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Local pol, friend gone way too soon

  • COLLINS


Friday, October 12, 2018

When my mother died 19 years ago last month, a friend hit me with a dose of reality that, though unpleasant to hear, was and is absolutely true.

“Just remember that the older you get, the more people you are going to lose,” he said. “That’s a part of life, and it’s not something we often think about, but it’s there.”

I’ve tried to remember that in moments of tragedy, but it’s always been cold comfort, especially when the person in question leaves us long before they should.

We lost just such a person this past weekend with the death of former Greenfield Town Councilor Dirk Kummerle, who passed away Sunday at the age of 42.

I remember first learning about Dirk on the pages of this very newspaper. At the time, he was a teenage political wunderkind making noise in Leyden as the youngest person ever to run for Selectboard in that town.

Dirk was something of a double anomaly: a young person trying to crack a town government lineup that was anything but young, and a conservative Republican who would go on to be a devotee of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.

That ideology would eventually take a sharp turn left, but not before his travels brought him to Greenfield, where we struck up a friendship based mostly on common ideology and interests. Dirk loved the media and went on to even host a show or two, both on his own and with his long-time Republican running buddy Kirk Whately.

I would get calls from Dirk all the time, and they always started the same way.

“Hey Chris, it’s Dirk,” he’d say in that accent of his, before exclaiming. “Question!”

It got to be a running joke, to the point where the “question” became more pronounced and comical. He had quite the sense of humor. He also seemed borderline obsessed about hanging together outside the arena, which I wound up resisting, though I now wish I hadn’t.

It wasn’t because I didn’t like the guy. Quite the contrary. But I’ve always made it a point to not get too chummy with the people I cover, because it makes it that much harder to do the job if things break bad. Dirk didn’t let my reticence deter him, and we did end up having a few moments that were interesting to say the least.

One weekend, Dirk decided he wanted to have a card game at his house. I’m not exactly the second coming of Amarillo Slim, but he insisted I come and bring Marty McGuane with me. McGuane at the time was another up and coming local political figure with deep roots in Greenfield. He always was trying to get all three of us together, because he loved the “Big Red Machine,” as he called the red-headed McGuane, as much as I did.

The salient details about that night escape me, for obvious reasons, but I do remember them ending with Marty passed out in a chair, and Dirk and I talking politics and sports well into the night while trying to figure out what we would do if the big man ended up on the floor.

Then there was the time he got me to go whitewater rafting. One great thing about Dirk is that he was always reinventing himself. He clearly was a guy who liked new adventures, and one year, he decided to become a raft guide for Crab Apple Whitewater in Charlemont.

I don’t know why I agreed to it, but nevertheless there I found myself in a raft with Isaac Mass and Joel McFadden, with Dirk at the helm, shooting down Zoar Gap in early April when the river was running the highest. We called our boat “the vast right wing conspiracy,” and I remember being terrified to the point where I almost backed out more than once.

We survived, of course, and I now have in my home office a framed picture of the four of us shooting that gap with Dirk at the helm, looking about as calm as a clam in deep sand.

Dirk’s adventurous spirit eventually took him out of Greenfield to Boston and eventually New York, where things really changed for him on September 11, 2001. He lived not far from Ground Zero, and though we didn’t have a lot of detailed conversations about it, the experience affected him enough that he dedicated his life to the study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the treatment of those who suffer from it, particularly veterans still trying to deal with the after-effects of time spent on the battlefield.

Dirk ended up being of great comfort to me in the year following my 2011 heart surgery, as I tried to come to grips with my own near-death experience. Since news of his passing, social media has been flooded by people with similar stories, a few of whom have credited Dirk with saving their lives.

My last contact with Dirk was through Facebook. He had settled on a farm in Ocala, Florida, and wanted me to come down to visit. I now wish I had. I would have loved to have had the chance to see first-hand the man who had emerged from the politically interested kid I once knew.

I’m sure we’ll see each other again some day, hopefully much later. Until that happens, rest easy my friend, and know that the world is a better place because you were in it.