Several weeks ago I attended the funeral home visitation for David Dick, the former CBS News correspondent, retired director of the University of Kentucky's School of Journalism, longstanding columnist for Kentucky Living magazine and prolific author.
I've been thinking about him and about that visit.
On a blistering summer afternoon, my fiancée, Liz, and I stood in line for more than an hour to pay our respects.
In that winding line was gathered a who's who of accomplished Kentuckians: John Carroll, the former editor of the Herald-Leader and the Los Angeles Times; O. Leonard Press, the founder of Kentucky Educational Television; Byron Crawford, the widely known columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal; and Ben Chandler, the U.S. congressman.
There were many others of similar note, all waiting their turn to offer condolences to David's wife, Lalie, and his children.
Honestly, I'd never realized just how famous David was, how much impact he'd had on so many people. I mean that as a tribute. For the 25 years I knew him, I thought of him not as a celebrity but simply as my buddy.
I met David in the mid-1980s, when he returned to the commonwealth after his retirement from CBS. He'd become a journalism professor at UK. I was in graduate school there studying communications and teaching journalism part-time.
We discovered that we and another grad student, Elizabeth Shear Orndorff, all lived just a few miles apart. We decided to save gas by carpooling.
Commuting has never been such fun. Day after day we drove from Mount Sterling to Lexington and back. All of us were talkers, and as we rode we'd discuss everything: literature, marriage, politics, the Bible. We'd tell tall tales and laugh.
David treated us two graduate students as colleagues, and along those highways we all became lasting friends. I suppose he quit being a celebrity to me within the first week.
At the time, I lived with my wife and toddler son in a tiny apartment above the kitchen of a Pentecostal church. David, an Episcopalian, was endlessly fascinated by my theology.
Sometimes at UK we'd run into this or that academic muckety-muck.
"This is Paul Prather," David would say, "my Pentecostal preacher friend."
I'd cringe — knowing that Holy Rollers weren't held in high esteem by the intellectual crowd. But my presence never embarrassed David.
For all his achievements, he was as down-to-earth as anybody. He drove an old pickup truck. You couldn't make him brag on himself.
For instance, I once tried to get him to tell me how he won an Emmy for his coverage of the attempted assassination of presidential candidate George Wallace.
David insisted the award didn't have much to do with his reporting skills. He had a talented sound man who captured the would-be assassin's gunshots, he said. That's why he got the Emmy: the sound man.
As little as David talked about himself, he constantly sang the praises of his wife.
Our offices at UK were along the same hallway, and we visited back and forth.
Often I'd be in his office when Lalie called.
He'd hear her voice and, before he even said hello, would blurt out, "I love you!"
As soon as he hung up, he'd look at me and say, "I'm crazy about that woman."
I got to know Lalie, too. David was right. She's terrific.
At David's visitation, my fiancée and I finally reached the casket.
I fumbled, and all I could say was, "Lalie, I'm so sorry."
Lalie, who by this time had greeted hundreds of people and had hundreds more to speak to, hugged me, and then said, "This must be Liz! I've heard about you!"
She seemed in no hurry to move us on down the line. She chatted with Liz.
She introduced me to David's son, Sam, the WKYT (Channel 27) anchorman, with whom, somehow, I'd never crossed paths.
"Your dad was a wonderful guy," I said.
But Sam wanted me to meet his wife. Then they talked about my newspaper columns.
I made my way to Ravy, David and Lalie's daughter. I tried again. She hugged me, then told me about the child she's expecting and asked after my son and his children.
I've considered all that since. Like David, his family seemed more interested in catching up with me than in talking about themselves, even in their grief. Like him, they were gracious and modest. I can't say for sure, but maybe that's part of his legacy.
He lived his life well: He saw the world, married the woman he loved, returned to the place he loved, continued to do work he loved. Having managed those things, he didn't need to crow about his accomplishments. He was free to put others at ease.
Still, I hope the Dick family will indulge me now in a brief expression of sympathy. Lalie, Sam, Ravy and all the rest, you're in my prayers.
David was a fine man. And a blessed one.