Justin Young holds onto a special tool. It’s small, simple, made from scrap metal and packs some power.
He uses it when hanging picture displays on campus to lock them into place.
But the tool is more than that. It’s a way of continuing his friend’s work.
Young’s friend Pete Nicholson, a Webster University carpenter and locksmith, died on Thursday, April 25. One of Nicholson’s responsibilities was to hang picture displays, which he performed with an amazing attention to detail, Young said.
“At first I didn’t really know what (the tool) was when we started hanging pictures until towards the end there when he was a lot slower,” Young, a Webster electrician, said. “I did a couple of picture displays with him. He just gave it to me and said, ‘Here, I’m going to tell them I want you to start doing picture displays.’ I wouldn’t have known how to do it if it wasn’t for him. … I miss him. He was my good friend.”
Nicholson started his work at Webster 34 years ago.
“When you’re walking the halls, you’re walking the halls of Pete,” Pam Lewis, facilities coordinator, said. “Because the pictures you see on the walls, he put up there. The doorknobs on the doors, he installed them.”
Lewis described Nicholson as a “Get Smart” or Inspector Gadget-like character because of the vast amount of tools he carried on him.
“Everything was on his waistline,” Lewis said. “He was the handy man of the handy men.”
Young remembered Nicholson’s love for collecting and buying tools. Young said Nicholson always carried a tool someone else may need because of his assortment of tools.
“If he didn’t have it, you didn’t need it,” Young said.
Jimmy Grogan, heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, befriended Nicholson 25 years ago when Grogan started working for Webster.
“We didn’t just lose a colleague. We lost a family member,” Grogan said. “I worked with that man for 25 years and he’s just like my brother. When I came here I was just a kid.”
He said he remembered when Nicholson started using a multi-tool — a Swiss Army knife-type tool complete with pliers, knives, screwdrivers and small wrenches.
“When that thing came out he thought that was the best thing since indoor plumbing,” Grogan said. “He said it’s got everything I need. It’s like a Swiss Army Knife blown up. He was really impressed with that thing. You have to understand, he had a gadget for a gadget for a gadget.”
Nicholson’s work, Grogan said, can be found in the
offices on Priest House’s second floor. One summer, Nicholson and another carpenter worked together to build large bookshelves for the offices.
“(The bookshelves) aren’t junk,” Grogan said. “They’re perfect.”
James Times, plumber, said when he came to Webster, Nicholson surprised him with a gesture.
“I was hanging some dry wall and Pete came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You know what James, the way that you lay this dry wall, I’m going to give you this tool.’ And he gave me a mud knife that he had. He gave me a mud knife that he had for I don’t know how long,” Times said. “But I’ve been here now going on ten years and I can say, what a friend that he was.”
Nicholson moved in the area to be closer Webster, Lewis said.
“Webster was his whole world, his community,” Lewis said. “He moved closer to the school to serve Webster.”
Times said when he visited Nicholson in the hospital, Nicholson said he didn’t miss the work, but his friends at Webster. Lewis said she also visited Nicholson and listened to some of his final words.
“…He said, ‘Why is Webster so nice to me?’ I said, ‘Pete because they love you.’ He said, ‘They do Pam?’ I said, ‘Yes, Webster loves you.’”
“And we did,” said Times. “We did love Pete.”
A memorial service for Nicholson will be held on Thursday, May 2 in the Alumni House from 4 to 6 p.m.