In a small community like ours, you know people in many ways. It’s one of the big benefits of living ‘at the end of the world’ as outsiders often refer to our Peninsula. It’s not that we play more roles within the community than folks do in other places – it’s just that the cast of characters is smaller and each of us is more visible.
When I learned yesterday that John Didion had died Tuesday afternoon at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Portland, my first thought was, “But we were right there! We were in Portland right then.” It was a totally nonsensical thought but somehow it prefaced the flood of memories and emotions that were to come next.
John was one of the very first people I met when I arrived on the Peninsula for good. It was the summer or fall of 1978 and the building site for my house was being prepared. I had hired plumber Bill Niemi to put in the septic tank and drain field and I stopped by to see how it was going.
“Sydney, I want you to meet my son-in-law,” Bill said, even though Bill, himself, was the only person in sight. Then, up from the hole where the septic tank would go came John – up and up and up! He seemed to be the tallest man I’d ever seen and if he didn’t have the nicest smile, it was certainly right up there.
I’m sure Bill told me that John had played professional ball and that he had been with the Washington Redskins and the New Orleans Saints and other teams that meant little or nothing to me being the non-sports fan that I am. I only remember feeling assured that my septic system was in capable hands.
Later that same year (I think) Bill sold his business to John’s brother-in-law, Don Anderson. As it turned out, all Don and Sue’s children – Sarah, Michael and Heidi – would become my students at Ocean Park School and, through the years, I would hear stories (as teachers often do) about their favorite Uncle John.
I’m not sure when John went to work for the Sheriff’s Department or when he introduced the D.A.R.E. program to our schools. For several years he came into our Ocean Park classrooms on a regular basis to teach the kids techniques for avoiding drug and alcohol. And much, much more. “Just say no” and “Stranger Danger” became more than idle slogans and Officer Didion became a hero in our classroom. Again, I remember him folding his six-four frame down onto the carpet for a sharing session after each lesson and then standing up, up, up to the kids’ never-ending delight.
The years he was Pacific County Sheriff (1998-2010), he came to Oysterville on both business and otherwise. One year when there were concerns about break-ins in the area, he held a community meeting at our house and shared ideas for a Neighborhood Watch program. Another time, he was a guest in our garden at Sarah and Leonard Taylor’s wedding reception. On that occasion I was impressed at his courtly demeanor when he came over to our table especially to greet my mother, then in her nineties.
In more recent years, we supported him in his bid for a fourth term as Sheriff. During that time, he would stop by occasionally to visit and compare notes on how it was going. It was during that same period that he shared an old Pacific County ‘Jail Book’ with me. He thought I could use it as a basis for an interesting series for the Observer. And I did.
My thoughts about John seem endless and I have no doubt that there are thousands of Pacific County residents who feel the same way. My heart goes out to his family and to all of us. We lost an important part of ourselves on Tuesday.