At a Loss for Words About a Loss

My friend Paul Chase died last week in a senseless automobile accident. He was only 58. Wednesday, I attended a memorial for him–as did several hundred other people.

Paul wasn’t famous, wasn’t a celebrity, wasn’t rich–He wasn’t the sort of person whose memorial attracts wanna-be hangers-on or people who are there to be seen. The people who attended were grieving the loss of a genuinely good person.

What can I say about Paul? Even for someone who writes all the time, it’s hard to find the words.

Paul was a handsome, brilliant lawyer who chose to work for social justice and sound public health policies rather than joining a silk-stocking law firm and making a lot of money. But he was never strident, never holier-than-thou, never anything but incredibly funny and thoughtful and kind.  A look around the crowd confirmed the breadth of his impact–legislators from both parties, statehouse lobbyists, representatives of nonprofit organizations, and lots and lots of friends–white, black, gay, straight, young and old.

As coworkers, friends and relatives shared their memories, I couldn’t help thinking that Paul Chase was a poster child for the “family values” that intolerant folks insist they are “protecting” by discriminating against LGBT people. He’d met his partner Terry when they were 18-year-old college students, and they’d been a devoted and loving couple for 40 years. Their respective families continued to love and embrace them both  (Terry’s sister reminisced that her mother had adored Paul so much that she made every dessert he liked when they came to visit–and served them all at the same meal).

The day of his death, the Federal Court struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage, and Paul was thrilled that he and Terry could finally get married. It wasn’t to be.

There was no hate in Paul, no evident resentment of the people who would deny him a place at the civic table, no vitriol for the vitriolic. Just an abundant kindness, an inner serenity and a killer sense of humor.

The memorial program carried a favorite quote from the Dalai Lama: “To be kind, honest and have positive thoughts; to forgive those who harm us and treat everyone as a friend; to help those who are suffering and never to consider ourselves superior to anyone else; even if this advice seems rather simplistic, make the effort of seeing whether by following it you can find greater happiness.”

Paul lived by that creed. He left us much, much too soon, but very few people–even those who have lived much longer–have left as enduring a legacy in the hearts and minds of those left behind.

He will be missed.


  1. Consider the reasons that we grant celebrity and withhold it. It’s a measure of nothing important. What does that say about us?

  2. Fitting tribute, Sheila. It seems that the good die young. Your friend Paul Chase was such a one. His legacy tells us that we should “be up and doing / for the grave is not [our] goal / dust thou art, to dust returneth / was not spoken of the soul.”

    May he rest in peace and may his many friends be up and doing.

  3. Without knowing Paul, I feel as though the poem must have applied to his life and legacy. It certainly applies to you!

    The poem in question, for those who may be interested in reading it, or reading it again, is “A Psalm of Life,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

  4. Thank you for the beautiful article. You obviously knew Paul well. He certainly was the very person you described, to everyone. Our hearts are broken for our loss, but his legacy to do good will give us strength to carry on. It’s wonderful to see your respect and appreciation of him. Thank you, Lorraine Chase……Paul’s mother

  5. Lovely tribute , Sheila.

    He touched far so many lives than those of us who had the privilege to know him. I hope he is there when I die to lobby my for me.

  6. Thank you for your post about Paul, a true treasure of a human being, an inspiration, a trusted friend, an advocate, a kind soul, someone who dedicated his life to others. You are so correct about his sense of humor only one of a long list of his many gifts/talents he was always willing to share. I had the good fortune to work with him back in the 90’s. I worked in Evansville’s first HIV/AIDS community resource group and took advantage of his availability and advice whenever a client was in need of legal assistance. I feel honored to have marched with him and a bus load of other Hoosiers in DC – meeting with legislators to raise awareness/educate/advise them of the need for action. Also with he, Terry and other dear friends in commemorating Stonewall, ’97. Sadly missed by us all, but forever changed by knowing him.

  7. Thank you for knowing and caring about my sweet cousin. I am thankful you knew him and expressing to all how special he was.
    Susan Stricker
    Paul’s cousin

  8. Thank you, Sheila, for this well-written tribute about my older brother, Paul Chase. He was so humble about his professional and personal accomplishments and achievements that we, his family members, learned so much more than we ever knew about Paul from so many of you.

    The tibute was perfect. The speakers gave us an authentic glimpse into the man we can’t believe it gone. There is such an incredibly big hole in my heart that can never be repaired. He was not only a great person, he was a great brother.

  9. Dear Sheila,

    Your words were so beautiful. I felt that you touched every aspect of my brother’s life and I am so grateful for this. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so blessed to have had Paul in my life and am so proud of him. He did all these wonderful things, yet half the time we never knew about them because of his humbleness. I am going to miss his amazing, contagious laughter and the twinkle in his eyes. I plan to live out the rest of my life working on being a better, more caring person, hoping to put a dent in making a difference to better the lives of others.

    With love and gratitude,

    Beth (always been known as “Paul’s sister” 🙂

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