and instead got a proclamation declaring May 20 to be Courtney Erickson Day in the city of Schenectady.
Even near the end, when Erickson was unable to eat or drink and built-up fluid caused his feet and stomach to swell, he could still manage a smile for a friend.
“He is such a pure heart,” said Marcucci. “He is such a pure, 6-foot-5 heart. He is the most influential person in my life. He’s one year older and much taller than me, but I still call him my little brother. It just blows my mind that this is all over.”
On Friday, red and yellow roses were left at the white memorial stone in front of Schenectady High School that he had inscribed for his fallen classmates, whom he is now among. It reads: “In loving memory of the Class of 1987. Those who have passed on will never be forgotten.”