Farewell to a friend

Brian Eckstein

If you’ve had four kidneys – two that were yours and two that were someone else’s — cancer, and are nearly blind, you’re allowed to be pissed off at the world.

If, on the other hand, instead of scowling and complaining – which are well within your rights – you travel, compose music, and make the world around you a bit happier, you are one of a kind.

And that’s exactly what my friend Brian Eckstein who died last week at the age of 40 was.

One. Of. A. Kind.

Brian worked at Indiana Public Radio, the local NPR station, and he loved his job. I first met him when the World Vision Report sent me to the IPR studio to record an essay. It was an essay about teaching an island village how to play baseball in Honduras, but mostly it was about not having much and appreciating what you do have.

Brian and I had lunch a few times. He came over to our house to help me with some audio once. And whenever I was near the IPR studio on Ball State’s campus, I would stop in to say “hi.” On one occasion, I had my daughter Harper with me and he pulled her in a wagon around the studio.

This morning I was watching videos of Brian on YouTube and I asked Harper if she remembered him. She said that she did. You can never quite be sure what an-almost-three-year-old will remember, but yesterday she did help solve the mystery of the missing nose-hair trimmer:

“Harper,” I said. “Do you know where my nose-hair trimmer is?”

Harper put her finger to her mouth and tapped her lips, lost in thought.

“Hmmm…” she said. “It’s in my backpack. I put it there so I could play with it on a picnic.”

I didn’t believe her, but checked one dog backpack – not there. Then monkey backpack #1 – not there. Then monkey backpack #2 – sure enough, there it was.

Harper only met Brian three times or so, but I believe she remembers him. That’s the type of guy Brian was. You remember him. You remember the smile and the laugh. You remember his acts of kindness. You remember the wagon rides.


It wasn’t that his ailments made you feel guilty for complaining about your life; it was that he inspired you to be better and happier and to enjoy life. Even if he had been the healthiest guy you had ever met, he would have inspired you. His challenges only made his life and his personality reach that many more people.

At the station they called him X-Man, perhaps because his last name started “Ecks,” but more likely because, like the mutants under Professor X’s tutelage in the comic books, he was a freak. His mutant superpower… perfect pitch. Play any note and he could name it and recreate it. His kindergarten teacher called his mom one day, “Did you know Brian can play the piano?”

Later in his life, due to hand injuries, he only had four fingers on his right hand and three on the left that could be used to play the piano. Still he played at his church. He composed the 2008 theme music for Delaware County’s Relay for Life.

“Music has been a sanctuary for me — a retreat from the rest of the world,” Brian told a program (see video below) doing a feature on him earlier this year. “It’s the one thing that God hasn’t taken away from me.”

You are your passions

Brian reminded us that you aren’t your ailment. You aren’t your job. You are your passions. And Brian shared his with the world.

His voice still can be heard on the IPR airwaves. There’s something about doing radio that’s like praying. You have to believe in invisible airwaves that you can’t touch, taste, or smell. You sit in a room by yourself and you have faith that someone else is listening.

I was fortunate to have shaken Brian’s hand, to have seen Brian, and to have known him.

But most of all, like so many others, I heard Brian.

Brian’s family is directing donations in his memory to Indiana Public Radio. If you knew Brian or inspired by his words and his music in videos below, I hope you’ll consider donating.

One last thing…Brian and I had talking about meeting for lunch for the past six months, but we never worked it out. We should have.

Do yourself a favor and call a friend you haven’t seen in a while and make lunch plans. I will.

Brian sharing his passion with the world the day before he died…

If you never had the pleasure of meeting Brian, watch this video to catch a glimpse of his light…

Gail Malaby says:

Thanks Kelsey….

Gail Malaby says:

(well said, as always)

Kelsey says:

Thanks, Gail. My heart breaks for Brian’s family, including his IPR family, and his friends.

Stephanie Wiechmann says:

Wonderful tribute, Kelsey. Brian always talked about you fondly. He had a way to make everyone who sat in front of the microphone comfortable and sound good, too.

Emily Kowalski says:

A GREAT tribute Kelsey – I just miss my friend

Angie Rapp says:

kelsey, brian spoke of you occasionally to me. he referred to you as “his famous author friend kelsey” and he told me the story of how he gave harper the wagon ride around the station. i know your friendship meant a lot to him. thank you for this touching tribute to our dear xman. he was a beautiful spirit and truly one of a kind….the priest at brian’s funeral said, “when you met brian you met GOD.” indeed. i will miss him every day and can’t wait to see him again.

Christine says:

Thank you so much for this. Absolutely beautiful. I share your regret for not being in touch (or in your case, getting together) in the past little while. I have all the reasons for it – a wedding, 80 hour weeks, and so on, but it’s a tough thing to live with, when now I’d like to hear his laugh and voice through my phone one more time.

Brian was a wonderful person – an amazing person and caring and compassionate friend. He knew loss and pain and he could relate so beautifully on those levels as well. But he could also just have a fun time….some of my favorite memories are us being silly together.

I will miss his presence in my life, his laughter, his insight, and whacky sense of humor. Thank you for this beautiful tribute.

All the best to you.


david bilger says:

My son David grew up with Brian while we lived in Yorktown. David and his family came down here to Franklin,Tn for Thanksgiving and shared the news of our loss of Brian. My daughter Susan still has a tape of a song Brian composed for her back in their early teens. She still has it and charishes it so much yet today. Our family will miss him dearly. Dave and Bernadette Bilger, Franklin, Tn.

Ted Boardman says:

I was lucky to get to Brian well at Ball State. There was just something about him that shined bright. He deserved so much more than he got and yet knew how lucky he was.

Let your voice be heard!