Time, as Willie Nelson once sang, takes care of itself, and time also changes your perspective.

Much of today's news -- elections, corporate chicanery, celebrity gossip -- seems just like yesterday's. And since Sept. 11, the tawdry dramas of local politics are a lot less fun to contemplate than they were just a few months ago.

So rather than analyze the latest dreary election (confession: I actually lost my mail-in ballot, and, for the first time in 20 years, failed to vote this year), let's honor a couple of wonderful old guys with close Colorado Springs ties, one recently deceased, and one still with us.

Bill Torok, who passed away at 89 a few weeks ago, was blessed with long life, a daughter who adored him, legions of pals, and an earthy charm that George Burns might have envied.

Bill was a Chicago lawyer whose view of life was joyous, if mildly cynical. Even in his 80s, he was the life of the party -- not because he was rich and respected, but because he was funny, flirtatious, cool and delightful.

A few years ago, I was chatting with Bill about my last, unsuccessful political campaign. When I told him that we had come up 10,000 votes short, he looked at me with amazement. "John, why was that a problem? Don't you have any graveyards in this town? And don't you think those people woulda supported you, if they hadn't died? If this were Chicago, you'd be mayor ..."

I think Bill was serious; anyway, he dropped dead in his own apartment -- no nursing home, no senile dementia -- and left us the richer for having known him. And let's hope that some cunning Chicago alderman has already made sure that Bill will be voting the straight Democratic ticket for decades to come.

And then there's Don Haney -- lifelong resident of Colorado Springs, father of six, distinguished lawyer, devoted husband, and friend to thousands -- who turned 90 the other day. The kids threw a party, and as well they should; in the old-fashioned meaning of the word, Don is a pillar of this community.

I was privileged to grow up across the street from Don, his late wife Gratia Belle, and their ever-expanding family. For a lonely, withdrawn kid, growing up in a big, empty house with aging parents, a visit to the Haneys was a trip to a different world. It was a noisy, affectionate, crowded and happy environment. The kids thrived and so did their friends, drawn to that cheerful chaos.

There was never much money; Don saw the practice of law as a community service, not an avenue to wealth and power. He wasn't interested in pandering to the powerful, or helping clients cut corners. So he never moved to the Broadmoor, or Tucson, or Santa Barbara. He lives today in the same modest house that he and Gratia Belle bought in the 40s, and that's where we gathered for his birthday.

And what a party it was! We should all have such a family -- Suellen, the eldest, still slim and gorgeous at 62 (proving that high-school cheerleaders don't all get fat and live in trailers), my childhood best friend John (lookin' good!), and the little kids (now in their 50s!), Gigi, Peter and Jeff. They're all successful, interesting adults and, more importantly, inherited their father's kind and loving heart. The grandkids were there, a handsome bunch, including John's lissome daughter Laura, a professional dancer.

Don's friends packed the house, and spilled out into the street. It was a time to celebrate not only Don's life, but also the manifold connections of our own lives. Don's grandson, Shugrad, an artist, shot a video for Don to view at his leisure. He asked some of us to tell Don, on camera, what he has meant to us.

The words did not come easily; the tears came instead. At 61, it's a great blessing to sit with a man who has known and loved you for all of your life, celebrated your virtues, forgiven your faults.

What a gift Don's life has been to those of us lucky enough to know him, and how rich he is for the love he has given, and abundantly received on that warm October day.

And how did the party end? With a song and dance routine by the guest of honor, who, after blowing out nine candles on a splendid birthday cake, rose to his feet, and showing where his granddaughter inherited her talent, executed a nimble jig while singing a little ditty from his youth: "Well I'm O.K./ Well I'm all right ..."

And so he was, and so were we all.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com


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