I first met Dave as a member of the choir at St. Mary’s catholic church in Marysville, Wa. We both played guitar. At times there were 6 guitars. The church back then supported 2 Sunday masses. The early 10 am mass was the more hip mass with more progressive music and while the 11:30 was for more traditionalist catholics who weren’t as keen on the hip music element of a mass. Either that or they just didn’t like getting up that early.
We played a ton of music from the St. Louis Jesuits, who we found out later at a Saturday seminar that they weren’t from St. Louis, and they also were not Jesuits. Didn’t bother us, the music was pretty hip.
The ‘choir’ consisted of guitars ( up to 6 ), upright bass, piano, and occasionally a flute + several vocalists, mostly women. All good singers and fun personalities. The piano players were top-notch sight readers and all we had to do as guitar players was strum some chords and belt out the tunes.
In typical fashion of me at that age, I underestimated Dave from the beginning. He seemed like a nice guy, an ‘okay’ guitar player and sang good enough. Better than myself which wasn’t saying much. But as time went on and we changed leadership, Dave became the leader of the choir and it dawned on me that he was not only a solid guitar player, he was a terrific singer and leader as well. He could pull off performances where he was the lead singer and player, and he sounded great. So much for first impressions. I was way off. Before I knew it, I came to respect his playing and singing as he was doing things I wasn’t capable of.
Dave had a falling out with the priest at St. Mary’s in the late 1980’s, left, and never returned. If I recall correctly, it mostly had to do with an overblown ego by the head priest and it rubbed him the wrong way. So much so, that he checked out for good.
The 10:00 am choir was a fun very group of good-natured people. Our annual ‘reward’ for rehearsing 52 weeks a year and showing up on Sundays was an annual dinner out at a nice restaurant, which we looked forward to with glee every year. I just remember laughing an awful lot and enjoying the company at the annual dinner out, usually up in La Conner, Wa.
Dave was an outspoken critic on local issues including things like the Navy building a port in Everett, Wa. His prose was frequently in the paper and he never pulled any punches. He wasn’t afraid to call out local officials who had their own interests in mind over what he called ‘the rest of us’. It’s perhaps an understatement to say that he had ‘a reputation’ that followed him around as left-wing Democrat with socialist tendencies.
In about 1997 his wife Toni, after having gone back to school to get her teaching degree, we held a party at our house in Mukilteo, Washington which included past and present choir members from St. Mary’s. I remember writing a song for Toni who had just graduated but had not been hired yet which had the line in it “She’d probably have a job by now, if her last name, weren’t Aldrich.” This of course endeared me to the Aldrich family as she knew exactly what I meant.
Since I had known Dave, and played with him for about 7 years or so, I kept in contact with him even after he left the choir. He invited me to his ‘Sunday morning breakfast’ group at a local eatery in Marysville where we’d take on religion and politics and a wide range of subjects. But mostly religion and politics. It was this experience that turned the light bulb on for me at just how brilliant this guy is.
Berkeley educated ( in the 60’s no less ), with a degree in History and if I recall correctly, some background in studying the philosophers as well, Dave would articulate his points in convincing fashion at these Sunday morning breakfasts and leave my mind ready to challenge the old school of thought and re-think the basic tenets of the belief system I inherited at birth to formulate my own as an adult. It was a transformation to say the least.
We talked a lot about why he left the church and come to find out, he had been an agnostic for a long time and was struggling with the church’s teachings but stayed a member mostly for the opportunity to champion social justice issues as well as reaping the benefits of being part of a church ‘community’. I think it was the loss of the church ‘community’ the hurt the most for him. The teachings he was struggling with anyway.
It was through this experience that I came to realize there are 2 types of catholics. Those that are drawn to the social justice possibilities, and those that are comfortable with the repetition and look the other way at the church dogma that does not align with their political beliefs in the slightest. I’ve written about this in previous posts . In the 1990’s I used to participate in the local discussion through the Tualatin Times and this Soapbox comes to mind as one that was heavily influenced by Dave. In fact, he may even find that a few lines in it were lifted from articles in his blog snohomishobserver.com . I couldn’t resist. He was just too brilliant.
Life has its changes and one of mine was moving back to Oregon in 1992. I left a pretty secure job at Boeing to take on a new challenge in Portland, Oregon where I grew up so that both myself and my wife could be closer to family as well as the fact that we both liked the geographic location of Portland better than Seattle.
As a subscriber to articles published via snohomishobserver.com, I devoured every post with constant amazement at just how brilliant this man is. I envied him to be so highly educated, so principled as to sacrifice material benefit for doing what’s right in his mind. So passionate about social justice that he frequently excoriated foes publicly for their greed, selfishness, and stupidity. I often thought of him as one of my main mentors. The first person to really make me think. How can you put a price tag on that? You cannot.
This week I was shocked to get an e-mail from Dave’s wife Toni that he has stage 4 liver cancer and has about 3-6 months to live. I was at a meeting over in an adjacent building near my usual office at 200 Market, downtown Portland when I felt my phone vibrate that a new message had come in. The meeting was over so I decided to check it out on my way back to 200 Market. In it, Toni revealed Dave’s health issues and prognosis. I read enough to know this was one of those personally devastating letters you get in your life and between buildings let out a brief sob. I couldn’t wrap my head around this loss and I still cannot.
A while ago I realized that each person encounters a few people in their lives who have a huge impact. Top 5 I call it. My father was one for me. My wife Donna is another. There are a few others I won’t mention who opened my eyes and gave me ‘aha’ moments that I am eternally grateful for. They’ve had high impact. Dave Aldrich was a high impact player for this smart guy wanna-be. Reading his snohomishobserver.com posts I was repeatedly humbled at what a brilliant writer really is. I am privileged to have known Dave Aldrich and his family. He’s an incredible human being and I will never forget him or the causes he championed. He’s shaped my thinking in ways I never would have imagined.
I think the best way to honor all the work Dave has put into his social justice causes is to grab a sign, get out there and start marching. Question authority. Be a champion for the poor. Write about the hypocrisy that comes with individuals being born on 3rd base and complaining about the poor ‘mooching off me’. The next 4 years will certainly provide some opportunity here. Count me in, all the while remembering the incredible contribution of one David Aldrich.