MY MENTOR RICHARD DEVYLDER: AN AWESOME STRAIGHT SHOOTING CANNON
It is hard to fathom the death of someone and the cumulative impact of that loss especially in the different worlds s/he influenced. On the other hand, it is the death of that someone that uncovers the marvel of his life that brings focus to his particular journey and its beautiful unique design. I felt this true as I left for the office after the beautiful services for my dear mentor and friend Richard Devylder. I sat there at his memorial services listening to all the colorful, funny and moving testimonies from his family, friends, co-workers and colleagues, each bringing out an aspect of Richard’s life: his love for his Mom and the family, his passion for advocacy, his wicked sense of humor, his work ethic, his love for sports, his fondness for children, his generosity, his loyalty and many other aspects. We cried, we kept nodding, we laughed, we cheered, and we were touched and speechless.
Richard Devylder mentored me for two years when we were first getting started with Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF—the independent living center that serves the Central LA area of 50 zip codes) in 2001. He was assigned by the Department of Rehabilitation to guide me into learning the rudiments of agency management. I was a rabid activist and street fighter and he was the smooth and straight talker who knew the secrets of government bureaucracy. We had two different styles—I was touchy-feely, he was bottom line, I was the bleeding heart, he was the tough leader. We clashed occasionally but I trusted him and when I did, he never took my complaints personally—his “hand” on me was steady and I mostly followed his bidding because I felt he also respected my own instincts for success. When his mentoring was over after two years, he would still occasionally check on us and I would update him. Then we both became too busy. He went to Sacramento as head of the Independent Living Section of Department of Rehabilitation and I was more determined to succeed to show him that what he taught me was working. Then, in a dizzying speed of events, he attained the highest honor as special adviser to the President of the United States in the area of Emergency Management for people with disabilities. I felt very proud of him.
Last year in June at the Strategic Planning of the California Commission on Disability Access, we worked together for two days. This time, he had a personal care attendant consistently with him and he told me about the accident when after an airplane ride, his power wheelchair exploded and sent him flying in the air. His neck was badly hurt and severely affected his independent functioning. I got worried for him for a moment but was sure that he would recover fully. For the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, we honored him as one of our ADA Heroes and placed his picture with the others on a huge banner. I meant to call him and send him his certificate, especially after I heard that he had moved back to Southern California. And then the news came that he had died. I was shocked and immediately saddened. But he just barely retired, I protested! So I made definite plans to attend his services, also to finally meet the mother he was utterly devoted to and his sister and the rest of the family.
When I finally made it to the funeral home, I looked at his beautiful face and thanked him for his mentoring. I begged him to remind me of the lessons he shared with me. “CALIF is now on its 14th year!” I told him thinking too that he had a lot to do with that. He taught me to be tough minded and resolute, modeling to me how to consistently carry an even tone of voice no matter what was going on. I contemplated on his peacefulness due to a life well lived and in order. He was a man who achieved all his goals, including his dream of having a home by the oceanfront and retiring by the beach. At 46, he was done! Looking at him one last time to say goodbye, a thought came to mind. Richard born without arms and legs, was the Lord’s particular gift; he did not need them for he was destined to operate and impact the world like a cannon or a bullet—all body, without arms and legs but always causing a major explosion, and in this case, positive change!
CALIF Executive Director
August 14, 2015