Durham always knew jokes and laughs were meant to be shared
PAUL Durham was my friend. I know this because just about every time I saw him, he told me so.
Paul Durham was the kind of man who, in this age of e-mail, would sit down and write you a hand-written letter for no reason. I would get them all the time. He sent Christmas cards to sportswriters, that's how big his heart was.
Today, we rightly remember Durham as the athletic director who first helped steer Hawaii on the path toward the big time, during his tenure at UH, from 1968 to 1975. And, at Linfield, as a hall-of-fame football coach.
But I remember Mr. Durham as a man who would tell you that you were his friend, who would shake your hand and pull you close. As a man who loved to make others laugh, who could make a whole room collapse, everyone in it shaking with cackles at his jokes. He made people around him feel happy and warm.
His jokes. He would open each Honolulu Quarterback Club meeting with them -- it was a tradition. Nothing else could happen until Coach Durham had broken the ice.
It was old-fashioned, corny, silly, vaudeville, straight-out-of-a-joke-book stuff. But he worked it ingeniously, did it perfectly. He was brilliant at it. He turned corn syrup into gold with his delivery and timing and cadence and tone of voice.
Did you hear the one about the man with one eye?
"He had '20' vision," Durham would say. That kind of stuff.
It was an acquired taste. You could see high school kids looking at each other, bewildered. What?
But anyone who was familiar with Durham's rhythm was holding his or her sides.
I never knew the athletic director who managed budgets, made schedules, found himself in the middle of a scandal; who helped give us Les Murakami and the Fabulous Five.
I knew the grand old man who held court at the Quarterback Club, the one with the gift of laughter and the tender heart.
He was like a kid, in that he could deliver a line that sounded like it came straight out of a joke book, but you'd always laugh along with him, you couldn't help it, he had you; he was so full of life.
I spent the early afternoon yesterday at Central Oahu Regional Park; I had planned to work on a column about kids, and baseball, and being young, and summertime, and the joy of that part of your life. And then I got home, and this call came. Sad, but not a surprise. Paul Durham was just at the other part of his life, the end of it. His body had been betraying him the last couple of years. This was it.
And that reminds me of another of his jokes, this one a list of lines to show how good a guy UH booster Don Murphy was: "If he ran for office," Durham said, "his opponent would concede!"
And on and on, more lines like that, building, until he closed with: "If he were old and beat up," Durham said, "his friends would meet him on the street and say, 'My God, you're looking good!' "
And it was true, it turns out. They did. When Durham was old and beat up, in the end, when he could hardly walk, people said the same thing whenever they saw him. Because he was as good of a person who had as good friends as he was talking about, in that joke. Because he was a man who you just liked being around so much that it was always true.