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Memories of a great man

I love jewelry. In fact, over the years I have taken to searching for unique, one-of-kind gems found only in antique shops or at auctions. While such jewels are lovely, they are often delicate. So, on occasion, my vintage gems need a little TLC, to repair a clasp or tighten a hook. Then there are those repairs that require a more in-depth knowledge of stones or jewelry construction. Without fail, my jewelry repairman has long been Hamburg’s Gold and Pearl master jeweler, John Sharp.

Until recently, John’s jewelry store served as a Hamburg landmark, occupying the prime village corner of Main and Buffalo Streets. However, it was not only jewels and gems that enticed shoppers to cross John’s threshold. There were the creatively decorated Gold and Pearl display windows, highlighting every holiday and celebrating every occasion. The window décor was something shoppers anticipated and which never failed to delight, thanks to John’s number one employee and devoted friend, Deb Kingan.

For 30 years, Deb worked the front of the Gold and Pearl showroom. Her bubbly personality made her a natural in dealing with jewelry shoppers and dreamers. And while Deb delivered her special brand of customer service, John lovingly labored on client’s treasured jewels behind his workroom wall; always clearly visible through an oversized window. Together the two were masters in turning one-time shoppers into devoted customers.

As I became one of those Gold and Pearl devotees, there were days when Deb was out of the store and John was in charge of both sides of his wall. On those occasions I came to know this intriguing man as compassionate and funny, always ready to chat. He also was highly educated on jewelry and gems, having gone to school for jewelry design and earning national certification as a watchmaker. Most importantly, I learned that John Sharp was a man who cared, not just about jewelry but about the people who wore the jewelry as well.

No matter if I brought in a repair or purchased something new, John was interested in the details. He was also focused on taking care of me as much as collecting my money; a lesson I learned as he often sent me on my way with discounted, or free of charge, repairs. Yet John was also very happy to reprimand me when my repairs were the end result of wearing my jewelry while working in the barn or digging in the garden. At first I was caught off guard by his direct reproaches, but in time I came to understand that John’s words of wisdom were motivated by his passion for his trade.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine called to tell me that Gold and Pearl was closing its doors. I was sure she was mistaken. John would never close his store. It was his life, as he had become part of the lives of jewelry lovers throughout Western New York. I decided to make the trek to Gold and Pearl with the hope that my friend was somehow wrong.

Approaching the store, I saw that Deb’s windows were overpowered by bold print signs announcing a closing sale. Entering the familiar doorway, I was met with a showroom of people shopping and buying. Deb was at her regular spot at the counter, surrounded by a team of unfamiliar salespeople. Yet what was the busy jewelry closeout was John’s window. It was shuttered closed.

Deb greeted me with her always welcoming style. Then taking a deep breath, she told me that John had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Closing the store had become a painfully unavoidable reality. Still with her next breath, Deb encouraged me with details of John’s continuing dedication to the people in his community. He had made donations to the Cloverbank School playground and to the Frontier High School jewelry department. True to his nature. John was continuing to live by caring about and helping others.

Last week, one month after Gold and Pearl’s closing, I thought of John. I called Deb for an update. She told me that he had moved into her home and Hospice was now helping with his care. She also proudly noted that John had far outlasted all medical predictions and explained his tenacity as a determined goal to celebrate his 80th birthday, on December 29. Deb then quietly acknowledged that cancer was finally winning the battle within John’s body. With emotion edging her voice, this caring woman shared that one more day was an optimistic estimate of John’s remaining lifetime.

I was saddened to tears by this news, until Deb explained that when John realized he was not going to live to year’s end, he made a new plan. This remarkable man calculated his date of conception, rather than birth, a number that became March 27th. And on that day, in a bedroom in Deb Kingan’s house, a small group gathered with John Sharp to celebrate his 80th birthday, just as he planned and wished.

In the world of unique gems, John Sharp was definitely a one-of-a-kind treasure.

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