Remembering Paul Ryan, and what he taught me

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Paul Ryan, my best friend and the godfather of our son, died Saturday after suddenly falling seriously ill about a week earlier. We’ve just returned from Denver, where I’ve spent the past four days with Paul’s wife Pam and surviving siblings helping prepare for the memorial service, at which I spoke.

 

Paul would have been 50 on May 1st. “Great guy” doesn’t begin to describe what a joyful, inspiring, giving, loving, and loved person Paul was. There are the merely great people one knows, and then, for so many, including me, there was Paul.

 

How lucky I was to have Paul’s close friendship for 33+ years. I was a year ahead of him in college. He used to say half-jokingly that I raised him.

 

Paul was the first person Denver Mayor Michael Hancock asked to join his cabinet upon his election. He was the driving force behind many of the Hancock administration’s priority initiatives.

 

About 1,000 people attended yesterday’s memorial service for Paul. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told me afterwards that he can’t remember a memorial service for a Colorado public official that drew more people. President Obama sent a lovely, personal letter about Paul, which the mayor read. The Colorado legislature observed a moment of silence yesterday. The city has named the 11th hole at Paul’s favorite municipal golf course after him. He shot a hole-in-one there last season. Paul was a humble guy, but he did a lot of playful boasting about that one.

 

There was a story about the memorial service in today’s Denver Post, which has been writing something about Paul nearly every day since Saturday, when he passed away. My opening remarks from the service, for which I served as the officiant (or whatever one calls it) and first speaker, appear below. I’m pleased that the stories we all told drew laughs. The service was emotional, but not somber. Paul would have come back from beyond to give us all a whack on the head if it had veered in that direction. It was the perfect send-off for a friend who always kept people smiling and laughing.

 

Here are the words I wrote (and mostly stayed true to) for the memorial service:

 

Welcome. Thank you for being here to remember our dear friend Paul Ryan.

 

Thanks especially for coming in a snowstorm. This is quite a gathering. We’d need the old McNichols Arena, not the McNichols Building, for this service if the weather had been good.

 

I’m Jeff Seul, one of Paul’s close friends from college.

 

This morning we’re going to hear reflections by Paul’s family members and other close friends

 

. . . including his friend, the Mayor.

 

I suspect we’ll hear a story or two – or ten or twelve or twenty. Paul loved stories.

 

We’re also going to hear a few songs that Paul particularly loved. Not your typical memorial service stuff.

 

(Memorial cards. Silence cell phones.)

 

We’ll gather for lunch downstairs after the service. We hope you can stay for that.

 

Let me start things off with some brief thoughts of my own . . .

 

and perhaps a story or two.

 

A couple of words that spring to mind when I think about Paul are smile and loves.

 

Smile, the noun, singular

 

and

 

Loves, then noun, plural.

 

Smile.

 

That irrepressible smile.

 

Perhaps you noticed while watching the slideshow that was playing a moment ago that Paul was always the guy with the biggest smile. That beaming smile.

 

And what a versatile smile.

 

Paul could make a stranger an instant friend with that smile.

 

Snap you out of a funk with that smile.

 

Lure you into some good-natured mischief with that smile.

 

Cajole, persuade with that smile.

 

Like the time, when we were just kids, that we decided to try to ride our roughly five-foot long mountain bikes off the end of Paul’s roughly eight-foot long – and three-foot high – front porch. Paul flashed that smile and said, “You first.”

 

The laughs more than compensated for the basketball size bruise I had for months.

 

Loves.

 

Paul was a guy with many loves.

 

His love was concrete, and it was exuberant.

 

He loved what he loved, and he loved it big.

 

So many things Paul loved concretely.

 

Paul loved his family and us, his 16,000 or so genuine friends.

 

Paul’s first job out of college in which he had any hope of making a decent living was selling and leasing commercial real estate.

 

He earned his first commission check after a couple of months – a whopping $900, as I recall.

 

I was living in San Francisco at the time. Paul called to say he was going to buy a ticket to come see me for a couple of days.

 

Paul blew his entire, first paycheck just to pay a visit to a friend.

 

This continued for several months, perhaps the better part of a year. Paul would make some money and spend it to visit family and friends, and to live it up a little. He bought an old Mercedes, a piece of junk that created years of headaches for him, but which he absolutely loved.

 

It all came to an ignoble end the following April when his accountant explained that, as an independent contractor, he should have been setting aside money to pay Uncle Sam. He had a big tax bill that took years to pay off.

 

Paul loved Denver.

 

El Chapultepec. The Stock Show. Wash Park.

 

New York and Paris have nothing on Denver, in Paul’s view.

 

His position in Mayor Hancock’s cabinet was the perfect role for him, and he couldn’t imagine any job he’d rather have – ever. He’d achieved career nirvana.

 

Paul loved dogs, particularly a series of adopted dogs named Bailey, Olive and Graham.

 

I now live in Boston, and I travel to the west coast frequently. I had a brief layover in Denver several months ago. Paul and I met for lunch at the Cherry Cricket.

 

Paul asked me to walk him to his car after a quick meal. He wanted to introduce me to someone – to Graham, Paul and Pam’s adorable, three-legged golden retriever, who they’d adopted from the pet shelter recently.

 

For Paul, dogs are human, too, as the saying goes. The fact that Graham couldn’t join us for lunch was something of a civil rights issue for Paul. I had a flight to catch, but he insisted that I get into his car and sit for a while, so that Graham and I could have a proper visit and really get to know one another.

 

We did, and I damn near missed that flight.

 

And, of course, Paul loved Pam.

 

I still remember when Paul got the nerve to ask her out, having worked up to it for weeks, or even months. He was head-over-heels, when she said yes.

 

And those of us who know them together have seen how their relationship flourished from there.

 

Many of us justifiably regard Paul as among our closest friends, and know that Paul also regarded us that way. Paul loved us all, and he knew which of us was his very best friend.

 

Smile and loves.

 

Two teachings from Paul’s life, for me, are:

 

Smile big.

 

And love big.

 

It’s now my honor to introduce one of Paul’s very close friends, the Honorable Michael Hancock, Mayor of the City and County of Denver.

 

 

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