It was an unlikely pairing, the old man and the boy.
Chester Ross, 65, a textiles and fashion entrepreneur, had long since raised his two daughters and had three grandchildren of his own. David Loughran, a timid 7-year-old longing for someone to play ball with, was an only child being raised by his divorced mother.
But Ross reluctantly gave in to a friend's urging and agreed to meet the youngster. As a social worker told Mary Loughran that day in 1979 how the Big Brothers Big Sisters youth-mentoring program could benefit her son, Ross turned to David:
"Why don't we get out of here, just us men, go to the diner or something?"
'We had Cokes, I think, and for an hour we talked," Ross recalled.
"The conversation never stopped. He was 7 and I was 65, and we got along so well. And we did it for 30 years."
On Thursday, both men are being honored by Family Services of Westchester, N.Y., which runs the local program. The average Big Brother commitment is about three years, says program director Thomas Mitchell.
"When it becomes a lifelong relationship, that's the ultimate goal," he said.
Before he met David, Ross wanted nothing to do with being a Big Brother.
"I'd never heard of Big Brothers," he said. "This is not for me. I'm 65 years old," he told his friend. "Forget about it!"
'Taken aback' by age
David, "a little bit taken aback" by Ross' age, thought he'd be getting a ball-playing Big Brother in his 20s.
Almost every Wednesday night, they chatted on the phone. Almost every Sunday they had their special visits. Sometimes they'd have lunch. Or go to Shea Stadium. Or even Broadway shows.
David, who saw his own father maybe once a year, worried that Ross would move on, too. Not renew his Big Brother commitment. Ross got wind of the youngster's fears.
"Never mind about that," he said. "You don't have to worry about that, ever."
Gradually, David's confidence grew. His shyness drifted away.
Mary Loughran, a nurse, reached out to Ross and his wife, Barbara, whenever she needed parenting help. For a complicated issue, Ross would say:
"Let's you and me and Barbara go out to dinner."
Ross encouraged the growing youngster to read. He emphasized the value of education. As high school graduation neared, Ross, who never went to college himself, pledged to finance David's college education.
Paid for college
"What else was I going to do?" Ross said. "By then he was part of my family."
That generosity "was a tremendous weight off my mother's shoulders," David recalled. Because of it, Mary Loughran was able to go back to school herself and get a master's in nursing administration.
Usually, the official Big Brother relationship lasts only until the little brother is 18, but in the case of Chester Ross and David Loughran, it never ended.
"He was a role model, a friend, a mentor," said Loughran, now 37.
"I was shy, and he helped me with my self-confidence. He encouraged me to read and get educated. He became a big part of my family, and he accepted me into his family."
Loughran, now living in Norwalk, Conn., says his mentor, who worked until last year, guided Loughran into the fashion industry. Loughran eventually went into business technology and now works for Heineken USA in White Plains.
"David's very confident and easygoing now, comfortable with people," says his mother. "I'm not sure he would have that deep confidence without Chester taking that real interest in him."
Five years ago, when Loughran became engaged, he chose Ross to be best man at his wedding.
"I figured, who better?" Loughran said. "Lots of guys pick their big brother. When I asked Chester, he said, 'Me?' and I said, 'Yeah, you.' He was floored."
Ross was incredulous.
Best man at wedding
"Be a best man when you're 90 years old?" he said. "But I told him I would do it under one condition. I wanted nothing to do with the bachelor party."
Now 95, his Barbara in a nursing home, Ross says he, too, benefited from the relationship.
"It's not a one-way deal, it's a two-way deal," he said. "I got someone new to love and someone who loved me. Now I go up and see his two kids, and I have the same sort of relationship with them."
One of those kids is named Colby Ross Loughran.
"I couldn't believe David named his boy after me," Ross said. "Right there, that's more than anyone could hope for."