Roswell Friend had the perfect last name.
“That name was very fitting for him,” former Temple distance coach Matt Jelley said. “I think sometimes when you meet someone with a unique last name like [Friend] had, you wonder if that fits their personality. [He] was a friend to everyone. He was the guy on the team that if anyone was upset about something, he was the first one to come to them and try to bring them up.”
Friend, by all accounts, was just that. A former student-athlete on the cross country team, he was found dead in the Delaware River after being reported missing in August 2011. The cause of death is believed to be suicide.
As a tribute to Friend, former distance runner Travis Mahoney and others made and sold wristbands that read: “Always a friend” in Friend’s honor as a fundraiser for his family.
Temple’s track & field program also decided to name its annual Big 5 cross country meet at Fairmount Park after Friend in Fall 2012, naming it the “Friend Big 5 Invitational.”
“You hope you don’t have to do these types of things with athletes passing away,” track & field coach Eric Mobley said. “But, it had to come up and it was something that we can definitely always remember him by and use to honor [him] … The meet will continue to be named after him.”
Friend was a product of Dulaney High School in Timonium, Md. and ran as a member of Dulaney’s track & field team in his last two years at the school. He then found his niche on Temple’s distance team for four years.
“He was a great guy,” Mahoney, Friend’s teammate for three years and eventual roommate, said. “He helped me get through college. He was one of those ‘life of the party’ kids and he got along with everybody. He was a fun guy and it was always a good time with him. He was friends with everybody.”
“He always laughed, smiled and he was one of those kids you want to have on your team,” Mahoney added. “He kept your mind off of things and he was just a great kid. He would ask how I did after meets and he would wish me good luck. He was an all-around good guy and a lot of fun to live with.”
In his 22 years, Friend was thought of by many as a special person; the type who would go out of his way to put others before himself.
“He was always the upbeat guy on the team,” Jelley said. “Whenever he was around, he brought everyone up. He made everyone smile and he was always a pleasure to be around. He was always asking how he could help out and what could he do … The only thing he cared about was making other people feel better.”
“He was a good friend,” Regina Friend, Roswell’s mother, said. “His people that were a part of his crowd, he would do anything for them … He was a great kid. Of course, every mother says that, but he grew up to be a really good person and a really good man.”
When remembering her son’s transition into track, Friend couldn’t help but let out a laugh.
“He was mad at me,” Friend said. “He went out for varsity and by the third cut, he was not chosen. I went to pick him up from school that night and he said, ‘I got cut, I don’t want to talk about it.’ So I sat there for a minute and I said, ‘Well OK, you’ll run track.’ He looked at me with a mean face, and we went home and I didn’t really press him about it. But the next morning I said ‘Don’t forget to talk to the track coach.’ He started making excuses and I said to him, ‘You are not going the rest of the semester doing nothing extra. Either you can go to talk to the track coach today, or I’ll talk to the track coach today during your lunch. Which would you prefer?’”
“So, he huffed and puffed and dragged his book bag, but I asked him later that day how it went with the track coach and he said he could practice,” Friend added. “Next thing I knew, he was into it. He was into his times and saying he ran this, he ran that. He was obsessed with it ever after.”
Roswell Friend enjoyed a productive four-year track career in North Philadelphia, all the while as a broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media major.
In the summer of 2011, Friend had lined up a job interview with Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia and things seemed to be looking up for the 22-year-old.
Friend was reported missing after he was last seen Aug. 18 of that summer. A few days later, his body was found in the Delaware River. Friend had written a message on a whiteboard in his apartment reading: “I’m sorry guys.”
“I never wanted anybody to act like it didn’t happen or to be afraid to say it,” Regina Friend said. “It is what it is and it’s OK to discuss. Roswell struggled with depression. Some of it was situational and some of it was organic, something that was built in to him. He struggled. He started struggling a bit when he was in high school, enough to where he went to counseling, but not enough for medication or anything. Kids who were close to him saw him in his ups and downs and his moods and that sort of thing. What we don’t know is, ultimately, was it one thing that sent him over the edge or was it a culmination of a lot of things? And we may never know the answer to that. He fought a good fight but he lost it.”
Mahoney was coming back to Philadelphia from his aunt’s house in Connecticut when Friend was first considered missing.
“I came back and we started searching for him,” Mahoney said. “The next day we were heading out to search more and we got the word that they found him. It was a very emotional day and we didn’t believe it. It took a while to set in. My roommates and I, we were all really close. We were able to support each other and keep it off our minds. But, the next year walking past his room to an empty room every day was strange. It was strange for a while, but you have to move on from there.”
For Regina Friend, the meet offers a fitting tribute that she said her son would be happy to see.
“It touches me that my son touched the world enough that there are people in it who want to do things like this to memorialize him,” Friend said. “He loved track. He loved it. He didn’t want to run track at first and he was mad at me for making him run track, but after he got in it he killed it. It’s the thing that he loved. He’s happy. He would be happy.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @daParent93.