Right after we moved to DC, sprite and I became involved with DC for Dean – the local, grassroots supporters of then-candidate Howard Dean. When we started, the group was still in its infancy, with just a handful of members.
And one of the most energized of those members was Paul McKenzie.
Paul was almost always positive about his causes, and he believed that any person could achieve great things. And while he loved politics, he loved people and loved the District of Columbia. His eyes would have a certain twinkle, his smile had an electric glow whenever somebody rose to the occasion. He was always be there to pick you up when the cards were stacked against a cause, a civic effort, the quest for DC voting rights, or even a flubbed order at the bar.
Paul was always one of my biggest supporters when I decided to enter DC politics. And when we both won our seats on the DC Democratic State Committee, he was the first one to call and congratulate me – and the first on our slate of candidates to give me a big bear hug a few days later. He always valued my opinion, even when it was different from his own, and he always encouraged everybody he knew to follow their passion. After all, in his life he did just that.
In the Peace Corps, Paul helped local villagers in Togo to reclaim their disappearing forests by planting trees. Shepherd Park, his neighborhood in DC, benefited from Paul’s energetic support of their libraries and neighborhood associations. It was Paul who pressured the DC City Council to nurture young trees along North Capitol street – such was the pride that he felt for the city he called home for 27 years.
And Paul loved hockey – I think it was his Canadian heritage that made him genetically predisposed to not only love the game as a fan, but as a player and a coach. I once attended a Washington Capitals game with Paul, and he was one of the most vocal fans in the arena. And from what I heard, he was also a great motivator, mentor and coach to the Montgomery County youth hockey teams he supported for many years.
When last I saw Paul, back on February 7, he was working hard to start a campaign for DC school board. His enthusiasm for the position – and the inherent race to win the seat – was palpable, and he simply relished the chance to give back to the city one more time.
While I was in Germany last week, sprite called me to let me know that Paul McKenzie had died. He had given up his canididacy only two days earlier, believing he couldn’t win. And then I found out that he died from complications from a particularly virulent form of pneumonia. That such a disease can down a man who was so full of life and energy is chilling, and it’s a terrible loss for his family, friends, hometown and country.
I can’t begin to fathom the loss that his wife, Trish, or his kids, Maggie and Alex, must feel. But I hope that they carry on his causes in whatever way they feel is appropriate. Paul would’ve liked it that way.
“Paul McKenzie; D.C. Political Activist Was a Champion of Shepherd Park” (Washington Post)