I’ve been away for a while. Distracted by finals, the beginning of Christmas vacation, etc. Almost two weeks since my last post, but I haven’t had room for thinking since then! My blog tonight is dedicated to my late Uncle, Pete Dorn. The Sunday before finals week, my Dad called to tell me his oldest brother had passed away while working in his beloved yard. It’s been a rough ten days or so since for everyone, especially my Dad, his other brother John, sister Dinie, niece Shelley (Pete’s only child), and sister-in-law (Pete’s wife and high school sweetheart), Jeanne. We drove down to San Luis Obispo this past Sunday and attended a beautiful service in Uncle Pete’s honor on Monday, and I wanted to write a few words of my own here tonight:
For those of you that know my Dad, imagine an older version with a little more bald and a little less beard, but the same great sense of humor and goofy smile that lights up a room. That was my Uncle Pete. To my sister and me, he was the playful, happy-go-lucky Uncle who always had the awesome orange trees in the front yard and a joke in the back pocket.
I remember climbing those trees, or playing catch in the backyard, or even hopping the back fence to go play on the real field at San Luis Obispo High School. I was “J-bird” and my sister was “Lexie-doodle-dandy” no matter how old we were. Whenever I did something funny, stupid, annoying, etc. when I was younger it was, “J-bird, you turkey!” And I can still remember my astonishment watching Uncle Pete eat an orange, and I mean the WHOLE orange in front of me, and saying “it’s good for you” as the last part of the peel went down the hatch.
As I got older, the visits to see my Dad’s family got fewer and further between. We made it down once or twice a year for a couple days, but high school sports, and eventually college made it difficult. Even so, whenever we pulled on to Cazadero St., Uncle Pete was there, smiling and ready to see his little brother, his wife, and little niece and nephew.
In the last few years, Uncle Pete’s “End Cancer Now” campaign through Team in Training has gotten bigger and bigger. It really is a tribute to the man, who dedicated the last years of his life to volunteering and making a difference in people’s lives. According to the Team in Training representative who spoke at the service, my Uncle Pete accomplished something astonishing to me: he single-handedly raised over $1 million dollars toward cancer research through fundraising and marathons. To have the determination, patience and personality, even, to raise that much money in a lifetime is astounding. But to do it all with the intention of helping people who really need it? That’s just admirable and amazing, and in a league of its own.
This last Thanksgiving break, we made a last-minute detour to go to San Luis for turkey dinner. Call it fate, call it luck, call it what you will, but either way we got to see Uncle Pete in his element, one last time, and my family could not be more grateful that it happened. On Thanksgiving morning, we managed to be dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7:00 a.m. (for those of you that know me, this was a big deal), to run the 8-mile “Turkey Trot” that Uncle Pete put on every year. It was our first time running it, and Uncle Pete’s last.
Lexie and I finished in just over an hour and 15 minutes, muscles aching and stomachs cramping (okay, maybe that was just me…Lexie is in far better shape than I am). My parents, the last two people to finish the race, took an extra hour enjoying the scenery and taking pictures together along the route. At first, I was annoyed that we had to stand and wait that long, but looking back, we got to spend an extra hour we wouldn’t have normally had, catching up with Uncle Pete and shooting the bull one last time. Most importantly, my Dad got to spend another day and night with his brother. He told us about how he had got up that morning at quarter to five to post signs to make sure drivers knew there would be racers on the street. He spent another hour after the race making sure he pulled them all down and cleaned up the racing area. No complaints, as usual.
And when my Mom and Dad finally strolled to the finish line, he was still standing there, holding the Turkey Trot Finish Line sign, yelling and smiling and cheering, as he had for the 250 previous runners.
At the service, it was standing room only, including tightly-packed people who could probably hardly see the stage. There were people from Team in Training, neighbors, family, former football teammates, other members of the local Kiwanis club, and probably a few hundred guests who had at some point enjoyed a classic Pete Dorn barbecue (just to name a few groups present).
My mom always said he was the “unofficial Mayor” of San Luis Obispo. Aunt Jeanne and Shelley were approached by so many random people who knew Uncle Pete when they went downtown last week, that they were overwhelmed by the unending condolensces and had to return home. As my Dad said when he spoke toward the end of the service: “The impact that someone’s life has on the world can be measured by how many friends he had.”
My Uncle Pete, whether volunteering with Team in Training, leading a Turkey Trot, attempting to end cancer, or just being a great father, husband, grandfather, brother, uncle, and everything in between, was loved and cherished by a large population. An entire town, even. The people of San Luis Obispo, certainly, and many more, will remember Uncle Pete forever for the great man he was. I think it’s safe to say “the great man he is” because even if he’s no longer with us, he had a memorable impact on all of us, which will never die. Dad, if the impact a man has on the world is measured in friends, I think your brother ruled this kingdom.
Uncle Pete is definitely the closest family member to me to have passed on. And in a way, that means I’m lucky, because I’ve survived almost 22 full years without knowing the pain of losing someone near and dear to me. And I think that reflecting on Uncle Pete’s life has definitely stoked a fire inside of me; to be better in everything I do, like he was. I can be less selfish. I can be more friendly. Heck, I can learn to put together a better barbecue! But, this blog is not about me. It’s about celebrating the life of a man who lived life with a purpose, who lived life selflessly, energetically and lovingly. Uncle Pete, the great man he is, can teach us all a few things about life and love.
Rest in peace Uncle Pete, you will forever be loved and missed.