What you should know about my friend and what we’ll all miss
We lost a friend this week. He left us too fast, too soon. My friend Paul Temple, who saved my life, has died. Our thoughts and energies are with his partner Molly (who also saved my life) and their young son Jack, the center of their universe.
In relation to Paul’s many friends and colleagues, I’ve known him and Molly for only a short time. It’s our favorite story to tell when we introduce each other to new friends: Paul and I met about this time in 2010 in an Internet chat room where mostly grown men talked about “pounding and squeezing”. That really refers to rivets and jigs for an airplane, but what an opening line–and Paul relished the dirty prose of it all, followed by a smile and a mischievous chuckle.
Paul and I weren’t lurkers: I was moderating an internet chat room for a weekly Livestream of an airplane build in a friend’s basement in Oshkosh. Paul was a regular and we soon discovered we both lived in Madison. We stayed in touch, and by the next summer my personal life was disintegrating. That’s when Molly and Paul extended a lifeline.
By later summer of 2011 I was spending Sunday afternoons at their Schenk’s Corners apartment in a structurally-suspect easy chair talking sports, especially fantasy football, while dodging random swats from their mercurial cat Misty.
I adored these two. They watched sports together and operated multiple fantasy teams across several sports. From their sojourn in Chicago, they acquired some “complicated” sports allegiances; but I could live with it. I think Paul and Molly would be proud to know that after recently explaining NFL training camp to my six-year-old, he now keeps asking me if today is the day the Packers are cutting down from 85 to 80 players.
But it wasn’t all sportsball. We also talked politics and pop culture, eventually discovering that in 2004 during some of Paul’s political work we may have crossed paths when I was flying then-Senator Herb Kohl to Appleton, Wisconsin for a rally with Presidential Candidate John Kerry.
They also occupied an apartment at the end of the block where my parents live. Cosmically we knew each other much sooner.
Paul had an incisive wit, an expansive mind and asked great, probing conversation-starting questions. I highly respected his perspective, as he demanded the highest out of our representatives, even the ones he voted for.
With Paul, it was mostly about the planes. I don’t know how long Paul had desired to be in the skies but in 2011 he was close to beginning actual lessons and I cheered him on.
We also made plans: someday we would own or build an airplane together. As the airline portion of my career ramped up I would get random emails from Paul with links to aircraft he found in Trade-A-Plane or Barnstormers. It was a not-so-subtle suggestion that he had not forgotten my promise. One day he’d want to build a Zenith, then a Sonex Waiex because it had folding wings that better fit a Madison garage, then he’d spot a good deal on an Ercoupe, then it was a Cessna 172 hangared at an airstrip on the edge of town. The man oozed rivets and 100LL.
When Paul and Molly bought their house on the East Side of Madison, we of course scoped the garage for its potential as an airplane womb.
I found love again and soon found myself on the precipice of marriage. In usual airline fashion, I started an almost-wedding-day morning in some distant east coast city. Once released, I still had to find a way home. There I was at Chicago-O’Hare, running out of space-available seats and running out of time as my fellow “bachelor” party attendees fell by the wayside as the evening faded.
Paul never wavered. After a bus ride to Madison, he picked me up in the Suzuki of Justice (my favorite name for a car) and whisked me to my apartment so I could wash off the air transportation system.
By 10 pm we were at the Tornado Room, a tradition that would live on with us well after the bachelor party was just a memory. It mattered little that John O’Hurley sat next to us following his show at the Overture.
The next day Paul and Molly would stand with me and my wife Jamie as we began a new journey that has yielded two young sons. Paul and Molly made us pledge that despite my vocation we would stay in Madison and never leave as they were just finalizing their new house. We are so grateful for the bond we formed with them.
And they were there for us, especially during my long absences when the kids were in the infant and toddler stages and Jamie was struggling to find the energy. In 2018 we were ecstatic to learn that baby Jack would be coming along. Also born that year was Paul’s greatest aviation triumph; he earned his Private Pilot License.
Having experienced the many fits and starts of student pilot training from scheduling to instructor availability he persevered. I would be fortunate enough to fly with him a few months later at Morey Field in Middleton. It would be the only time we flew together. He let me try a few landings since I was used to much bigger planes and wasn’t current on light aircraft. I leveled off just a bit high almost every time but he was patient with me. In those early hours of his flight experience, I saw in him as a careful, instinctive aviator that would make a great instructor someday.
This spring things were looking great for everyone after long periods apart from our friends. Capacity limits were increasing, and Paul and I met at a Sushi place on Willy Street and feasted. Of course, we talked airplanes, life, and a new organization (Willa Brown Aviation Academy) I was starting to introduce aviation to underserved youth in Madison.
Paul and Molly had already done a ton of leg-work for the organization. Molly researched the Willa Brown family; Paul worked with me to help secure permission from them to use her name for our organization. They donated financial resources and talent to help cover the legal costs of creating our corporate and 501(c)3 certifications. We would not have been able to stand up a brand new organization and launch such complex programming, in the middle of a pandemic, without their help.
I last exchanged texts with Paul a week ago on the morning our aviation camp began. I showed him some of the last-minute legal paperwork he helped create was working just fine. He “liked” the text, which was tantamount to approval. He did that for many of our textersations. His GIF and Meme game were exceptional.
It was the same on social media, whether it was a joke or a stale pop-culture reference. I may have been posting for a broad audience, but it was really an audience of one. I always looked for that “like” from Paul, because immediately I could see his broad smile and hear his wonderful laugh.
And then he was gone. But approval came once more in the form of one last gift from the gods to Paul, Molly, and Jack on the day of Paul’s passing…
Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!