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A Death in the Family

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Please note the following news item:


We sometimes come across items like this. If you're like me, you think "oh, 
 how tragic! His poor family!" Then it's on to the sports.

In this case however, for me it's personal.

Paul Rohrbach was married to Mary Elizabeth Polhemus Rohrbach. My baby 

He was also my personal friend.

As you can tell, Paul was much like many of you when it comes to outdoor 
sports. He had a side-hobby making deer lures, which he sold at hunting and 
 fishing shows. You did not want to go down to the basement in their house 
when he was cooking his lures.

You can note that Paul "died what he loved to do" if you like. But to me 
that's not the right context.

He died. Period. A husband, brother, father, uncle, son, friend, colleague 
is dead.

My little sister is a widow. She hasn't got the faintest idea how to fill 
that role. She's going to have to learn on the job.

They have two sons, Ryder, 16, a near-genius who comes with the interesting 
 challenge of Asperger's Syndrome. His father was often the only voice of 
authority he would listen to. That voice is now silenced.

How will Ryder's life be different now?

Their younger son, Dylan, 13, is the sensitive artistic type. He gets that 
trait from his mother. But his father was his personal idol. Now he will 
have to make do with photographs and videos, because that's the only trace 
of his father's presence he has for the rest of his life.

Grandchildren will never know a grandfather. Their sons' spouses will only 
know their father-in-law from quips and tales told around the table at 

Paul's friend was fishing alongside him when Paul disappeared into the cold 
 dark. He waded in and tried to save him. The water was so cold that within 
 seconds he couldn't feel his hands. But just before that, he felt Paul's 
hand in his own, before it slipped out of his grasp and he was lost. He ran 
 to the nearby highway and flagged down a passing motorist. The man 
happened to be a former Eagle Scout. He ran to the river bank, stripped to 
his underwear and plunged in. He, too, was nearly overcome by the water 
which was around 45 degrees temperature. These two men, one a friend the 
other a complete stranger to Paul, risked their own lives to try to save 

Paul's body remained in the water for more than six hours. When my sister 
received the news, he was still in that hole. The divers had not yet found 
him. She imagined him there, needing her to save him, but beyond saving.

When I finally spoke to her on Monday night, her pain was absolutely 
palpable. The things she said to me, you can imagine: "I should have told 
him I loved him one more time! I need to tell him that one more time!" I'd 
have given anything to take away that pain in her voice, but her pain is 
beyond salving. At least for now.

She said that the day before, Saturday, they had a rare family day together 

- the boys are old enough that they have their own activities with their 
friends on a typical Saturday - and she feels confident that God arranged 
it. It was a wonderful day for the Rohrbach family, their last day all 
together on this earth. She is eternally grateful for that day. There are 
photographs and videos of that day. She is profoundly grateful.

Paul had fished that spot for years. It was well-known to him. But the 
Cahaba River flows swiftly through a shallow gorge in the Appalachian 
foothills that make up that part of Alabama, and the river bottom changes 
constantly. Perhaps he'd stepped in that very spot before. Before, there 
was no abyss. But that was before.

When his friend scrambled to save him, he also felt the water filling his 
waders. But for some reason not yet known - perhaps they were a different 
type - he was able to get out of them quickly. For some reason Paul could 
not. They took him down into the cold dark, forever.

I do not have a moral to this story. For one thing, I'm too close to it. My 
 eyes are still filled with tears this close to the personal tragedy. So I 
leave it to you to draw your own.

In our company, we attend safety training events weekly, and we talk about 
all the could-have-should-haves. We often see very well-produced films and 
videos that help us connect personally with the risks we often take for 
granted. I'm not sure how we can possibly account for them all. We will 
hopefully do our best to be safe.

All I know is, Paul Rohrbach fished that spot in that river for years. And 
now he never will again.

William L. Polhemus, Jr. P.E.
Lead Civil/Structural Engineer
CRA Engineering Group, Inc.
6320 Rothway
Suite 100
Houston, TX 77040

Phone: (713) 734-3090
Direct: (832) 485-5251
Cell: (281) 450-8426
Fax: (832)485-5213
Email: wpolhemus(--nospam--at)
[CRA since 1976 + 50best_colour]

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