Helen Paul 1929-2006

by Hope Hernandez

Helen2.jpgWhen Roger Hand, the current director of
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), calls to tell me that
a friend of ours, Helen, has unexpectedly passed away, I feel as if
someone has yanked my shoulders back, jerking me upright. I can
barely get out the words, “Oh, no!” as my mind reflects on how we
had lunch together just a few short weeks ago. Wiping the tears
from my eyes, I slowly hang up the phone. After a minute or two of
deep breaths, I pick up the receiver and dial my friend who
introduced me to Helen. He needs to hear this sad news from me
alone. Helen Paul, a pillar of the community, a staunch defender of
senior citizens’ rights, and a warm and witty woman, is suddenly
gone forever. She was in her seventies, but a vibrant, energetic
seventy — full of life and vigor. I can only hope to look as good
as she did at that age. I first met Helen when I worked for the
Santa Barbara School District, back in 1968. She ran the department
that provided educational material for all elementary schools in
the district. I remember my first impression of Helen as a
red-headed, statuesque woman with the body of a dancer — such a
graceful and commanding presence! Since I’m the daughter of a
jeweler, I noticed and admired the exquisite rings and necklaces
she wore. We became friends throughout the next 13 years of working
for the school district. When Proposition 13 was passed in the
1980s, we both lost our jobs. Helen went on to the directorship of
RSVP after its director retired. I continued with my career as a
typesetter with a graphics firm. As a member of the RSVP board, I
was lucky enough to serve with this dynamic trio: Helen Paul, Marge
Benke, and Iola Baker. The organization — with Helen as director,
Marge as capable administrative assistant, and superhuman Iola as
supervisor of the real help program — worked as a well-oiled
machine. I must mention that Iola was in her eighties when she
first took the position. These three remarkable women reigned
supreme until 2000, when they decided to retire together. A new era
began for RSVP under the skilled leadership of Roger Hand and the
noteworthy assistance of Marcus Thrane. During my time on this
board, I became familiar with Helen’s fire and tenacity in
meetings, as she was a passionate speaker in expressing her views.
With the partnership of CALM and Unity Shoppe, RSVP entered into a
co-ownership which purchased the Victoria Street Theater. This was
a tremendous achievement for three non-profit organizations, and a
credit to their effective work together. It still amazes me that
only a few short weeks ago, I met Helen for lunch. We had a
wonderful time laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Once
again, I came away in awe of her as a person — such a humorous
conversationalist and informed activist on social issues, and an
intelligent, beautiful friend. I know she would not want me to be
sad at her departure from this earth, but rather to celebrate the
warmth of our friendship. Still, I think she would be pleased to
know the tears I shed are proof that she truly touched my heart,
for now and always. I will miss her hearty laughter, distinctive
voice, and, most of all, her presence as a person who embodied so
many fine characteristics and talents. She was a strong, unique
woman with many friends; I’m privileged to have been one of them.
The Christmas card Helen sent me last year was so beautiful. Her
kind words let me know how much she valued our friendship. My goal
is to live up to those words and be the good person she always
believed I was. Helen always encouraged me to hone my writing
skills, stating that I could envision a story from everything and
anything in life. This is why I was compelled to write for her — to
honor her life with my words.


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