Saturday, January 16, 2010

Joe Paxson

This afternoon we went to a memorial service for a friend. Now, don't think I'm all sad; it's a mixed feeling. I'm sad for his family that he is no longer here with them. All of his friends are sad that we won't see him here anymore. But, we are joyfully confident that he is set free from his health problems and with the Lord he has loved for so long.
His daughter gave me permission to put this piece on the blog. I hope you'll enjoy this recollection of Joe, who spent so many years making adaptive equipment for kids:

When Joe retired from his steel manufacturing company I figured he would spend more time on his hobbies, like making stained glass windows and learning more about his computer. He discovered that the Richmond Cerebral Palsy Center was on the lookout for a unique type of volunteer and this began Joe's twenty years of skilled service to kids in our area who needed customized, adaptive equipment.As an experienced structural engineer, Joe knew how to build adaptive equipment for children; equipment that was sturdy and versatile, but also lightweight and easy to transport. His hands were gnarled from the injuries he received during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, so he understood that equipment which was easy to adjust and lift had a greater chance of really being utilized in a busy classroom or home. When Lois (his wife) was still tole painting, she often added small designs to the finished chairs or seat inserts, a signal to the children and their families that this was no ordinary, commercial piece of equipment but one which had been created with care by a master craftsman.

Joe enjoyed working with all the OTs, PTs, Speech-Language Pathologists, teachers, parents and--most of all--children who were involved in his creations. When the Richmond Cerebral Palsy Center closed, he just walked across the parking lot to Children's Hospital and continued his volunteering there. As his friend, I laughed at the stories of the successes and disasters he encountered in coordinating his efforts with many, many different kinds of people. He matched wits with the medical personnel who challenged him with devising novel concepts for new designs. Joe respected any person who clearly communicated what they wanted the item to do for the child and how the child would, hopefully, become more independent by using the customized equipment.

Joe not only shaped wood, heavy plastics and metal--he shaped the lives of his friends as well. I recall one Sunday brunch when I was scurrying around the kitchen and trying to get everything heated and placed on the buffet table at the same time. Joe walked over to me at the stove and quietly said, "Remember to smile." One time I delivered my 11 year old son to a home nearby the Paxson's in order for him to make some money doing yard work. Neal called me a little later to tell me that I had taken him to the wrong house and could I come get him. The second I hung up with Neal I called Joe, gave him the address, and asked him to wait with Neal until I could get there. A few weeks later Joe gently told me that I was being a little too protective and Neal would have been just fine waiting for me by himself. I understood that Joe didn't mind being called or hanging out with my son; he just wanted me to know that my little boy wasn't so little, and especially not so needy, anymore.

In the years when Kathryn and Lauren were little and sometimes had to stay home sick, Joe and Lois often went over at Becky's house all day so Becky could go to work. Joe and Lois put Becky and the girls first and were involved in their lives. They modeled for me how I want to be if I'm ever a grandmother. They had so much fun being grandparents. I got a glimpse of this when they would bring gifts to my kids for birthdays. I remember watching Joe almost fall over laughing when my son opened one present from them--a fireman's hat with the loudest alarm you ever heard. One year they gave my daughter a shrill xylophone which made us all startle each time she played it.

I don't think Joe is making any adaptive equipment now because I don't think there's any demand for it in heaven. Some of those children he helped over the years left this world before him; maybe they were on hand last Sunday night to greet him. I imagine that now Joe and those kids are taking nice, long walks together, amazed at the wonder they could never see before. If we could hear Joe talking to us, I bet we would hear him say, "Come join me."

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