Larry’s legacy: Smile at the storm

Written by Jeff Petersen, The Observer August 30, 2013 10:01 am

According to leading scientific experts at the School of Hard Laughs, there are 49 different senses of humor. There is the benevolent. The self-effacing. The sarcastic. The teasing. The critical. The mean and nasty. The odds of meeting someone who matches your style are about the same as Oregon’s voting in a sales tax or a tsunami striking Summerville.

Still, Larry and I hit it off from the get-go. He was outgoing. I was introverted. He could build things. I could break things. But we both laughed at the same silly stuff and both loved to tease each other.

Larry died recently, way too young in his early 50s. As people live longer, 70 is the new 60, 80 is the new 70 and 90 is the new 80. People are living longer but not necessarily better. Larry lived shorter but better. He liked people. He cared about the “invisible people” — the servers, the gasoline attendants, the newspaper delivery kids, the cashiers. He knew their names and could make them smile even on a day when they had faced a storm of abuse.

No, Larry wasn’t running for county commissioner. Or dog catcher even.

He was just being himself. Being comfortable in his own skin. That was Larry’s legacy. That and treating everyone with dignity and respect, not just the mayor, however fine a fellow he might be, or the whoopty-dos from Salem and Washington, D.C.

Everyone.

A trip to the Oregon coast with Larry was like traveling with the governor, except in a less fancy car. Everywhere we went, from Astoria to Newport, he was meeting and greeting people.

Having grown up near Corvallis, he loved the Oregon State University Beavers. I loved the University of Oregon Ducks. Still, in 2006, I joined him at an Astoria bar in rooting for the Beavers as they pursued their first national baseball title. The next year, in a miracle rivaling the parting of the Red Sea, the Beavers won the national title again.

But back to our coast trip. The Astor Column beckoned atop Coxcomb Hill. On a sunny summer evening — yes, sunshine is newsworthy on the often rain and fogbound Oregon coast — we found a balsa wood airplane. We carried that plane up the 164 steps to the top, where I launched it into the sky. The plane caught updrafts and floated south until it drifted out of sight. The plane might be flying yet.

Larry was flying through life, too, when health allowed. He was there to give me support when I lost my first wife, Tina, in 2007, to complications of diabetes. I spent a year grieving and getting my affairs in order before I met Teri in 2008.

Somehow, Larry would get involved in this story, too. I proposed to Teri on Valentine’s Day 2010, and in August 2011, I was on a mission to get a marriage license in preparation for our 9-10-11 wedding. I emerged from the house to find an apple tree blocking my driveway. I called Larry and he came to the rescue with his chainsaw. He was forever coming to my rescue.

Then, on 9-10-11, after Teri and I had said “I do,” we emerged from the church, negotiated a gauntlet of well wishers and hopped in our getaway car. Who should show up on our tail but Larry in his Jeep, blasting his horn, making our day more extraordinary.

Larry had a way of making the ordinary extraordinary.

I, sadly, have met many strangers. Larry never met one. They were just friends he hadn’t met yet.

Even during the worst of his illness, and there were days when he hurt bad, when most people would turn their back on the world, tell it to take a flying leap, Larry could dredge up a smile. I frown at butterflies. At newborn babies. At sunny forever skies.

Larry’s lesson is to smile, whatever hand life deals you, even if it’s the joker. Smile. Laugh. See and greet even the invisible people. 

That’s Larry’s legacy.

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.