Obituary of Paul Monahan
So on the twenty-seventh day of February in the year of our Lord two-thousand and nineteen, Paul Matthew Monahan concluded his human experience. The record should reflect that he was a very good boy. “(And) when the child was a child, it was the time for these questions: Why am I me, and why not you? Why I am here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end?” We know not where Paul is now, but we’re certain he pursues these mysteries still.
Born in San Anselmo, CA in 1939 to Peter Joseph and Thelma Therese (Paine) Monahan. Third son and ultimately middle of five kids. He recalled that he was about 12, the year the family bought its first car, before he owned a pair of jeans that weren’t hand-me-downs. Marin Catholic High School 1958, Saint Mary’s College (Go Gaels!) 1962, and Creighton University School of Medicine 1966.
In college Paul roomed with a character named Wendell Patrick Fleet, and there/then began a beautiful friendship. They carpooled to medical school in Omaha and after respective residencies moved their young families to neighboring houses on Mercer Island. Their kids became friends. Their kids’ kids became friends. And Paul and Pat continued to encourage, entertain and support one another until literally their dying days. Their mutual admiration and love lasted precisely two lifetimes, as Pat left the earth within twenty-four hours of Paul’s passing. They left their families much to celebrate, not least of which that neither had to mourn the loss of the other. They both loved to read Eduardo Galeano, who wrote of a departed dear friend: “Una parte de mi murio con el. Una parte de el vive conmigo.” Paul and Pat instead figured to die together. So sad, but also so very sweet.
But back to Saint Mary’s. Paul auditioned for a joint stage production with Holy Names College. Aptly cast as The Judge, Paul famously flubbed his one line: “Hold down and sit thy tongue!” But Paul wasn’t there for the acting. He was there to behold the star of the show, Maureen Catherine Cramton. She was incandescent. Brilliant, formidable, and unrelenting. When she laughed the world would briefly stop spinning to drink it in. For Paul it was over right then and forever. 50 plus years of marriage, and each day enchanted.
Paul wrestled with the checklist of maladies that come with the years, but truth be told he died of a broken heart. Maureen passed in 2014 after 20 years with cancer, and though Paul soldiered on valiantly and celebrated each day, the biggest part of his heart was still reserved for her memory. Her photo was on every surface in his home and there was nothing that didn’t remind him of her. With each joyous family experience he’d tend to quote Vonnegut and say “If this isn’t nice I don’t know what is,” followed by an arched brow and “You know who would have loved this?”
He was a great Dad. Sarah and Peter were born in Omaha, Brendan in Palo Alto, Rachael coming along in McAllen, Texas. Mary Bridget was 9 years after the rest, and we tried not to roll our eyes the thousandth time he said “can you imagine how dull life would be without her?” Paul encouraged his kids to travel and seek adventure. It worked, in spite of the fact that Monahan family trips included sleeping on friends’ couches or in hammocks hung over floors of dirt. Paul didn’t travel in style or with comfort, but it is also true that he never lost his manners. Yes he was dead tired and it was three a.m. in the middle of a third-class overnight bus ride from Tepic to Mexico City, but he gave up his bench seat next to the fellow with a surprisingly well-behaved chicken so that a young woman with a head-tray full of empanadas who’d just boarded didn’t have to stand. He did a head count to make sure his wife and five kids were still on the bus, then stood without complaint for the duration. Classic Paul. And forever an inspiration.
He was also one of history’s great grandpas. He flew from Pasco to Indianapolis to watch Ian play French Horn in a marching band. He endured dozens of hours of high school theater to watch Fiona and Molly nail such scintillating roles as “Dancing Fork” and “Ensemble Nun #13.” He meant to attend every one of Mateo’s soccer games and made it to more than a few. He was never happier than when he was swarmed by Delaeny, Declan and Bob on Bracket Ave. And he always looked forward to sojourns in Vancouver, where he delighted in the latest cycling escapades and episodes of performance art being perpetrated by Paul Gordon, Patrick Flynn and Johnny.
It seems mathematically improbable, but if you were part of his community of friends or family then he was your biggest fan. Your champion. He really and truly believed in you. He knew in his heart that you had a unique gift that made you special and true, and in your dark moments of doubt his confidence helped lift you up. When he was with you, he was nowhere but with you.
It was in Texas that Paul developed his passion for primary health care and for working with a Latino community. He gave Mercer Island a fair shake in order to be near Fleet, but ultimately his calling came calling and he moved to Toppenish in 1971. Along with Don Gargas and Julie Ricking he helped start the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. He was well-regarded as a diagnostician and as a caring physician but he wouldn’t hear any of it. He felt privileged and lucky to be able to serve the communities in the Lower Valleys (Rio Grande and Yakima). He mythologized the revolutionaries of history and fiction (Jesus Christ, Dolores Huerta, Emiliano Zapata, Terry Malloy), but his true heroes were the farm laborers that he was able to work with every day. The work ethic, the dedication to family, the resilience in the face of hardship, all of it inspired him to be stronger, braver, and a more effective advocate for a community of people whose values spoke to his soul. His natural disposition was to be quiet and unassuming, but when it came to his patients he was undaunted. He did not indulge in pride, but it gave him great satisfaction when he helped get the Department of Labor and Industries to recognize pesticide exposure as a causal agent in a range of both acute and chronic conditions.
He walked to Mass at Saint Aloysius every Sunday morning until the 90s, when he started driving to Wapato to hear the razor-sharp homilies of Father Larry Reilly, a fellow disciple in the church of social justice. He recycled mountains of Maryknoll magazines.
He loved trees. No seriously, he LOVED trees. He was a fruit evangelist, and he would not leave you alone until you tried that perfect mango or Rainier cherry. He was totally convinced that the tree Peter planted in the backyard of 110 North D produced the best apricots the universe has known. He religiously hand-watered the sequoias he’d planted in memory of departed loved ones. He recently took to whispering the names trees he passed on walks, along to a cadence only he could hear: “Tamarack, cedar. Spruce.”
He thought the shadows that fell between the creases of the foothills were filled with magic. The sun setting behind Mt. Adams stopped him in his tracks every night. He went for very long walks, and as he grew older he wandered closer and closer to the packs of wild horses that roam the Satus. We forgave him his love of pickled herring. At some point he began putting vanilla ice cream in his coffee. And still, he missed Maureen terribly every single day.
In addition to offspring, survived by his sisters Maureen Waegner and Kathleen Cleary, his brother Peter, and a long list of nieces and nephews whom he loved and admired. Predeceased by his folks and dear friend and brother Mike, whose memory he celebrated often with our beloved Aunt Joy. He knew he hit the lottery with in-laws, enjoying genuine friendships with Joe Sales (Sarah), Jen Collins (Peter), Aileen Burke (Brendan), and Duff DeWitt (Mary).
The family will celebrate Paul’s life at noon on Saint Patrick’s Day at the Fourth Street Theatre in Yakima. Anyone whose life he touched or who was inspired by his kindness should feel welcome to drop by to say hello, and/or, goodbye.
For those feeling charitable, Paul was a big fan of the Toppenish Food Bank and of Casa Hogar. In lieu of flowers, please instead play cards with your family. Go on a long walk with a friend. Share some incredible fruit. Or do something kind, or revolutionary, or both, no matter how small.