OPINION: A tribute to a neighbor I never knew

Local columnist reflects on recent news of Paul Allen’s death

By the Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos

Today our community is mourning its most well-known resident. When my wife and I moved to Mercer Island 13 years ago, Paul Allen’s sprawling compound was pointed out to us. The home we ended up purchasing was less than a mile away as the crow flies. Although I never had the chance to meet Mr. Allen, I am the beneficiary of much that in which he invested his life. I’m guessing you are as well.

This man who lived on our foot-shaped island in a gated residence died too young. But not before his beloved Seahawks routed Oakland’s Raiders in London’s Wembley Stadium. It was his team’s final salute of gratitude to a man who did so much to create the Nation of Twelves.

Bill Gates’ childhood friend and business partner helped give us windows to our world. Literally. Virtually. He was a trailblazer of innovation. He vulcanized our region with his tireless vision to redevelop a district of Seattle that had been undervalued and overlooked far too long.

As I drove by the entrance to Mr. Allen’s home on my way to work this morning, I noticed a miniature red light to the side of the iron gates that guarded the entrance to his lakeside compound. It reminded me of the only time I ever saw this neighbor I never knew up close and personally.

A few years ago I was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Island Crest Way and Southeast 40th Street. As I looked to my left at the vehicle beside mine, I recognized the person in the driver’s seat. It was the owner of the Seahawks. While waiting for the light to turn green, I had a flash of insight. I actually shared something in common with one of the world’s wealthiest individuals.

This man who was my age was worth billions and had impacted our world in dramatic ways. And yet we had both encountered the great equalizer. He and I were both stopped in our tracks by a red light. For 90 seconds we were on common ground. Bank accounts aside, we were temporary equals.

In the years that have passed since that chance “encounter,” I have followed Paul Allen’s career with much interest and appreciation. I have met people with whom he went to college and others who have worked for him. I have taken pride in the fact that this quiet man with a big heart was a neighbor.

Paul Allen’s untimely passing reminds me of another “red light” that stops us in our tracks. Death is no respecter of persons. It aims its beam at the wealthy and the homeless. It halts the forward progress of the famous and the commoner, the educated and the dropout, the religious and the atheist.

On the road of life, death is a signal we cannot avoid. We will all face death. But unlike the signal at Island Crest and Southeast 40th Street, there isn’t always an amber light to indicate we are getting close. On this day as I find myself thinking about the legacy of Paul Allen and his many contributions to our city, I am also contemplating the importance of making the most of my life while I have a green light. I hope you are, too.

The Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter and contributes original poetry each Blue Friday to KOMO news radio.

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