I don’t know what heaven is like, but I know it has changed recently. John Parr, mentor, colleague and friend, recently entered; much too early as they say. Remembrances of John as well as of Sandy, his wife, and Chase, his daughter have been circulating on the internet, our town square for dispersed communities. John, one of my colleagues said, was one of the nicest persons he ever knew. That refrain has been common. So too was the observation that Denver and Colorado are better places because of John’s leadership and passion; because of his sense of how to bring people together -- powerful people and ordinary citizens – to find the common good.
Whether it was electing a mayor, raising $10 billion for a new transit system, or guiding a consensus building process on topics from wellness to climate change, John was bringing people together in spaces – where they often found their best selves – and together were able to forge a new path. When all too many of his consensus building colleagues were focused on agreements and plans, John focused on results; Civic Results was the name of his firm.
It helped that John was an incurable insomniac. When I stayed at his cabin, the former saloon of Baltimore, Colorado, I found that no matter how early I awoke, John had been up for hours, having added numerous items to his massive to-do lists, as he kept track of dozens of projects.
Every project was important. Many colleagues reported that their last conversation with John was about gathering information on colleges to ensure that Katie, his youngest daughter, found just the right place. His mentees at Eastside High School were also important projects. He tells the story of the first student he mentored, who, when he first met John, wondered whether this bearded, somewhat professorial white guy had any street cred. John learned that his new mentee often did not make it to school on time and promised to pick him up and drive him to school. Instead of taking the family Subaru, John fired up the old Porsche that Sandy bought him for his 50th and picked up his new mentee, instant cred. That tireless creative spirit drove countless other projects – all equally important – whether it was helping the new governor or the new mentee.
So imagine, a new, insomniac angel entering heaven, one who’s used to democratizing the process everywhere he goes, a person who is used to making change happen – good change – wherever he goes. Imagine heaven, a place where gentle, all-knowing, autocratic leadership has dominated since the beginning of time. We have an indomitable force meeting an immovable power structure. My bet is that St. Peter has a new counselor, and a new, more inclusive, more democratic heaven is in the works. Who says nice guys finish last?