More than a year after its demise, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer lost another reader late last month. He was a good one, and by that I mean he disagreed with much of what he read in the P-I and was faithful in telling me about it.
Dr. P. — he would not want to be identified — died April 20 in University Place after suffering two cerebral hemorrhages. He was 83.
As the P-I's Reader Representative, I initially knew him only as a conservative voice on my phone, calling to pounce on what he saw as evidence of liberal bias in the newspaper's coverage and editorials. He did so with a sly wit that made his criticism entertaining. Not only that, he sometimes was right.
It turned out there was a lot more to the man than his politics. As I learned from his death notice in the Houston Chronicle — Houston being the place he considered home — he had interrupted his college education to serve in the United States Navy during World War II and retired as a Lieutenant Commander. Then he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and education from Brooklyn College, and master's and doctorate degrees in organic and inorganic chemistry and theoretical physics from Purdue University.
He went on to have what could only be described as a distinguished professional career, mostly in the fields of occupational health and environmental sciences. He served on the faculties of Texas A&M and Rice before a 19-year run as a professor and toxicologist at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.
His death notice said he "was a key member of the team assessing health effects from the first six Space Launches from Cape Canaveral. For his service, NASA presented him with the 1982 Achievement Award. He served as a consultant for NASA on toxicological issues of the Space Station 'Freedom' and missions to Mars."
He was widely published in scientific journals. He also served as a consultant to at least four other nations and an advisor to the Pan American World Health Organization and the World Health Organization on health effects of petroleum and petrochemical development.
None of that came up in our frequent phone conversations. Typically, they started like this: "Mr. Drosendahl," he would say in the tone of a professor about to teach a laggardly student a lesson. "Ah, Dr. P.," I would reply, recognizing that voice. "What have we done now?"
We rarely agreed, but we disagreed in an agreeable way. I would listen to his claims and gently challenge an assumption. He would give some small bit of ground — maybe — but then counter my argument in a way that would make me laugh and concede that he might have a point.
As the newspaper was about to close in March 2009 he called to express condolences. And to my surprise, he called me at home a few months later to see how I was doing. I was glad to hear his voice. He called again to check on me just a couple of weeks ago.
Then came a message left from his number, asking me to call. I thought I would find him on the other end of the line. Instead, it was his life partner of 47 years (another surprise) telling me Dr. P. was dead.
The death notice said there will be no funeral because, as he had put it, "The deceased don't care and the living spend too much time, money and emotion on funerals that could be put to better use elsewhere." It said donations in his memory may be sent to Seattle Opera, P.O. Box 9248, Seattle WA 98109; Pacific Northwest Ballet, 301 Mercer Street, Seattle, WA 98109; Friends of the Hylebos ("a group working to preserve and maintain a several-hundred acre natural wetland in Western Washington"), P.O. Box 24971, Federal Way, WA 98093; and Hillsdale College, 33 East College Street, Hillsdale MI 49242 ("a small college that takes no government funding and educates future American leaders in the principles of liberty, free enterprise and limited government").
His partner's voice was uncannily like the one I had come to enjoy and caused me to think back on our good-natured skirmishes. The good professor had taught me a hopeful lesson — that despite what we see and read every day, people with opposing points of view can indeed talk about issues. And learn a thing or two from each other. And have fun doing it.