A friend of mine from the USA died yesterday. When I received the email which informed me of his passing, the first thing I thought was, Hey, now you are free again, my friend, to go home. It wasn’t until a few minutes after that the shock of it kicked in, and my eyes welled with tears as I sat there at the computer in the library. As I gathered my things and walked slowly home in the pouring rain of a Danish January afternoon, I considered my friend.
His name was Dan Pepper, one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever met. A big, tall, northern European looking man with wild blond hair and a scraggly beard, I sometimes imagined him as a Viking a thousand years ago, gleefully plundering and conquering the land of the Celts– though in his current lifetime he was as tame as the big, friendly dog who was his companion for several years. Dan was a housebuilder of the finest kind, a true craftsman and artist. He designed and built the beautiful house where he and his gracious wife lived together for almost ten years. Each time I drove out to their home to clean it, he always greeted me with a smile and friendly words. He was never too busy to take some time out of his day to share a story or two, which he was famous for in that community. Dan was a spinner of yarns, as well as appreciator of life and its myriad ironies. He was passionate about politics, one of his favorite subjects. We had more than one conversation about the pitiful state of the country and the deceit and treachery of its leaders. He cared a great deal about the land where he lived, and was good friends with some of the Amish folk who were his neighbors. He loved all kinds of living things, cared for the draft horses which he owned and let his neighbors keep theirs on his land as well. Though he never had any children of his own, he loved them and was an excellent teacher. In fact, Dan had been a high school shop and auto mechanics teacher in upper Michigan years before. I remember his humorous stories from that period of his life, when he worked with some young guys who didn’t have much stopping them from getting into serious trouble. Dan worked with them in the mechanics shop and woodshop, and made a difference in their lives. With his slow smile and stories, he cheered up friends and acquaintances, respected all people, had a deep well of compassion and a noble heart. He stood up for the weak and down-trodden of the world, believed in the ideals of democracy and freedom and was unafraid to give anyone his honest opinion, something I always admired about him.
Dan Pepper was a true humanitarian and a person of great dignity and strength. I celebrate his passing out of this life tonight, raise a cup to all that he was, all that he gave, and all that we received from knowing such a person of grace. I can guess that if he read my words right now, he might laugh and tell me that I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Yet, he was a humble man, not given to accepting compliments or kudos very well. Dan Pepper, I am glad to have known you. Thank you for your friendship and love. You will be sorely missed.