Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Remembering Paul McKenzie

On February 21st, 2007, Paul McKenzie , one of Washington, D.C.'s all-time great civic activists, died of pneumonia at age 53. His death came as a complete shock to everyone who knew him, especially his family. Paul was an incredibly energetic, vibrant and positive man who knew no boundaries in his commitment to civic improvement. He was involved in everything, from getting more trees planted along North Capitol St. to bringing major league baseball back to Washington to getting libraries re-opened to closing down roads for bike and pedestrian use to getting the city's dilapidated schools up to speed. The guy never, ever let up.

I didn't know Paul as a civic activist. I knew him as the 3rd line right wing on my adult hockey team that plays in Rockville, Maryland. Along with me, Paul was a founding member of the Red Army, so named for the Soviet Union's national team, which dominated world hockey in the 60s, 70s and 80s -- its loss to the United States in the semi-final round of the 1980 Winter Olympics not withstanding. He was, by far, the worst player on our team and maybe the worst in the entire league. He couldn't skate very well, even by adult hockey standards, and this from someone born in Canada. On the ice, he didn't talk trash; he just started conversations with other people. You'd see him in the corner trying to get the puck, and he's talking with his opponent not about the play, but about something else entirely. More often than not, he had no idea what was going on but never hesitated to question the referee's calls, and then turn to one of us to ask what rule it was that he was questioning. On the one or two occasions he scored a goal, he would skate with referees to the scorer's table to make sure they recorded his goal, and then he skate around with his stick in the air, jumping up and down on his skates, and occasionally falling on his ass. But, as I learned in the three seasons I played with him, he had a heart that was inverse to his hockey skills.

In yesterday's Washington Post, there was an absolutely marvelous article on Paul's long and sustained effort to bring high school hockey to D.C., a cause he started in 2003, even though he didn't yet have a child in high school (Paul's hockey-playing son, Alexander, now 15, was 11). He coached teams, helped them raise money and coordinated the logistics of their schedules. Paul wanted kids who didn't go to the elite private schools of Washington to play hockey, and his devotion was to them, not the kids with built-in privilege.

Read Jeff Nelson's entire article by clicking here. I'm not sure whose idea this was, but thank you anyway for this wonderful tribute to a great man.

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