For parents, no matter how old your children are—even into adulthood—they will forever remain your children. From the first breath that is taken when the baby is removed from mother’s womb—there is an immediate connection that many mothers recall. For those parents who are connected through adoption or guardianship—the feeling can be just as euphoric. What are the common denominators that nurture such a relationship between parent and child? Love and secondly—protection.
The love will sometimes be taken for granted as a child becomes an adult—some openly affectionate and others more reserved but that feeling of protection never leaves the caretaker’s spirit.
As the protector, often from day one, it is never easy for a parent to bury a child—the cycle of life doesn’t call for it.
Likewise, Ernie Ferguson and his wife, Fay Holmes Ferguson, did not prepare themselves for the news that their only child would not be coming back home.
Unlike, so many young men dying on the streets of Chicago from violence—Eric Wesley Ferguson had taken another turn to serve his country. The 31-year-old died from natural causes on March 30 while stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.
An Early Aeronautical Enthusiast
Growing up, Ferguson had become intrigued with a love for airplanes and anything related to the world of aeronautical engineering. Sharing the same passion was next door neighbor, Alex Corey. Both young boys immediately bonded with Alex spending most of his waking time at the Fergusons.
The sudden loss is still very raw for Corey. “We’ve been friends since first and second grade. Hanging out at birthdays together—we were very close. He was [an only] child. On my part, I had deaths in my family when I was younger. I didn’t have a super, stable environment so I spent a lot of time at his parent’s house so we were like brothers,” he said.
A student at the University of Chicago Lab Schools in elementary and junior high—his natural born leadership skills led his peers to elect him as the leader of the school’s Black Students’ Association, raising scholarship money.
Corey can recall his friend’s love for speed, outer space, cars, airplanes or anything that insinuated cutting edge technology. The community of like-minded people was an exciting time as teenagers for them both. “Eric was the life of the party and enjoyed life fully—he was drawn to this. When we were young, we were looking at Chuck Yeager books and his room was decked out with pictures of cars and airplanes on the walls. The whole community was so inviting to us when we were younger so we stuck with it forever.”
Attending Francis W. Parker High School, he was selected to represent the school at the National Association of Independent Schools’ Conference on Race and Gender in addition to the University of Illinois’ Early Outreach Program. Graduating in 2003, Ferguson was deeply committed to giving back to the community, often tutoring elementary and middle school students in their studies.
His smile was infectious and his talent for motivating others was “classic,” says Ferguson’s cousin, Howie Norman—also an only child. Three years older than his cousin, the two immediately bonded.
“He was unique because he would always make people around him very happy. It was important to him for people to have equal access to what he had. If we were going out to do something, he wanted everyone else to come out,” Norman said. “That is something our parents instilled in us growing up. I felt that I had a ridiculous amount of confidence but he had the right amount of confidence where he never appeared as an arrogant person. He was always gracious to what was given to him.”
After attending summer camp at the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida—the flying bug was real and at 17, Ferguson took his first solo flight as a pilot. Enrolling in the school was a no brainer, gradually rising through the academic ranks making the Dean’s list. His neighbor, Corey, also followed him, and they were inseparable as roommates.
Ferguson’s charisma and outgoing manner was infectious to everyone he came in contact with as he became a member in several groups including Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, Inc., the Aircrafts Owners and Pilots Association, the Junior Advisory Board and the sport Compact Import Racing Car Club. Ferguson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Science—receiving his private pilot’s license.
“We both flew together at Embry. When I graduated, we both moved back to Chicago. I got a corporate job at United Airlines, and he tried to stick with flying but had a hard time. Where he worked, they went through the furlough process and it was a hard time to be a pilot. He signed up for the Navy—it was the first time we were separated when he went to OCS [Office Candidate School] on the East coast,” Corey recalls.
His Pursuit of His Dream
Pursuing a career as a pilot, Ferguson attended Gulf Stream Training Academy and later worked as a pilot for Continental Connection airlines. His travels soon took him throughout the Florida region, and throughout the Caribbean islands. The events after the tragic homeland terrorist attack of 9/11 struck a deep chord with him and soon after, he applied and was accepted in the Officer Candidate School.
In the U.S. Navy, he felt at home and adjusted his leadership skills to the discipline needed to rise throughout the ranks in the military—earning his bars from Ensign to Lieutenant.
As Ferguson was stationed in Japan and Corey resided in Chicago—both men became engaged. The naval officer had asked Annalyn Matsushita’s hand in marriage and was slated to be married soon.
Ferguson’s cousin, Norman, was pleased that Eric was there for him at his own wedding and looked forward to visiting him in Japan and hopefully meet his fiancé.
“When you break it down, you think about of people’s lives on what they thought they wanted to do or how they felt where they’re at right now. He was planning to get married and have kids and looking forward to the next portion of his life. As far as his status, he was doing the things that he loved to do,” Norman said.
More importantly, as he was stationed in Japan, the Chicago native was never removed from the backlash of gun violence that plagued the streets and took so many innocent lives. A leading executive in advertising, Faye Ferguson is the Co-Chief Executive Officer at Burrell Advertising but as a mother and community stakeholder—she created the Allies of Innocence. The 501(c) 3 organization is designed to provide free grief and trauma to survivors of gun violence, which her son wholeheartedly endorsed.
Already feeling the void that his childhood friend filled, Corey thinks about the Ferguson’s deeper loss and know their faith will carry them through this different time.
“He had a pretty impressive ability to make people do things that they should be doing but don’t want to do. In my life that sort of changed me—a great deal. I have so many bad habits of not doing things that I should be doing for my own happiness or for other people,” he reflects. “He would push you with a smile so you would do them and it would make you a better person for it. [I will hold] on to those feelings where he would motivate me.”