Friends for life

The beat goes on

Doug Gneiser and Pat Gillis

Image caption: Doug Gneiser (left) and Pat Gillis became fast friends upon meeting their freshman year in the Gildersleeve dorm.

For decades, Pat Gillis, A&S '83, provided Doug Gneiser, A&S '83, with a soundtrack to his life. Gillis punctuated Gneiser's major milestones—birthdays, home purchases, new jobs—by mailing personally narrated and mixed cassette tapes and CDs from the far reaches of the world.

Gillis kept Gneiser entertained across time zones, continents, and years.

"Pat's probably the funniest guy in the world, but he has the magical touch to get everyone else to be funny," Gneiser says. "He laughs at so much stuff that people become funnier. He made me a funnier person."

Their friendship began their freshman year in the Gildersleeve dorm on the Homewood campus. The two lived a floor apart and simply clicked upon meeting, sharing an interest in athletics and spending time together as members of the Army ROTC. After Gneiser went off to UCLA Law School and Gillis started an active-duty career with the U.S. Army, the two stayed in touch through visits, phone calls, and those cassettes and CDs. Instead of writing a letter to his friend, Gillis would record himself introducing a song.

"It was easier to do a cassette," Gillis says. "I would talk for a while and [Gneiser] couldn't say, 'Stop.'"

The pair converse like brothers, nourishing a relationship replete with playful ribbing and rebuffed compliments. "I graduated from Hopkins in '83," Gillis says over the phone from Turkey. "Barely," Gneiser says, cutting in from California. They both laugh; distance is no match for their stalwart bond.

Gillis spent more than 29 years on active duty in the Army, which took him to more than 30 countries, before retiring in 2012 and taking a senior civilian position at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara in 2013. Meanwhile, Gneiser served in Operation Desert Storm and was mobilized to active duty after Sept. 11, 2001. He's a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel and now works as in-house counsel for Raytheon.

Whenever Gillis' career took him overseas, Gneiser would send along recordings of football games and television shows to keep him in the know—his own version of the cassettes and CDs. When Gillis retired from the Army, there was no question that Gneiser and his family would travel to Turkey for the occasion.

This time, Gneiser was the one marking a milestone with an audio gift. For months and months, Gneiser spent evenings digitizing the cassettes and CDs Gillis had sent him since graduation—all 55 of them—until he had filled an iPod with the commentary and music that spanned a 30-year friendship.

"He's my best friend," Gneiser says. "He's sending me this music. I've visited him in almost every place he's been. It's really been such a great friendship."