Rich and I both retired, bought a motorhome, sold our house and headed for New Mexico. Over our 34 years together, we had already been to 14 national parks. We planned to buy a house and travel to more of the parks we so enjoyed. On April 26th, eight days after we arrived in New Mexico, he suddenly passed away at the age of 69.
Rich overcame much adversity in his life to become an amazing human being. He was proud of his Polish heritage and took a class to learn to speak and write the language. Early on, he developed a talent for working in information technology and data security. His 40 year career would culminate in working in Telehealth with veterans. Later in life, he was proud that he earned his Bachelor degree in Liberal Arts & Urban Studies.
He would help anyone in need of assistance without needing to be asked. One very cold February day, he was outside repairing a friend's outdoor stair lift. Rich was a Navy corpsman in Viet Nam. I was with him the first time he went to The Wall in Washington DC. It was about 11pm and a man walking ahead of us was sobbing. As the man and his lady friend got to the end of the memorial, he walked off into the distance. Rich said to the friend "Maybe I can help" and he walked off and joined the sobbing man. Soon the friend and I heard them laughing, saw them hug and walk back to us. That was who Rich was and his affinity for his fellow veterans would play a large role in the last years of his life.
I called Rich my renaissance man. He was a lifelong learner, had an in-depth knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, a unique sense of humor and an endless sense of curiosity. He was always learning, always reading historical books, always trying to become a better version of himself. He had a passion for growing plants and vegetables, cooking, bicycling, kayaking, horseback riding and always had a camera in his hand. He was fascinated with space and astronomy and proud to say he was a Star Trek fan. After he retired, he took classes in archaeology, geology, Spanish and volunteered with Doctors Without Borders on Telemedicine/Telehealth projects. He freely, enthusiastically and generously shared his knowledge.
For the last 10 years of his life, he worked as a Telehealth Specialist at the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Spinal Cord Injury department. His job was to design and implement Telemedicine/Telehealth programs for SCI veterans. His passion became making sure that no veteran or their caregiver was left behind. He had a special place in his heart for the ALS veterans and their families. Rich pushed the boundaries of what people thought could be done through Telehealth and always felt it was easier to apologize than ask permission to help a fellow veteran. Rich mentored people at Veterans Hospitals all over the country in the usage and benefits of Telehealth. That mentoring continued until shortly before he passed away.
The Telemedicine/Telehealth programs and technologies that Rich set up at the VA before covid allowed veterans to seamlessly continue getting service once the covid lockdowns hit. He was proud of what he had done to help his fellow veterans. And helping them also helped him.
Rich will never be forgotten. He will live on through the Telemedicine/Telehealth programs he started for veterans at the VA and he will live on in my heart always.
If you are interested in honoring his memory, please send a donation to the ALS Foundation in Rich's name.
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Published by The Plain Dealer on Jun. 14, 2021.