The Life of Dave Wroughton – My College Buddy

My best friend from college, David Wroughton, died yesterday. I loved Dave and wanted to share his story as I knew it.

I arrived at Wheaton College in the fall of 1976 looking for friends. The first one I met was Dave. We were at some orientation event. I learned that he’d grown up in Peru, the son of Wycliffe missionaries.

This immediately caught my attention – I had just returned from a mission trip high in the Peruvian Andes mountains and was captivated by Peru. Dave and I hit it off. Though we both were Christians, he was a bit of a rebel like me. He told me about what it was like to grow up in Peru.

Then, when we went back to our dorm, it turned out we were on the same floor right across the hall from one another! We became instant friends. We instigated shaving cream fights between floors (that’s him above throwing a pie in my face) and worked hard to see how far the boundaries at Wheaton would stretch.

After the first three months of school, Thanksgiving break arrived. Dave said to me, “I’ve got a friend from Peru who wants to drive with me down to Acapulco. Want to come along?”

We were in Chicago, it would be a 48 hour drive to the beaches of Acapulco if we never stopped. What could I do but say “Yes!”

And what a great trip that was – full of adventure. We drove day and night for two days, but when we finally came over the mountain and saw the beach below – it was so worth it! We went deep sea fishing and Dave caught a swordfish. We went parasailing. We soaked in the Mexican sun. 

The trip set the tone for my relationship with Dave.

A year later, we were rooming together and became business partners in a cleaning service enterprise. And after that, we started another business together. Dave made my college years so much better.

As graduation approached, we decided to work for the same nonprofit organization in the same position – as consultants for Opportunity International. I flew off to Indonesia to start a micro-credit company there and Dave did the same thing in Colombia.

Three years later we rendezvoused in Costa Rica. I could see the entrepreneurial itch growing in Dave. He was ready to start his own business. He had saved some money and invested it all in building a hotel called “Grano de Oro.”

It became the top rated hotel in San Jose – a position it still holds today. Dave eventually sold the hotel and moved back to Peru to start a group of successful high-end hotels.

As the years passed, though he and I would see each other periodically, I couldn’t help feeling like I was losing my connection with Dave.

It seemed like life as a successful businessman was taking a toll on him. He often seemed overwhelmed by stress. I could see his health suffering.

Then last year, he shared the news that he had brain cancer. And though the operation to remove the tumor was successful, it left him in a bad way, struggling to organize his thoughts and communicate.

Two months ago I went to visit him. He was a shadow of his former self. Deeply frustrated at the slow pace of his recovery, he struggled to do the therapy that his doctors advised him to do. He seemed ready to give up.

His second wife, Mily, was a hero. She became his primary caregiver. It was exhausting and Dave just slowly declined until yesterday, as Mily was talking to him, he passed.

Losing him, while hard, was a relief for his caregivers. Seeing him in pain and frustration had been so hard on Mily and his family.

I’ll miss Dave. I wish that his latter years were as joy-filled as his early years. I wish his family could have known him then. I wrote this poem about our relationship.

 

My Friend, Dave Wroughton

18 felt so old.

We were looking for

Both safety and danger,

And blessed our intersection

As freshmen.

 

Friendship came easy for

Two refugees from a rocky adolescence.

Odd ducks in any context,

the Wheaton mold let

Rebellion become our uniform.

 

Maybe business, maybe philanthropy,

maybe an adventure –

Life, a canvas

On which to splatter the paint

Of experience.

 

And so, we said goodbye.

Stops in Bogota and San Jose confirmed Dave’s Latin roots,

returning him to a Peruvian homeland.

 

Soon, a hospitality career

creating home-like venues

Away from home.

 

Yet, where was his home?

A fractured family

Rendered it illusive,

Even in the penthouse

And erstwhile projects.

 

When cancer and aphasia asked dangerous questions

his life could not answer,

Those of us who love him

looked in proxy for safe places,

Discovering instead

still more canvas

On which to paint.

 

Conversations queue up –

I’m willing them into being –

A friend, not giving up,

Clinging to what

We had – precious in its day.

I root for all that

Is struggling to be reborn.

It’s time is coming.

I hold space for it.