From the Chicago Tribune
Family recalls man who rowed Atlantic
By Tom McCann
Tribune staff reporter
December 17, 2001
The day before he embarked on his solo journey to
row across the Atlantic Ocean, Dr. Nenad Belic closed the door to his study
and wrote letters to his wife and four children, to be opened if he didn't
"Things must have changed drastically for the worse if you are reading this,"
he wrote his son Adrian, 32. "But if the end has come, which is inevitable,
it might as well be in the middle of the Atlantic. But I will miss you."
About 300 friends and family gathered
Sunday at the Chicago Sinai Congregation downtown to share their memories
of Belic, 62. His rowboat capsized in September during a storm off the Irish
coast, just a few hundred miles from his goal.
At the memorial service, his children tearfully read snippets from the letters
they opened last month. And his wife, Ellen Stone Belic, recited from a letter
of her own, the one she didn't have time to give him.
"That night you were lost at sea, I stared at the door to our bedroom, hoping
you would come through it," she said. "Tomorrow I may be a widow. I felt
"But then I was enveloped by this most wonderful something, like many arms
caressing me. This feeling stayed with me for quite a long time, and I knew
it was you."
Belic, a Chicago cardiologist, had a boundless passion for life and an almost
childlike love of the sea, his family said. He grew up hearing stories of
the seafaring ways of his Yugoslavian ancestors, and as a boy his father
would often take him for long boat trips on the Adriatic Sea.
But only when he retired two years ago did he begin to pursue the idea of
a cross-Atlantic trip, even though his wife and some of his children did
not want him to go. Daughter Dara, 17, said she kept telling him to stay
home. Maia, 13, said she was scared and didn't want to lose him. But Belic
showed such zeal in the project, painstakingly making preparations and designing
his small yellow covered boat. In the end, they said they could not deprive
him of something he loved so much.
"Whenever I talked to my dad on that satellite phone when he was at sea,
he was just ecstatic," said his son, Roko, 30, a filmmaker. "He said to me,
`I have to keep rowing, but the sky is so beautiful, the stars, the fish
come right up to the boat. I just want to enjoy that.'"
"My dad was not religious at all," Roko said. "But what he could never find
in a religious institution, he found on that trip. I think it was his spiritual
Belic instilled that love of adventure in his children. Roko recently returned
from making a film in India. Just before his father went to sea, Adrian,
also a filmmaker, got back from doing a documentary in Afghanistan.
Jerome H. Stone, Belic's father-in-law and chairman emeritus of the Smurfit-Stone
Container Corp., compared him to the "Man of La Mancha."
"His life was like a lovely painting, filled with such striking patterns
and arresting colors," he said.
At Kilkee, the Irish village close to where his boat was found, locals have
lit candles for the doctor and will put his name on a plaque with others
lost at sea.
"You were searching for something more than adventure on that rocky Irish
coast," his wife said. "I hope you found it."
Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune