Let’s celebrate Bob Darrigan’s service | Nandell Palmer

When I first thought about those poignant words, they fit nicely with one individual in our community who exudes service to others without ever thinking twice about his mission.

“While we are living in the present, we must celebrate life every day, knowing that we are becoming history with every work, every action, and every deed.”

These potent words were not said by some renowned guru, but by the precocious Mattie Stepanek, who shared nearly 14 years on Earth with us before his passing in June 2004.

When I first thought about those poignant words, they fit nicely with one individual in our community who exudes service to others without ever thinking twice about his mission.

This person is none other than the venerable Robert (Bob) J. Darrigan.

Recently, I received a telephone call from Coach Bob Roach, wishing to nominate Darrigan for “I Celebrate You 2012.” I told him that there was a tentative hold on the annual event until next year, since I had intended to take “I Celebrate You” on the road. Having turned down so many people’s nominations over the past few months, they were most angry with me for not hosting this year’s celebration.

To create some semblance of fairness, I decided to do at least three informal celebrations at the recipients’ preferred spots. Two were done at private homes around families and dinners, and Darrigan’s was held early morning at the 320th Street Denny’s on Dec. 21 with a host of family, friends and well-wishers. Coach Roach chaired the program, and I presented the “I Celebrate You” certificate and trophy to Darrigan.

Going around the room, people paid heartfelt tributes to Darrigan. Christopher Stone, Roy Andresen and Dick Mayer were some of the people who paused to highlight what Darrigan has done for his community. One moving moment was when a recovering substance addict waxed heartily about the man who elevated her to recovery.

“He has a way of looking you straight in your eyes, and that says a lot to me,” she said. “What that meant is that he saw me as a human being, not as a subhuman. He cares about people a great deal, which sets him apart in my book.”

In his acceptance speech, Darrigan tried to put the spotlight on collective unity instead of himself.

“I have great gifts, but all the gifts are to be given away,” he said. He quoted Abraham Lincoln telling a group of men to “Put your shoulder to the boulder” when that task was impossible for one individual to do by himself.

At the inaugural “I Celebrate You” in 2009, I told my wife that if two people showed up, I would be happy, since my work would have rallied the community to action. She rebuked me for talking like that. “Why should you aim so low when you are doing all this work?” she railed. “Why don’t you wish for a full house?” I was ecstatic when 275 people jammed the Knutzen Family Theatre that evening.

For some strange reason, I feel justified in settling for this season’s mode, albeit a scaled-down version of yesteryear. The message of celebrating others should not always be centered on the fanfares of the well-heeled, but should be fostered by deep appreciation and comity from one individual to the other.

Very involved in various charities throughout our fair city, the seasoned Lions Club member is selfless and has a heart of gold. Whether he’s paying tributes via his poetry to four Lakewood police officers gunned down in December 2009 (“Clothed in Sadness”) or melting our hearts with “Sweet Innocence” – a riveting tribute paying homage to the angelic victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre — you can always count on Darrigan to advocate for the tired, poor, huddled masses, and the victimized.

Two months ago, I wrote about Elizabeth Dillard-Herod, an alumna of “I Celebrate You 2009.” She was the woman who yearned to go back to Angola, Indiana, to pay tribute to the people there for becoming a bulwark for her and her family in September 1948. Regretfully, she passed away peacefully last month. Her son, Calvin Dillard, insisted that plans are still afoot to fulfill his mother’s wish to return and say thank you to that city’s people.

Herod is the third oldest member to die from that list in three years. It is just so wonderful when we can allow people to smell the roses and hear our tributes while they are here with us, instead of our weaving together cant phrases at funeral services that are meaningless when they are lying inside their caskets.

Bob Darrigan, just know that the great work that you are doing in our community has not gone unnoticed. You are indeed writing history in making our world a much better place to live.

And your admirers find it most fitting to say once more: I celebrate you!