Highlighting good people who otherwise wouldn’t be in the news is one of my greatest satisfactions as a columnist. That’s why today I’m writing about Paul Figel.
I’ve known Paul since the mid-1960s, when I started to date his niece, Susan. Paul was one of nine siblings; Susan’s mother, Irene, was another. Eventually, after Susan and I married, he became my uncle.
Paul was a lot like his brother Bob, interested in cars and other machines. Like the rest of his siblings, Paul is bright, congenial and kind. His life of 83 years has been active and adventurous. He’s also resilient, an essential trait now that he is facing cancer.
In 1974, my ’66 Oldsmobile Cutlass was dying, and Susan and I had just had our second child in Los Banos. At the time, Paul worked in Texas for Ford Motor Company, which allowed employees to buy cars for themselves and their spouses at good prices.
Genny was about to buy a new car and was ready to sell her 1972 royal blue Ford Maverick with a black vinyl top. More importantly, Paul and Genny were willing to sell it to me at a very reasonable price. So I boarded a Greyhound bus at the Los Banos depot and headed to their home in Dallas.
Paul and Genny welcomed me for a short stay. I gave them a check from my credit union and drove the Maverick back to Los Banos, where it served my family for many years – including several cross-country trips to Chicago.
Within the last few years, I’ve reconnected with Paul as my daughter Megan and her family moved to Dallas. As it turned out, Paul lives close by, and when I visited Megan, her husband Eric, and their sons, Owen and Henry, I also drove to Paul’s home for a visit. He was the same spirited, friendly guy I had known decades before, and Genny was the same kind, hospitable woman I recalled.
Paul is a great story teller, and I enjoyed listening to his tales, especially of the times he flew his airplane. He was an expert pilot and enjoyed performing stunts. Flying was one reason Paul and Genny fell in love. She was the girl who wasn’t afraid to say yes to Paul’s offer of an airplane ride, and she was brave enough to still be his girlfriend after going up in the air with Paul and experiencing his acrobatics.
Paul began his distinguished career with Ford when he was a teenager. The company recognized his knowledge of mechanics and people and promoted him to more and more responsible jobs, including regional management.
Unfortunately, when Ford downsized during a recession, the company laid off Paul and left him with little of the retirement he thought he had accrued. But Paul survived, though he and Genny had to watch their pennies pretty closely.
Paul and Genny are parents and now grandparents.
What particularly impressed me, and why I believe Paul deserves this column, is his determination to fight cancer. In recent years, he has been battling prostate cancer, which progressed to other parts of his body. He has gone through several rounds of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
The last time I visited, he showed me the arsenal of pills he takes each day. Otherwise, you won’t know he’s in the battle of his life. He remains upbeat, quick with a laugh and quicker with a smile.
Lately, Paul’s cancer has spread. He’s needed more treatments, but continues undaunted, even putting up Christmas lights around the house. His family has rallied around him, creating “Team Figel” T-shirts. He fights on because he so enjoys being around them.
Paul is one of those special persons who have inspired me to face life with courage and a smile.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.