Jerome Hatem lived life the same way he played rugby. For many years, Jerry, as he was known, played prop for the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club, which isn’t the most glorious of positions. Usually on the front line, the prop rarely scores, but without him a team doesn’t have much of a chance at winning.
“Unselfish, tough and for the good of others behind him and with him,” former Gents coach Gary Williams said to describe both Hatem’s character and style of play. “There is an award the Gentlemen of Aspen rugby team hands out annually for the person who does the most for the club off the field of play. This award was a piece of constant furniture at Jerry’s place, gathering dust for the years it had been there. Who else could we give it to?”
An unshakable foundation in the Aspen rugby community for more than three decades, Hatem died earlier this month from a snowmobiling accident on the backside of Aspen Mountain, where he lived. He was 59.
A memorial service was held Monday for Hatem that included members of his family from his home in Columbus, Ohio. Originally to be held on top of Aspen Mountain, stormy weather forced the memorial to be moved to the Mountain Chalet. Hundreds showed up in what ended up being standing room only, with more people left listening outside.
“The outpouring of affection these past few weeks for Jerry has been overwhelming,” said John Hatem, the oldest of Jerry’s nine brothers (they also had three sisters). “While we might not all be ‘whole smart,’ as Jerry defined it, you, his family and friends, are all whole-hearted, full of love and energy, with memories of Jerry. Keep those memories alive and hug those close to you.”
John Hatem said he is frequently asked how Jerry got from Ohio to Aspen all those years ago. It seems Jerry had an affinity for adventure and the outdoors, something that was cultivated inside of him as a young boy, and a trip to Colorado in the early 1980s pretty much sealed his fate.
It didn’t take long before Ed Cross, another longtime Aspen local and rugby player, met Hatem and brought him on board with the rugby club, where he became “the ultimate gentleman of Aspen,” according to Williams.
“When Jerry first came to Aspen in the ’80s, he was spotted walking on his hands down stairs and instantly recruited to the Gentlemen of Aspen rugby team,” Williams said. “From there on, he would earn the distinction of having played more games of rugby for Aspen than any other player, ever.”
Hatem worked for many years as a chef and property manager in Aspen, and at the time of his death was the president of the Aspen rugby club. Always seen around town on his bicycle, Hatem was an avid traveler, skier and outdoorsman who never shied away from celebrating life’s joys.
During the memorial, only Hatem’s brother John spoke on behalf of the immediate family. But the rugby family he created over his three decades in Aspen — and abroad — was very vocal, with longtime coach Cameron McIntyre leading a quick, “Hip, hip, hooray” in Jerry’s honor.
On top of many brothers and sisters, friends and his rugby family, Hatem leaves behind two grown daughters, Tamsin Pargiter and Tessa Pargiter-Hatem, who seem to have inherited their father’s personality.
“Jerry was kind, energetic, forceful, giving, loving, competitive, and I’m sure there are a lot of other adjectives I should have added,” John Hatem said. “You wanted to be invited to a party where Jerry was doing the cooking. More importantly, Jerry helped raise two daughters. Tamsin and Tessa are both bright, energetic young women.”
The roughly hourlong memorial ended with the playing of “Over the Rainbow” — Hatem was often seen wearing a Hawaiian shirt around the rugby pitch — which included a mighty gust of wind that somehow made it feel like Jerry was there, as well.
“This valley has been flooded with tears this week,” Williams said. “Tomorrow, we will grab life’s chalice and drain every drop from it. For tomorrow we will seize every day and live like Jerry.”