Some of us have been fortunate not to have experienced the death of a close family member or friend in our lives. Many more of us, however, have known the pain and sorrow associated with the loss of a parent, sibling, child, or friend.
My father passed away in May 2001. Though he lived in California, I was able to visit with him twice within a four-week span. A week after the last visit, he passed away. The fact that I took the time to see him despite an extremely busy schedule is something that will always help soothe the pain when I think about his death. We spent many special hours together that I hope brought him some comfort and joy; I know it did for me.
One of the lasting memories of that time was the kindness shown by so many people; the thoughtful cards, the personal notes, the flowers, the contributions to charities in his name. Before, I hadn’t really thought such courtesies made much of a difference. Afterward, I knew how much they truly mean when you’ve suffered a personal loss.
I resolved from thereon to make sure I sent a written condolence to people I knew after suffering a death in their family; and also to make sure I visited or contacted a loved one or friend if they were ill.
This is a confession of a failure on my part to follow up on the vow to visit a friend suffering illness. Last week, a man named Jim Knoop passed away at the young age of 44 from cancer. Jim was a long-time political figure in the Indianapolis area, though in recent years he had returned to his hometown of Elwood. Jim and I had become acquainted through a mutual friend involved in Republican politics. He was also a fellow Wabash College man.
Jim and I worked on several political matters together, and I quickly learned that he was the most intelligent, no-nonsense, tell it like it is person I have ever been involved with in politics. A stupid idea in a campaign would be floated up for consideration, and he would instinctively know it, and let you know it too! He could be somewhat abrasive, though not in a vicious way. He just had a sixth sense for nonsense, and wasn’t afraid to share the thought. Someone like Jim is absolutely critical to the operation of a successful political campaign: too often, a candidate is let down by the failure to have a trustworthy advisor to help steer them clear of unnecessary trouble.
Jim came into his own in politics as part of the “young turks” who worked in former Governor Orr’s office. Jim was known as the Governor’s “go-to” guy when the Governor had to get a tough problem handled. Need to get a certain legislator in line for some important legislation; need to get something sensitive handled quietly; need some sagely advice during pressure-cooked moments? Jim was the man.
Ironically, while several of his peers went on to very successful and lucrative careers in the Indianapolis political world, Jim chose a different path. He managed several large campaigns after leaving the State House; some he won, some he lost, though the losses weren’t his fault. Either the candidate never had a chance, or they simply were in against too tough a field. But if Jim believed in the person or the cause, he was willing to dive in and risk the failure. There aren’t too many people I’ve met like that, but I’ve admired all of them.
Jim also became an administrator for Wabash College for a while, and in the past several years, was one of the chieftains for the St. Vincent Hospital and Foundation in Elwood. The enigmatic career of Jim Knoop appeared to have finally found a home in the medical field. And then, he was diagnosed with throat cancer.
While Jim and I weren’t close friends (mostly because we just never had the opportunity to see each other much) we truly enjoyed each other’s company. He loved politics, golf, a good joke, and the occasional adult beverage. We talked on the phone at least a half dozen times a year, and we usually got to play an annual round or two of golf together. Yet, once Jim became ill, we never managed to see each other again. That was my fault; many times, I intended to pick up the phone to talk with him, or send him a note, or set up a time for the two of us to meet in Elwood. But something always seemed to get in the way.
I know what it was; it was the old discomfort of not knowing what to say; not being sure if you are treading on someone’s privacy; not knowing if your presence is really more a hindrance than a comfort. Yeah, the good old excuses for not doing the right thing and letting someone know you are thinking of them, that you care about how they are doing, that they matter.
Well, I’m not feeling very good about myself today, because a good man who mattered to me didn’t get a chance to hear it before he left this world for a better place. All I can do is resolve to never make that mistake again. Maybe I’ve finally learned the old lesson my Mom used to preach: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
So, to Jim Knoop, a good man who made a difference in this world, I say a fond farewell, with the hope that you can forgive my procrastination and short-sightedness. And I hope you get a chance to meet my Dad up there in Heaven. You’d like him, and I know he’d like you.
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