Loss of a friend

February 3, 2009

Faith Outdoors

I was shocked and saddened to learn last week of the death of Dick Paul, a recently-retired teacher at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley. An infection got out of control and eventually shut down his kidneys, leading to his death Saturday, Jan. 24 around 10 a.m.

Dick taught at the school for more than three decades, beginning in the fall of 1976. I was a sophomore then, when the school was called Fridley Grace. I was part of his first homeroom class and I liked him almost instantly. We shared a love of the outdoors, specifically, fishing and hunting, and talked about it often, both during homeroom and the math class I took from him that year.

I did not have him again as a teacher after sophomore year, but that one year was enough for me to consider him my favorite teacher at T-G. I was fortunate enough to have stayed in touch with him over the years. My job at The Catholic Spirit brought me to T-G from time to time and I always made it a point to stop in and see Dick. He had a hearty laugh that was contagious and I always left his office feeling upbeat.

We had talked often about getting out in a fishing boat together and came close last summer, when he invited me to join the annual Totino-Grace/Hill-Murray fishing contest on Lake Mille Lacs. His wife, Susan, is the principal there and he helped organize a friendly-but-competitive outing filled with fun, practical jokes and, yes, some serious walleye fishing by teachers and staff at the two schools aboard one of the lake’s famous launches.

I was all set to go, but a family conflict kept me from joining the group. It was tough not to be able to go, but I told myself I would be sure to make it this year. That may happen, but it will be sad to have this event without Dick. I don’t know if the others will go ahead with it or not.

In the 10 days since Dick’s death, I have been wondering how it happened. Finally, this morning, I got a little more information from Tom Kocon, a teacher at T-G and a friend I grew up with. He said Dick felt sick during an ice-fishing trip and saw a doctor after he got home. He was put on antibiotics for an infection, but they didn’t work. The doctors switched medications, but the infection only got worse. Then, he developed complications due to diabetes and his kidneys finally shut down the morning of the 24th.

“We’re all just shocked,” Tom said. “We can’t believe what happened. It’s a really sad situation. I feel for the whole family.”

I went online and read numerous tributes to Dick. He certainly touched many lives, including mine. I will truly miss the chance to get out on the water with him. I had planned to tell him what a difference he made in my life. But, I’m sure God will now reveal to him all of the good he did on this earth. And, I would love it if God chose to give him his own personal fishing lake in heaven. In the meantime, I will think of him this summer when I’m out fishing.

Dick Paul, may you rest in peace.


About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek