Commentary:  Fair Winds to a Friend

By Mitch Traphagen

Living in a marina means that you know everyone - but almost exclusively by first name only. For most people, that tends to make things easier.

One of the first people my wife and I met upon moving aboard a sailboat was a man we called Terry. We saw him nearly everyday, saying "Hi Terry!" whenever our paths crossed.

Unfortunately his real name was Art.

I can only guess that Art was too gracious to let us know that we were mistaken. He waited until he felt comfortable enough to point out our long standing error.

It was embarrassing, but Art was gracious and that helped to lessen our discomfort and our sudden realization that we werenít necessarily the brightest bulbs out there.

Over the years we continued to see Art and his wife Pat. They purchased a new, larger boat and continued to discuss selling Artís business and going cruising.

The work never seemed to stop aboard their boat. The remodeling was a continual effort and the last time I was aboard, their hard work was paying off. They had a very comfortable home.

Years ago Art and Pat invited Michelle and me over for dinner. The topic turned to religion and they challenged us to read up and understand.

It is largely because of Art that I now feel that I am that I am on a better path in that regard.

How can there be a bigger impact than that?

A year and a half ago Art gave me the OK to hang out with a work crew from his company on top of the SunTrust Tower in downtown Tampa.

For Art, there was little benefit in having me tag along. Few, if any, readers of the Observer News and the Riverview Current own skyscrapers and would decide to hire Artís firm after reading the story.

Yet because of Art, a story appeared that became one of my most talked about articles. For weeks afterwards people would stop me and ask if I was that guy who jumped off the skyscraper.

I did stand on the edge but I certainly didnít jump off.

Because of Art, I was able to write one of the few stories that I was actually happy with when it was written. I tend to be a perfectionist about the stories that I write and am rarely happy with the result.

For some reason I liked that one.

Art passed away aboard his boat today. For Michelle and me, our lives had been so busy that we hadnít taken the time to see him over the past year. We didnít even know that he was sick.

He has had a big impact on our lives in a very quiet way. His absence now magnifies that impact.

I know that there are others in my life who have had an impact - some of those are people I have met as part of writing a story. I have been so very fortunate to have met so many fine people through this job. Many of those people would never guess the kind of impact theyíve had. Hopefully in reading this a few will get the feeling in the back of their minds that I am talking about them.

To realize how much people mean to me, however, takes time and it takes thought and it is an effort that I need to make while I still can. Itís one thing to wave to a long time friend or acquaintance, itís another thing to let them know how much I appreciate them.

That takes more effort but, as with all things, the greater the effort the greater the reward. I often forget that.

I donít want to write another article because I didnít take the time to tell a friend how much they mean to me.

Good-bye Art and fair winds. I will miss you.

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