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Rob Jenkins: In memoriam: Ernesto McCausland, journalist and filmmaker, 1961-2012

Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins

Who would have thought that in Ringgold, Ga., in 1979, there would be three people living in one house who among them would write seven books? Or even three people who among them would read seven books?

One of those people was my friend, Ernesto McCausland, the noted Colombian journalist. Ernesto passed away last month after a brief but courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 51.

I first met Ernesto in August of 1978, when we were both 17 years old. He was an exchange student from Barranquilla living with a family down the street. We quickly became inseparable. We both liked sports. We both liked girls. When you're 17, what else is there?

Not long after Ernesto's arrival in Ringgold, his domestic situation became untenable. So I talked it over with my parents -- he had already become a regular guest in our home -- and Ernesto moved in with us.

Ernie, as we called him, was as savvy as he was suave, and he picked up English quickly. But that didn't stop him from using the supposed "language barrier" to his advantage.

Ernie was the only person at Ringgold High School who could cut class or break line in the cafeteria with impunity. If a teacher or administrator attempted to admonish him, he would simply look puzzled and say, "No hablo ingles."

My favorite Ernie story, though, involves our senior-level "College Vocabulary" class, which we were all taking to prepare for the SAT.

After one particularly difficult quiz, which most of us bombed, our teacher, Mrs. Miller, read us the riot act. She pointed out that Ernie, the Spanish-speaking exchange student, had made an 88 on the quiz, while most of us native English speakers had done considerably worse.

"Ernesto," she said, "would you tell the class how you made an 88?" I'm sure she expected him to say something about studying hard or applying himself. Instead, he stood up and said, "Yes, Mrs. Miller. I cheated."

Ernesto didn't cheat at much, though. He didn't cheat at life. He went on to attend college in the United States before going back to his native Colombia to become an award-winning journalist, author, and film-maker.

Over the years I saw him infrequently, but we always kept in touch. When he did visit the States, and we were able to get together, it was as if we had never been apart. I last saw him in April of 2006, when he and his wife stayed at our home in Lawrenceville.

Ernesto and I corresponded during the last month of his life, via e-mail and Facebook, but I never even knew that he was sick. I imagine he didn't want people to know. But I wish I'd had a chance to say goodbye. I guess I'll have to do it here.

Goodbye, brother. I loved you well, and I will miss you sorely.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and author of Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter@rjenkinsgdp.