Commentary by Ron Miller
"I've lost a friend." These are the words that greeted me on Facebook Tuesday morning after a long afternoon and evening at Calvert Memorial Hospital. I knew what my Facebook friend was talking about because he was my friend, too.
This column normally addresses from a conservative perspective the political and social issues that affect southern Maryland. Sometimes, however, life happens and the issues of the day just don't seem to matter that much. That's where I am today because my friend Gary Mullen left us on Monday to be with Jesus. He's all I can think about, so please indulge me as I share with you the life of an extraordinary man. His is a story of rebellion, repentance, redemption and undying love.
Gary is a Maryland native and, like many people now living in Calvert County, he migrated here from Prince George's County. He would be the first to tell you he wasn't a model citizen as a youth. He drank too much, fought too much, drove too fast and otherwise gave the grandparents who raised him fits. He told us a story about how he woke up in jail one day and didn't remember how he got there.
The person I've known since our family arrived here eight years ago, however, was a strong, quiet and humble man who called himself an alcoholic without hesitation or shame but had been clean and sober for years. He had found Christ, accepted His forgiveness and surrendered everything to Him, and when you let Christ fill you completely, there's no room for anything else, including addictions.
He was a devoted husband to his wife, Theresa, with whom he would have celebrated his 18th wedding anniversary on September 28th. Theirs is a classic love story where the knight in shining armor rescues the damsel in distress and claims her as his bride.
Theresa had experienced the worst of marriage; an abusive, addicted husband who eventually became a threat to her and her son and daughter. She left him and endured hunger and homelessness with her children before eventually returning home to her parents.
When she first met Gary, she was dismissive of him; her life experiences to that point had left her deeply distrustful of men. A few years later, she met him again and was more receptive this time. The clincher for her was his insistence that her children be included on their dates. He showed them such love and attention that she knew this was the man God had sent to rescue them.
They married, he adopted her two children and they had a daughter and son together. The first marriage ceremony for which he officiated as a church elder was his oldest daughter's wedding earlier this spring.
Gary was a committed Christ-follower and servant leader at Chesapeake Church, and his talent was most evident in the arts. He was one of the lead actors with The Edge, the church's drama team, even though he had never acted before coming to our church. He quickly became a favorite and, while he could do serious drama quite well, it was his physical comedy and over-the-top characters that made him famous. He also had a beautiful singing voice but could never convince our music pastor to let him sing!
He led the Parable Players, the youth drama team, and was a father figure and teacher to dozens of pre-teens and teenagers who were privileged to have learned and performed under his tutelage.
One of the teenagers he mentored had been caught in a long custody battle between her parents. When her mother and her mother's new husband were finally able to bring her home, Gary welcomed her into the church family, trained her, and showed her the unconditional love of Christ. She became an outstanding actress in her own right and is now in her first year of college on a theatre scholarship.
He was a regular performer at Rainbowland Park, where our ministry for elementary school children took place, and he never missed Rainbowland Week, our "vacation Bible school on steroids." His antics and dancing delighted the children and put us more reserved adults to shame.
He loved to dance and could "bust a move" - he was so much fun to watch. I joked with him that he must have gotten the extra rhythm I was denied!
He was respected for his devotion to Christ and His church, and was chosen by the congregation to become one of our church elders. He and Theresa were the leaders of a church home group comprised of me and my wife and four other couples. Our home group has been together for over four years and we've become a family, with Gary as our spiritual leader.
He was a truck driver by profession for a local waste management company, and he loved to drive. As a result, he was the go-to person to drive the church bus for our teens during field trips or their forays into Washington, DC to help the homeless. That is what he was doing this past Saturday when, after driving the children to and from a whitewater rafting trip, he became seriously ill.
Gary had been battling kidney disease for many years. It rendered him unable to work at times, and he became a candidate for a donor kidney this year because the failure of his own kidneys was a foregone conclusion. His brother offered his kidney but tests done a few weeks ago revealed he only had one kidney and couldn't be a donor. As a result, Gary was still depending on his failing kidneys, prescription drugs and a home dialysis regimen when he was admitted to Calvert Memorial Hospital early Sunday morning and placed in the intensive care unit for emergency dialysis and antibiotics.
When he failed to respond to treatment and took a turn for the worse, a CT scan revealed cancerous tumors and bleeding in his brain. This was a shock; he had never complained about headaches, showed no impairment in cognizance or speech and, although he was often tired and pallid, we attributed it to his kidney disease. Gary became totally non-responsive, lost all brain activity and never regained consciousness. He was put on life support so his family would have time to say goodbye.
Friends, family and church members streamed into the hospital throughout the day on Monday to pay their respects to Gary and the family, a great testimony to the lives he had touched. Once his oldest son arrived from Army basic training, the whole family was with him when they removed him from life support. He passed away peacefully minutes later. Theresa, who lost her father earlier this year, had now lost the other man in her life. I grieve deeply for her.
Gary is my hero. He overcame the demons of his youth to become a faithful husband, caring father, respected member of the community, and a man after God's own heart. There is a huge hole here in southern Maryland that was once filled with his loving presence, but he's now in heaven with his body whole and healthy, leading the angels in the Electric Slide and making Jesus smile with his smooth moves. I will join him someday and maybe then I'll find that rhythm I've been missing all my life, and I can finally keep up with him.
Ron Miller, of Huntingtown, is a conservative blogger and activist, former and future candidate for the Maryland Senate, and communications director for the Calvert County Republican Party. Ron is a regular contributor to
ProLifeUnity.com. You can also follow Ron
on his website TeamRonMiller.com, as
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