On the Death of a Poker Buddy

A poker buddy from long ago has died and that naturally starts me reminiscing.

In this case, the deceased was also a colleague of mine in the College of Communications at Penn State and a kindred spirit in distance education. His name was Marlowe Froke and he died Feb. 23. He was 82.

Marlowe had many virtues, but one of his strongest was his humility and unassuming manner. He was never loud. He seldom raised his voice when angry, although I did a couple of sharp e-mails from him when he didn’t like something I wrote. But he never mentioned those things at poker.

At poker his unassuming manner served him well. He could play, unassumingly, for hours and lose most of the hands. Sometimes he even raised outrageously—or as outrageously as our nickel-dime-quarter-fifty-cent game allowed—only to show a losing hand, a hand he should have folded sooner.

Then sometime around an hour before closing, he’d do it again and everyone stayed because they knew they had him beat.

Only they didn’t.

He had a great hand and it was, as we like to say, well hidden. That is, you couldn’t tell from the four up cards what his three hole cards were. So he might show two 5s, an 8 and a Jack or two hearts, a club and a spade and then turn over three aces or three hearts for a full boat or a flush. We were all thinking our measly two pair would easily beat him.

And when he won, he just raked in the pot. He didn’t brag. And when we all kept saying “Nice hand, Marlowe,” he would nod and say thank you and almost act embarrassed that he had taken our money and try to change the subject.
As you might imagine, we told a lot of jokes at our games. In fact, we tried to remember the jokes we heard during the month so we could repeat them at the next poker game. Some of us were better joke tellers than others.

Marlowe was unique.

He didn’t tell many jokes, so when he started to tell one we listened.

He would get to about the second line of the joke and start laughing.

By the fourth line he was laughing louder and louder and start to tear up.

By the sixth line, the tears were rolling down his cheeks and we were all laughing.

I don’t remember any of the punch lines from Marlowe’s jokes, but I’ll never forget the way he told them.

It was vintage Marlowe.


  1. Love the story about Marlowe's joke telling!! Sorry for your loss. It sounds like he was a wonderful person.

  2. This is very sweet, RTB. Thanks so much.

    To amplify a bit -- while my dad was a sweet guy with a great sense of humor, I have to say I never heard him tell a joke. Must have been just a poker thing.

    And Gerry Hamilton yesterday also mentioned the poker jokes -- but his point was that Pa never remembered the punchline of his own joke.

    Probably that's why you don't either. Because he never was able to provide it.

  3. Actually, it occurred to me while writing my piece that on some occasions he never finished the joke, but not because he forgot but because he was laughing so hard--and so were we.

  4. Tom described Marlowe very well. Having played with this poker group for around 25 of my 32 years teaching at Penn State, I cherish all my memories of those Fridays together. Marlowe was a kind, loving human being, even at the poker table. I feel blessed to have crossed paths with Marlowe during my lifetime.

  5. I worked for Marlowe for many years, and I never met anyone who could break himself up in laughter so readily. I don't recall many "jokes" as such--just his attempts to make a funny comment--but he could never seem to express them before he'd dissolve in laughter.

    Marlowe was also the most terrifying driver I ever rode with. He was the original distracted driver--reading entire documents at the wheel--and even if he wasn't reading, he wasn't paying much attention to the road.

    If any of us at WPSU were travelling with him, we went to extraordinary lengths to make sure WE picked up the car at Fleet Services. That way, we could commandeer the driver's seat and make sure Marlowe was a passenger!