Posted by: susanideus | August 7, 2009

A Friend has Gone Home


A good man died Wednesday.  He was my friend, the Rev. Mark
Dorff.  For the past two years, Mark had valiantly fought lung cancer, but
today he is at home with His Lord where he had no doubt he would be one
day. He will be missed, but I'm glad he is free of pain at last. 

Mark was a spiritual man, but he was also an earthy man.  He loved his
Lord and served the United Methodist Church for over 30 years, from young
preacher to upper administration.  Even when he retired, he continued to do God's work.  But, he walked this earth with his feet firmly on the ground, and
he served his fellow humankind the whole of his life.  He was at his best
with people. Mark could preach from the pulpit with the best of them, but he was never preachy. To me, he was a great example of the saying "Preach the Gospel every day; if necessary, use words. (Francis of Assisi)  Mark lived his faith.

When I was younger, I thought Mark a bit intimidating, he being quite large
of stature and gruff voice.  But, as one got to know him, his deep
rumbling laugh and twinkling eyes made the tough stern exterior fade
quickly.  When I had the distinct honor of working side by side with him a
few years back, I knew him to be kind, compassionate, a good leader and a great
conciliator.  He had a genuine talent for healing rifts, be they between
churches, congregants or co-workers.  Mark always listened before he
offered a solution or advice.  Even more often, he would listen without comment and then
encourage those who disagreed to come up with their own solution and
find a way to make it work. 

Coming from out of retirement–again!–he came to work as Interim Director of the Camp and Retreat Center where my husband and I were working.  Our staff had been fractured by recent events–a forest fire that ravaged our grounds but spared our buildings, resulting mudslides that did far more damage than the flames, the sudden resignation and disappearance of our director, and the staff left floundering  for months with no one of authority in charge.  He walked in and immediately, it was as though the camp itself heaved a sigh of relief.  With him, he brought calm reassurance, strong leadership, great organizational skills, and a spirit sensitive to all of the hurting souls in his midst.  Mark was a widower at the time, his wife Babs having died some months before.  He was at loose ends and he came to us willing to give us his all.  He counseled staff, visited with campers, worked wherever he was needed and quietly put the pieces back together again.

I have a reminder of Mark that is at work with me every day. One day he came upon me seething with frustration as I hung up my phone, and asked me what was wrong.  I told him that I'd just ended a very trying conversation with a man we both knew to be more than a little eccentric.  He congratulated me on the fact that I'd ended the call on such a friendly calm note when he knew I had be gnashing my teeth.  As he walked back to his office, he said "I know just what you need."  Several days later, he put a bag on my desk; I looked inside to find the strangest ugliest doll I'd ever seen.  "That," he said, "is your personal Dammit Doll. Great for working out those irritations."  He went on to explain that when he'd been appointed as one of the District Superintendents of the Methodist Church in New Mexico, his mother, a minister's wife herself, sent him a Dammit Doll because she knew very well the trials and  frustrations that came with the new post.  Some people look askance when I tell them where I got my doll, but Mark was so real and he had such a great sense of humor. (He often reminded me that God does too–have a great sense of humor, that is!)  Meet my Dammit Doll in a future post!

It was his stay at camp that yielded one of my fondest memories of
Mark.  Sometime after he arrived, he'd reconnected with a woman he'd met
some years before.  She was an old friend from Tulsa, Mark's
birthplace.  They'd begun to correspond and talk occasionally.  One
day, he came into my office and told me he was off to Tulsa for the weekend,
having decided it was time for a face-to-face meeting with this lady Ann, to
find out as he said, if this was a relationship worth pursuing.  He was as
excited as a young boy getting ready for his first date.  This huge bear
of a man was actually blushing!  Mark was normally pretty private about
his personal life, so I know this had to be important.  I wondered how his
weekend was going, and when next I saw him, he was wearing a smile so big I
knew the meeting had been a big success.  Indeed it had…Mark married the lovely lady Ann.  The last time I saw Mark was the day his successor took
over at the camp.  Mark had come to pick up his last few belongings and
Ann was with him.  The smile on the face of this gentle giant said it all
as he introduced Ann to me.  They had seven wonderful years together…I
wish they'd had more.

 Be at peace, my friend.



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