Monday, April 7, 2014

Massey's Eulogy For Max Coll

Max Coll on the Dolores River in Colorado
Photo by Barry Massey

The memorial service for the late former Rep. Max Coll took place in the Rotunda today. My story about that is HERE

Among those speaking at the service was Associated Press reporter Barry Massey, a longtime friend and rafting buddy of Max's. (Barry took the above photo on a rafting trip on the Dolores River a few years ago.)  In my article I quoted from that eulogy, but had to leave out a lot. With his permission, I'm posting the entire eulogy below:

In remembering the life of Max Coll, it’s appropriate we gather here in this rotunda because its walls are travertine marble, and you can find that rock in one of the special river places Max so loved. There are travertine deposits on the south side of the Grand Canyon in Havasu Creek.

And this Rotunda is like a canyon. When this building is filled during legislative sessions, and people are washing through it, the din of their voices is like the ever present roar of a river and the rapids that you hear before you see them.

I am not here to talk about Max Coll, the legislator. Rather I want to talk about Max the whitewater rafter. The Max who regularly escaped this Capitol to the canyons of the West and the rivers that carved those canyons through rock from the basement  of time.

Whitewater rafting defined Max as much as his years in elective office. For Max and those who rafted with him, the river trips offered a source of abiding camaraderie and a way to explore some of nature’s cathedrals.

I want to share some recollections from his rafting friends -- and there are legions of those.  They will tell you that river trips with Max were an adventure of whitewater but also a journey in fellowship.

Max the rafter was the guy in the ever-present rolled up, cut-off blue jean shorts, T-shirt, a broad-rimmed hat, sunglasses and a hi-float life vest with a whistle dangling from it.

Max the rafter, in his early river days, was kiddingly called “Flipper” by some friends because of a series of mishaps on a trip down the Salt River in Arizona.

Max the rafter was the man who kept a large photograph on his office wall in the Capitol that captured him, his son, Tres, and daughter-in-law Liz crashing through the waves one of the big rapids of the Grand Canyon.

One of Max’s dearest friends describes him as the “Pied Piper” of rafting trips. He wrote, “Max loved to read somewhere on the beach and before too long, one by one, like a trail of ants, we would set up our chairs to be near Max because he pulled us in like the earth’s rotation. His gravitas was as powerful as the main current of the river.”

Another rafting friend recalls riding on Max’s boat toward an infamous rapid known as Quartzite Falls, where the water plunges several feet. Max decided the river flow was adequate and to ‘read and run’ the rapid rather than stop to scout it.

The friend, not having done that before on this particularly difficult rapid, asked Max what to do.

“Just scream a lot!” Max replied, laughing all the while as the boat approached the rapid.

“We had a great run,” the friend remembers.

The gentle side of Max always was on display during raft trips. One friend recalls a trip along the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande in the Big Bend country. While scouting a rapid 30 miles from anything, they found a kitten under a bush. Max decided it was better to make it his barn cat hunting mice rather than leave it to be hunted by coyotes. So “Madison,” as he named the cat in memory of the rapid, had a happy life with Max after two exciting days on rafts and a long car trip back to Santa Fe.

If you talked to Max about rivers -- whether it was the nearby Chama or lower San Juan, the Green, the Yampa, the Upper Animas or the Colorado through the Grand Canyon -- his eyes would brighten and he often would recall a rapid that had been well-rowed or one that he had come through upright despite a misjudged line.

I want to tell you about one such rapid known as Snaggletooth -- appropriately named because it contains a large pointy boulder resembling a bicuspid. The current wants to slam you into that rock.

I recall clinging to the front of Max’s cataraft  as we’re going down the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado almost 20 years ago.  His boat is essentially two 18-foot inflatable tubes with a metal frame holding them together.  There’s no floor.  The water rages beneath and all around you.

We’re going through the churning, frothing water of the rapid. And ahead looms the rocks.  We keep getting closer and closer to an ugly jagged thing near Snag Rock,  and I’m thinking … “Max, I really don’t want to swim today.” But then Max makes a couple of strokes and the boat pivots, and we slid right through a gap and beyond the reach of Snaggletooth’s rocks.

Max was a cool customer. Calm under pressure. Strong as an ox on the oars when rowing against the current.

One of Max’s rowing lessons from that trip has stuck with me ever since. In trying to pick a line of travel, he said, look where the current wants to take you and figure out how to make it better.

In all the years and rivers that have followed, that advice has resonated as a way to navigate a river as well as life. That’s one of Max’s great legacies. He made us laugh with his wicked sense of humor. He made us pause and think about the insights he offered into the politics and problems of the world. He shared with us his passion for rivers, canyons and the outdoors -- but especially he shared his passion for life and people.
An old Max Coll campaign button
worn Monday by Sen. Peter Wirth

He lived as he rowed.

He saw where the currents of life and politics wanted to pull and push him, and he figured out a way to make it better. And he made it better for all of us by inviting us along for the ride.

Max the rafter was a great teacher, introducing many to the red rock canyons and rivers he loved to travel.

Max’s daughter-in-law is among those who learned to row a raft from him. Liz recalls, “Perhaps the most essential life skill I learned from rafting is the ability to focus totally in the present moment. In order to survive, or at very least to stay afloat in the raft in whitewater, you HAVE to be present in the moment.”

“Max,” she wrote, “although you may no longer be with us in the present moment, we’ll always remember that big grin you had when your raft was headed into a rapid, or towards a hole.”

“May we all face life’s obstacles with Max’s enthusiasm for a rapid, and get the exhilaration from our lives that he did from river rafting.”