New York Times Portraits of Grief

John T. McErlean Jr.

He admitted it was a silly T-shirt, but for John McErlean Jr. it tapped into a deeper truth. The words emblazoned on it were "Life Is Good," and he bought it last summer when he and his wife, Beth, returned to Nantucket, where they spent their first vacation together 15 years earlier. On that earlier trip, though, they did not have four children in tow.

"John said, `It seems so simple, but it's true: I've been blessed with a wonderful family and everything I wanted from life,' " she recalled.

The entire family agreed that last summer's was the best vacation they had ever had — they biked, flew kites, kayaked and built a bonfire on the beach one evening with some of Mr. McErlean's colleagues from Cantor Fitzgerald, where he was a partner. Still, returning home to Larchmont, N.Y., was hardly a letdown. It was where he had grown up, where he and Beth had dated in high school.

Girard Smith, who was Mr. McErlean's neighbor, paddle tennis partner and close friend since the fourth grade (they even chose the same college, St. Michael's in Vermont), said that the finest testament to Mr. McErlean was "how many people called John their best friend." He talked of Mr. McErlean's a joyous belly-laugh and good-natured competitive streak.

"Johnny could make games out of anything," he said. "Traveling to college we would play `Name That Tune' on the radio for three hours. He always did things like that with his wife and kids, making a game out of life to make it more fun."