Our Opinion: Honoring the gift of Pete Rosengren

Editor's Note: Monday will mark one year since the tragic death of Peter Rosengren, Daily Herald vice president of sales and digital strategies. Today, we turn over the Daily Herald's usual 'Our view' space for this special remembrance from former Editor John Lampinen.

Inside a happy Van Morrison dance tune called "Bright Side of the Road," there is a lyric that reaches through the melody's exuberance with surprisingly pointed meaning.

"Time seems to go by so fast, in the twinkling of an eye."

Hearing it, we return with suddenly misty eyes, in the way of life's long goodbyes, to the stunning moment a year ago when we heard news of Pete Rosengren's drowning on the first day of a spring vacation to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our vice president of sales and digital strategies, our colleague, our friend, Rosengren had gone into dangerous water to rescue youngsters struggling against a rip current. He was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a hero. He was 42.

You cannot go through life without experiencing loss, sometimes debilitating and almost unbearable. It is inescapable. Loss such as this befalls all of us at one time or another.

"Grief can destroy you, or focus you," novelist Dean Koontz wrote. "You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death and you alone. Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time."

The letting go is hard. It feels disloyal. It feels like a betrayal.

In fact, a few of us in the newsroom still maintain contact information in our address books for Audrey Howard, a beloved assistant city editor who died of cancer in 2008. It feels like as long as we keep her in that book, we somehow keep her alive.

Yes, the letting go is hard.

Over in a corner of the building, Rosengren's office is vacant now. Partly out of respect. Partly because today's remote work environment doesn't require its occupancy.

Sometime after his death, M. Eileen Brown, his associate and successor as vice president of sales and strategic marketing, and Heather Ritter, vice president of human resources, packed its contents for his widow Maura.

It was poignant work, and they labored through it, consciously dividing the responsibilities. Brown packed the business possessions. Ritter put together the personal things.

Rosengren's distaste for neckties had been legendary. He kept dozens at the office so he could make his 45-minute commute without wearing one.

Ritter counted 34 in all. She did not want to deliver them to Maura poured ungraciously into a bag. Instead, she rolled each tie and delicately placed them into a box with each separated by dividers. She put two boxes together like loving art.

The letting go is hard. But required.

Several of us keep Pete's funeral Mass card at our computers. We did not consult with each other or form a club. Something just called us to display his card as a touchstone for ourselves. Only later did we find we were not alone in doing so.

We have not let go of Pete. Or of the love or the memory or his final heroism.

We have let go only of the grief.

We honor his life by embracing its gifts and not floundering in its loss.

When the sales force faces a challenge, Brown said, "We often ask, 'What would Pete do?' When something goes well, we say, 'Oh, Pete would be so proud.'"

In December, she and the Advertising Department she leads were named recipients of the company's annual Above and Beyond Award in recognition of the staff's resilience in the face of such profound and universal loss.

"It's like Pete's still here. He's still a part of us," Brown said. "But it's in a way that's inspirational."

We hark back now to a lesson from our favorite children's classic, a French novella called "The Little Prince." In it, Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes as the title character: "And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows), you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend."

In truth, there is no long goodbye. Instead of saying goodbye, we look skyward to celebrate the star of The Little Prince that shines for our dear and heroic friend, that shines onto the bright side of our road.

• John Lampinen retired as Editor of the Daily Herald at the end of 2021 after a 48-year career with the newspaper. He continues to contribute to the Editorial Board.

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