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    As John Denver once sang, “I had an uncle, name of Matthew, was his father’s only boy.

    Born just south of Colby, Kansas, he was his mother’s pride and joy.”


    Journalists sometimes ask the question “Is it true?” Then answer, “No, but it’s accurate.” That is the case here.

    My brother-in-law Paul Hahn was an uncle to my children. He was his father’s only boy, he was born in Ogden, Utah, not Colby, Kansas, but he was his mother’s pride and joy.

    Paul, or rather “Bud” as everyone in the family called him aside from his wife Mary and his three children James, Robert, and Grethe, had a horrible accident last May, falling backward down a flight of stairs and suffering a traumatic brain injury.

    After a long nine-month struggle, Bud passed away late last week.


    Paul was the second of five children born to Sigmund Gustaf Theodore and Ruth Hahn, as you might imagine with a name that impressive, my late father-in-law preferred to be called by his nickname “Pete.”

    Perhaps that’s why his sisters always called him Bud.

    Paul was a brilliant, quiet, unassuming man, a chemical engineer his entire career for Conoco Phillips.


    His sisters often teased him that his wife Mary was the only girl he ever dated, and Mary initiated the relationship. Another accurate statement.

    There was no doubt in the Hahn family that their son Paul held a special place for Pete and Ruth, a place none of the sisters could hope to attain.

    It was a quip I often said to my wife when I asked her if she watched an old TV show or a 70s-era movie as a kid. Before she could answer, I would say, “Not, but Bud did.” It was a standard response.


    As kids, his two youngest sisters reveled in how much he could eat. His assembly method of devouring an entire loaf of bread as he toasted, buttered and ate two pieces at a time until the loaf disappeared often brought a laugh, and something like, “What can I say, I appreciate efficiency,” from Paul.

    The other often shared memory is when he bought his first car and had rules for his sisters Sue and Barb when they rode with him. The first rule was “Obey all rules,” followed by, “Hide if you see some of my friends.”

    They evidently complied, just to get a ride around the massive metropolis of Lusk, Wyoming that they grew up in.

    Paul may have started in Lusk, but his career as a chemical engineer took Mary and the kids to Stavanger, Norway, Greece, and a stint with Mary near Darwin, Australia. They also lived in more exotic locales like Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Midland, Texas and finally Houston.

    His niece and nephew, Staci and Brian, (our kids) remember Bud’s hiccupping laugh, the swimming pool in the back of their house in Midland, and cracking pecans on the patio. They were surrounded by stately pecan trees in their West Texas neighborhood.

    He and Mary made the trek to Riverton for Staci and Adam’s wedding and later to Lander for Brian and Katelin’s wedding reception. It’s what families do, and Bud was all about family.

    Sue and I had one of our best mini-vacations when James and Melissa were married outside Austin, Texas one hot November, and Bud was there at the reception, joining a Conga line in his specialty, “The chicken dance.” Imagine a quiet, reserved, studious engineer flapping his wings like a chicken in a room full of strangers and you get a glimpse of his sense of humor.

    When I first met Bud, we had conversations about electronics, mechanics, chemistry, and other scientific subjects.

    He was raised in a home that had possibly the least interest in athletics possible, but Bud often asked me about my teams and had occasional questions about techniques in track and field.

    Little did he know when his children were small that he would eventually become a much bigger sports fan.

    The kids all swam for Midland High School, and later Robert began running marathons. It caught on with Paul as well, and he completed 10K races later in life. Not a lot of athletes wait until their 50s to compete, but Bud did.

    His son James married Melissa and Bud became a baseball fan. She works in the front office of the Houston, Astros and suddenly the Hahn house became a bastion of Major League Baseball.

    Bud adapted as he aged, and finally had enough of the world inside big oil, choosing to retire in Houston where James is an IT manager for the Chronicle, and Robert and his wife Christine have followed his footsteps as engineers.

    Grethe the most adventurous of Paul’s family, joined the US Air Force after graduating from law school and passing the Texas Bar. She is now a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve serving in the Judge Advocate Generals office.

    Bud and Mary intended to live in Houston forever, because of the proximity to the kids, and their three grandchildren who Bud adored.

    Life doesn’t always work out that way, and anyone who thinks that life is fair, can keep on dreaming.

    Bud’s accident was tragic, but initially, with the wonders of big city medicine, his prognosis was good. He made progress as he recovered from his first surgeries, but another fall, one that broke his hip was too much.

    Sue and I flew down to Houston at the end of last month to visit him. Cognition with TBI survivors is difficult to judge, but it seemed that Paul recognized Sue. We visited him at a facility a couple of times, and he had good conversations with her, but at the same time, it seemed he was doing what their mom had done during her later stages of Alzheimer’s and was just good at “faking it.”

    I guess we’ll never know. But I do know I’m thankful Sue was able to speak with her older brother one last time.

    There is a special relationship between an older brother and a younger sister. Though they’ll never admit it when they’re young, that older big brother is a hero to them deep inside.

    Bud was that to Sue and Barb.

    Barb passed away 21 years ago from cancer when she was 39, and both Pete and Ruth are now long departed, their son and brother is now reunited with them.

    The loss of a man so young, and yes, 69 is young these days, is devastating to his family, whether they be children, grandchildren, and wife or siblings. It leaves a hole in your existence that can never be made whole again.

    The funeral is in Houston, but the internment is back home in the Lusk Municipal Cemetery.

    I used to run by the gate to the cemetery with my Tiger track teams just yesterday it seems, it’s far too soon for a brother-in-law of nearly my vintage to take his final rest there.

    He lived life well, and though his youngest grandchild Zerah will never know him aside from photos and videos, his other two, Lizzie and Noah knew and loved their grandpa.

    Passages… We can’t stop time, and we can’t change fate, but we can enjoy family while we’re here on this mortal plane and cherish the memories when they’ve passed.


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