By Barb Arland-Fye
In a photograph from last year’s Quad-City Times Bix 7, my colleague John Kiley and I are running together at the finish line of the seven-mile race. He looks energetic and determined; I look exhausted and defeated.
What the camera didn’t capture were John’s words of encouragement to me. It had been a tough race and I was feeling dizzy as we approached the finish line. John knew I wanted to finish my 27th Bix, but if the race attendants saw me weaving, they’d pull me off the course and take me to the medical tent. John didn’t leave my side, and once we passed the finish line, he insisted I visit the medical tent, just to be safe. He remained with me to be sure I was OK.
John, the social action director for the Diocese of Davenport, had joked with me about that race ever since. Running with John was a blast — an opportunity to talk shop, get the heart rate up to maximum performance and enjoy the great outdoors. We agreed to run together this week before he was to head to a conference in Washington, D.C.
That run won’t happen. John died of an apparent heart attack early Sunday morning at his home. His death is a huge loss for his wife, Katie, their daughters, Joanne and Julia, son-in-law and two grandchildren, but also for the Diocese of Davenport and his extensive network of friends and colleagues.
John connected with people and maintained those connections. He had a wonderful sense of humor and found an excuse to celebrate just about anything. His sense of compassion seemed limitless, manifested in his commitment to social justice and in his interactions with family, friends, co-workers and strangers. Just last week he was checking into the situation involving the exploitation of 21 men with mental retardation who had been living in unsafe conditions in Atalissa, Iowa.
Last summer, he rallied diocesan support for undocumented immigrants whose lives were disrupted during a massive raid at a kosher meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa.
Through his efforts, the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW) is collaborating with the diocesan Social Action Department to promote economic justice by selling Fair Trade chocolate.
When John Lewis Community Service Inc. in Davenport failed, John mobilized his extensive network of business and social service colleagues to respond. As a result, Café on Vine opened to provide the hungry with meals and Humility of Mary Shelter took over a shelter for the homeless.
Before he began working for the diocese 18 months ago, he led the United Way of the Quad Cities Area. Among the volunteers was my son Colin, who has autism. Later, after Colin lost his paying job, John offered to take him out to lunch and consult with contacts about possible job leads.
John and I got to know each other better when he joined the diocese. During his first month or so on the job, we went for a run and brainstormed a collaborative journalism project between the Social Action Department and The Catholic Messenger.
Another colleague observed that John squeezed every second he could get out of life because he knew that every day was a gift from God.
John competed well; he finished the race and kept the faith.
I imagine him smiling down from heaven, encouraging me and others to continue on.