St. Raphael's Gentle Giant

One of the best pieces of advice I ever ignored was (in reference to getting a Master's Degree): "It's two years, but if you don't do it, you'll look back in two years and think: I would've been done right now."

Paul DeZarn was a giant. He wasn't particularly tall, he didn't have a beard, nor did he (to my knowledge) ever live on a mountain. But to view him through a lens of generosity, profundity and compassion was to witness a man who was ten feet high.

While many of us wear our accomplishments on our sleeves, tack them to our golf bags or park them in our driveways, Paul DeZarn--or "Dr. D" as the students of St. Raphael (home of the Giants), have called him for the past half-century--never had to. His accomplishments were present in every movement he made, every word he spoke, for he was master of life's only important accomplishments:. kindness of heart, generosity of spirit, and depth of thought. Walking away from a conversation with Mr. DeZarn meant viewing the world a little differently than you had before. He was never short on profound advice, which he kept on hand at all times, able to be accessed at will. He spoke to you with no judgment, only encouragement. While your own goals, your own passions may have begun to stagnate in your own mind, he viewed them with unjaded, almost childlike enthusiasm. 

When I tell someone my goal is to write for a living, I'm often greeted with a mirthless smile. When I told Mr. DeZarn, his face lit up. "The next great American novelist!" he announced to the room, despite my being its only other occupant. But there was no irony. Nothing was faked. He believed I was capable of writing the great American novel, and he made me believe it all over again. 

This authenticity, this generosity of spirit, lost with so many of us today, lives on his family, in his three daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom I've been lucky and honored to call one of my best friends for over 20 years. In fact, it lives on so transparently that it's almost axiomatic: to be a DeZarn is to be generous, compassionate and thoughtful. It's a birthright, passed down to them by a man who had long ago mastered these skills the way Caravaggio mastered chiaroscuro, Babe Ruth mastered baseball or Donna DeZarn mastered diapering a Yorkie. 

*It's worth noting here that the other birthright (and one of equal value in my book), possessed by every DeZarn--sass--was passed down by Paul's wife, Donna, or as I (have never) called her, Gator: 

It's no mystery why the two fit together like a lock and key. The gentle Giant and his charmingly unfiltered other half. 

I'll never forget Paul DeZarn. My life is immeasurably better for having had him in it. I'm sad that he's gone, but heartened by the legacy he's left in his family and in the thousands of students who have passed through St. Raphael, all of whom have been the benefactors of his grace.

Rest well, Dr. D. And thanks for all the good advice.