Never Too Late To Say Thanks

You never know.

Small gestures of the past may resurface one day and bring gratitude when you least expect it.

Library booktalks have brought me through five states, from Knoxville, Tennessee to Key West, Florida, and hundreds of meeting rooms and auditoriums. As they say in show biz — it’s my schtick, a fun gig that has paid off in more ways than one.

On occasion, I will spot a face in the audience from an early era of my life, an old police crony, a high school chum, an old girl friend, a former adversary, or some obscure soul upon whom I made a mark and never knew it. Last year, a long lost relative showed up at an Asheville library, one who I had never met.

Clearwater, Florida. 2004. The crowd was disappointingly small. As folks ambled in, they were surprised to see an older curly-haired fellow playing gypsy songs on a violin as he wandered around the room. “Are we in the wrong place?” a woman asked of the host.

“Oh, no. That’s the author. Have a seat,” replied the librarian.

The audience was attentive and lively as I embarked on my dissertation. One fellow sitting in the front row seemed intense, taciturn. He never took his eyes off me. In his forties, he reminded me of movie actor, John Malkovich, balding, eyebrows arched, lips pursed.

After more than an hour, the man raised his hand. “Mr. Frank. My father was Lee Paris. Do you remember him?” Oh oh. Thoughts scrambled into high gear. Who is this guy? Did I arrest his father? Was this a set-up, or some angry adversary here to exact revenge or humiliation? Lee Paris? The name was familiar, but I couldn’t place the face. So, I lied, “Yeah. Sure.”

“Can I speak with you after the talk?” he asked.

“Yes.” What does this guy want?

The man waited patiently as I signed books at the table. Then he approached with an extended hand. That was a relief. “You changed my life,” he said.

“I did?”

“Don’t you remember? My father owned a bar on Collins Avenue, some 30 or 40 years ago.”

Then it struck me. Of course, Lee Paris, a small, stocky, gentle man who shot a wicked game of billiards. Always complaining about bad business, wishing for legalized gambling in the state which would never come. A good man.

The fellow could see the confusion in my eyes.

“Excuse me?” Then I asked, “You say I changed your life? How?”

His eyes were deep and sincere. “When I was seventeen, I was going nowhere. My life was drugs, getting into trouble, no direction. My dad called you and asked if you would come and talk to me.”

“I don’t remember that,” I replied.

“You came. I’ll never forget it. You scared the heck out of me and left an impression I’ll never forget. You let me know where I was heading unless I changed my ways, and that I better do something, even if it meant joining the service. Being a cop and all, you knew what you were talking about. So I joined the navy, and it straightened my life from certain disaster.”

I was stunned. “I remember your mom and dad, but I don’t remember that.”

“Doesn’t matter, ” he said, eyes welling. “Your appearance here was advertised and I just wanted to come and thank you.” With that, came a gentle bear hug transferring the warmth of his feelings to me. I turned my head as tears started to flow from my own eyes.

“Thank you,” I said. ” I wish I could remember.”
 

Wow.

Off duty or on, police officers are often called upon in the troubled lives of friends, neighbors and acquaintances, to intervene, or offer advice, consolation, or counsel a troubled kid. It is the unofficial part of the job. Most cops don’t give it a second thought.

As I drove across Interstate 4 that afternoon, my mind swarmed, wondering about those had made a difference in my life, yet I never took the time to say thanks.

Sergeant Paul Rosenthal came to mind first. A tall, bulky man, shot multiple times in World War II, he had become a career cop running the extraditions desk in Warrants Bureau. He not only showed me the ropes, he had been there for me when I was shot, and again when I suffered the loss of my mother, both times above and beyond the call of duty.

So I made a special journey to Miami to have lunch with the crusty old retiree. It had been more than 40 years. Walking laboriously with a cane, he asked why I arranged this rendezvous, out of the blue. I told him about my encounter with Lee Paris’ son. It had taught me an important lesson. “I learned that there are some people in this world I still owe a debt of gratitude, and never said thanks. And you’re one of them.” The old sarge welled up with tears, and I felt good. He felt good. We hugged. We smiled.

Good deeds, however small, will come back around when they are least expected. But it’s also a reminder that time runs short, and we need to thank all those who have cared, loved, sacrificed and stood up for us when we needed them the most… while we still can.

You just never know.

30 Responses to Never Too Late To Say Thanks

  1. Ed Hensley April 4, 2008 at 4:25 pm #

    Thanks MF, – You remind me to try another
    online search, for some to whom I owe thanks, for good deeds, large and small, long past. More importantly, you remind me
    to take time now, to thank those whom I do
    have contact information on. I’ll do that!

  2. Art Horn April 4, 2008 at 7:58 pm #

    Good one MF, although you and I agree on very little we need more police like you. All we hear is stories about bad cops and not enough about those who have made a difference with kids who may go either way.

  3. Bill Bell April 4, 2008 at 8:35 pm #

    Thank you, Marshall, for this deep and thoughtful story so well told. I’m glad you had a chance to thank your old mentor from the Warrants desk. The man who reminded you of how you helped change his life when he was a kid deserves our admiration. I surely agree that it’s never too late to say thanks. Regards, Bill

  4. Jack Milavic April 4, 2008 at 9:05 pm #

    MF,

    I remember Paul. I spent three months in warrants before I went to District one.

    Jack M.

  5. Gene Gracey April 4, 2008 at 9:05 pm #

    Marshall
    I always enjoy your perspective on things. I agree with you that it’s never too late and the effort should be there. Those that have made an positive impact, large or small, deserve to know it. And although I’ve only done it face-to-face a few times, I’ve often said a prayer of thanks to those who’ve taught me lessons through negative actions -the bad cops, the bad judges, the inconsiderate and criminals who showed me that protecting the vulnerable is the highest calling.

  6. Frank Piloto, Ret.MDPD April 4, 2008 at 9:24 pm #

    Moving, and very true! One never knows who is who, who is what, and who will someday be who and what! Sometimes these lessons come late in life when one realizes that, much better could have been done but wasn’t.

    It is always a pleasure to read your emails and writings.
    Frank

  7. Jeanne Volk April 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm #

    Thanks, Marshall – I was privileged to be at lunch with you and Paul that day and will always remember how much Paul appreciated the words of thanks. I still see Paul at least three times a week and I’m sure he’ll appreciate reading this when I take it to him. Great article, and good reminder. Sometimes it’s the smallest gesture of kindness or words of encouragement that can change people’s lives.

  8. Renay April 4, 2008 at 11:49 pm #

    Ah Marshall, That was beautiful!

  9. Jack & Helene Stevens April 5, 2008 at 4:20 am #

    A beautiful reflection Marshall.
    Thank you Lord for the opportunity to love and be loved each day. Amen.

  10. Terry April 5, 2008 at 6:37 am #

    Thanks MF for reminding me about all the good people in this life. Sometimes you get so caught up dealing with the problem people you forget the ones who stand by you and help you. Nice story.

  11. Shiley Works April 5, 2008 at 6:56 am #

    Thanks, Marshall. I still have tears in my eyes as i write.

    Also, I want to thank you for the article on militant Muslims. We have to be informed in order to find a solution, if one can be found.

  12. Bill Miller April 5, 2008 at 7:27 am #

    I enjoy all your messages as they are very enlightening. You are indeed a good man and indeed a friend to all who know you.
    L hope to be in Melborne sometime in the future. I will contact you and hopefully we can have lunch or dinner.
    Best Always, Bill Miller

  13. Steve Gure April 5, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    Dear Marshall,
    Excellent, true and very moving. I owe so much to so many people and I always tried not to let too many people down. This is my way of saying thank you. Now that I am old, I believe that it made me a better person and I do believe that we travel in the same direction.

    Best regards, Steve

  14. Bob Swan April 5, 2008 at 12:06 pm #

    MLF
    Great story and so very true. Brought tears to my eyes as I was reading it. Seems like since I retired (about 15 months ago), I’ve been telling a lot of friends how much they’ve meant to me over the years. Don’t know why I waited so long, but it sure is good for the soul.
    Bob

  15. Larry your old vagabond April 5, 2008 at 2:19 pm #

    Oh, Marshall. You made me cry. It’s so easy. The time goes by. We forget to thank those of long ago and you reminded me. So, thank you, my oldest friend, for the joy and wisdom I have received from you since you “found” me ten years ago.

  16. Lesley April 5, 2008 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks, Marshall, for reminding me how much I owe you for the help you’ve already given me. Being a new author isn’t easy, and having an experienced friend pave the way has been worth more than I can tell you. You are a treasure, as always. Les

  17. Grace Urrows April 5, 2008 at 5:07 pm #

    If it weren’t for mentors where would we be?
    Your story is basic not only because it reminds us to say, thank you, but also because it illustrates that we really don’t make it on our own. We are part of the web of humanity as our UU principle tells us.. Reach out to help
    AND say thanks to those who give YOU a hand is the lesson you offered, I think.

  18. Lou Diecidue April 5, 2008 at 8:45 pm #

    marshall,
    Before I ever met you I knew your stepfather. He said to me me I don’t know what to do my stepson wants to be a cop & I said if thats what’s he wants to do don’t stand in his way.
    Little did I know that kid would one day be my boss. Capt Frank you were a good cop, sometimes I thought you were a pain in the ass.But you know the old saying [ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks ] not true .You proved that to be wrong. I learned a lot from watching and listening to you. We may not have agreed on every thing but we got the job done. I don’t know what we would have done with out people like Jeanne Volk one of the best steno’s the dept ever had and of course Paul Rosenthal a true policeman’s friend and mentor.
    Lou Diecidue

  19. Nick Sorak April 6, 2008 at 8:49 am #

    “Do good, and never have regrets about it” says the old Serbian saw.
    You and the sarge did a good deed. That’s why you are remembered.

  20. Bob McGavock April 6, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Good reading, Marshall and good message. For about a year now I have been contacting old acquaintances once a month. One such person was my boot camp company commander (Mr. Richard Kilroy). Now in his eighties and going strong, he told me that my contacting him after all those years was like “getting a jolt of energy”.

    I haven’t yet been disappointed by remembering an old friend.

    Keep up the good work, Marshall and I hope you and Suzanne are well.

  21. Sondra London April 6, 2008 at 5:06 pm #

    StoryCorps: Recording America
    A Victim Treats His Mugger Right

    Julio Diaz recorded his story in New York City just days after he was mugged in the subway. StoryCorps

    Morning Edition, March 28, 2008 · Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.
    But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.
    He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.
    “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.
    As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
    The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
    Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.
    “You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.
    Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.
    “The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”
    “No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”
    Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”
    “Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.
    Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.
    The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.
    When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
    The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”
    Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”
    Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”
    “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
    Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

  22. Q April 6, 2008 at 5:33 pm #

    Nice touch, Marshall. That’s why I’ve remained a teacher all these years. You give and give ’til you’re drained emotionally and then the phone rings and a young man with a familiar voice is calling from Venezuela. He says, “Remember me? It’s Jesus. I got deported from juvie in Miami. You gave me all those philosophy books to read. I just wanted you to know that I found you on the internet and I’m still thinking about you ten years later and all the talks we had. I’m going to be a dad soon and I just wanted you to know that I’ll be a good one.” We’re all blessed to have these moments. So keep on writing and giving and impacting and playing your violin. The strings echo and tug long and far.

  23. Jerry Reichardt April 6, 2008 at 6:01 pm #

    I like the story Marshall. I bet we can all think of good things that happened during our lives with M-DPD. I know I can think of several. I remember making some good O/T the day you got shot. Glad to see that Bobby Swan & Lou Diecidue are still able to read & write.

  24. Phil Lindsley April 6, 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    Well, I’m not surprised, Marshall. That’s a wonderful human story. During our occasional meetings over the last few years, you reminded me that as your sergeant/supervisor during 1963/1965, I gave you a very favorable evaluation. You deserved it. You were the most productive detective in the office and you certainly gave me a respite from my administrative duties on occasion when we went out and “bagged” a few. It was great fun working in the field with you and it certainly helped me in many respects. I was very pleased at my 75th birthday party to listen to you recount the story of our arrest of the armed GA fugitive “Eyes” on NW 2 Ave. in Miami working from just a photo. That was indeed a fun job.
    As you may recall, I left Dade County PSD in August of 1965 to enter government service, approximately four months before you were shot in the leg while executing a warrant. That was indeed distressing: a violin player who almost became a soprano. Well, thanks for the memories.

  25. Pat Wilson April 6, 2008 at 10:01 pm #

    Some people we take for granted because we are young and immature when we are growing up are our parents and some specially remembered school teachers, who, with a combination of discipline and encouragement helped us to stay on the right track and work hard to make something of our lives. We certainly owe them thanks.

    In my adult life I attempt to show individuals my appreciation for their friendship or favors they have done by being there for anything I can do in return.

    As a schoolteacher I was always thrilled when one one of my former students came back to see me and tell me what he was doing with his life. Whether in college or in service, they didn’t have to say “thank you” specifically. Their taking the time to come back let me know they felt that I had been a positive influence in their lives, and I was glad I had been there.

  26. joanne townsend April 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm #

    I’m a poet and when I lived in Alaska, I started a writing group at a senior center. Some of those writers tried hard but had been away from words a long time. Everyone tried; they had so many stories to tell over the nine years I worked with them. One, who was an artist and also had owned a radio station in pioneer days, was forced by her children to move away. They did not want to have to come to Alaska, should something happen to her or her husband. She failed quickly in Colrado Springs and after she passed away, her husband sent me a beautiful photo of her and wrote on the back that for those last years when she wrote her poems and memories, I had been the most important person in her life. Your story shows how connections that we make sometimes are more crucial than we realize at the time.

  27. Sara Claytor April 7, 2008 at 3:42 pm #

    Oh, Marshall!!! Here I go crying again reading your writings! Remember the poem in my book you said was your favorite because it was “real”? About the little girl on the street? That was a real former student so I relate greatly to teacher Pat Wilson’s comments. Several years ago I started writing letters to my long-time girlfriends, thanking them for the joy and support they have given me in my life. I’m not finished. Thank you always, Marshall, for your sagacity.

  28. Rich Moore April 8, 2008 at 8:20 am #

    Great story Marshall!! My Dad was one of those old Metro’s who knew the Purple gang and when to leave them alone, and knew also that the County ( Dade ) was crooked as a dog’s leg while honest cop’s were trying to hold the line. The Sheriff Dad first had was Jimmy Sullivan, who walked a beat in downtown Miami before making Sheriff. My Dad was known as ‘ Honest John ‘ because he would never take the graft money…always turned his envelope over to his Sgt. and kept his mouth shut about all other cop’s.

    When the Miami Herald would run articles about the corruption, a fat envelope of cash wouild be sent to the Editor and the press would stop poking around for a while.

    Marshall was one of the good guys who played by the rules and who knew the careful balance between walking the line and getting the job done. When I was 16 years old and having some issues myself, my Dad called our cousin, a former motorcycle cop foir the City of Miami who was now an FBI agent to talk to me, much like the guy who Marshall visited.

    I wish I could say that the meeting changed my life; it didn’t to the degree Dad wanted, but I will never forget the event.Sometimes a kid will listen to anyone BUT his family, and thank God that Marshall was there for someone else. I respect Marshall and wish all cop’s would be able to retire with his reputation and abilities…great job as always Marshall. By the way, the word should be ‘ shuddered ‘ and not ‘ shuttered ‘ !!

  29. Jay Huff April 9, 2008 at 8:17 pm #

    Marsh,

    Carmen and I speak about you and Suszane frequently,remembering the night that the 2 of you stayed with us, and how cold it was.You got your violin from your car to keep thwe cold from damaging it. Then you played several selections on, for us, and how much we enjoyed them

    Other than that incident, you and I go back a LONG way, and have been good friends.

    I always considered you one of the good guys no matter what was being said or done about us or MDPD.

    I’ll always have an open door for you any time you are in the vicinity.

    Much love to you and Suszann

    Jay

  30. KAY Williamson April 10, 2008 at 7:52 am #

    That was beautiful and touching, Marshall. I can only hope my 25 years in the classroom helped someone in a positive way. So many of my students came from sad backgrounds and I’ve often wondered what might have happened to them. Sounds like you’ve been a good mentor to many!