It’s one of those good news, bad news things.
As I write this, out of the thousands of missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only one has passed away from the coronavirus.
The downside, for me? He was a friend of mine.
I was not only Dee Pace’s friend. I was his ardent fan. Up in Box Elder County, many of us would read the credits for upcoming theater productions hoping to see his name.
If he was directing, the show would have pro-caliber staging and pacing.
If he was starring, you knew he could put the show on his shoulders and carry it across the finish line.
My wife and I tried to catch every Dee Pace production.
Some years ago he was directing “Big River” for the Heritage Theater in Perry when he was floored by a heart attack. I interviewed him for the Deseret News while he was recovering. There was a smile on his face and a smile in his voice.
He told me that day of the time in Kanab when he was performing with a college theater troupe. Clint Eastwood, who was filming a western nearby, had asked to meet with him. Eastwood’s agent told Dee that “he had the look.” (I’m guessing he meant the rubber-faced, red-headed look of Lucille Ball and Red Skelton.)
Dee told the agent to thank Mr. Eastwood, but he’d made other plans.
Dee leaped into his plans and never looked back.
And he left a legacy in Box Elder County that may never be matched.
Knowing Dee, however, I’m sure he had other concerns about stardom. He knew from others just how quickly Hollywood could rouse a person’s devils and demons. Dee was a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ. But his hardy laugh and over-the-top style revealed a man who didn’t mind flaunting inhibitions and upending expectations. Turned loose in Tinsel Town, he might well end up on the dark side of the moon.
In short, Dee knew himself. He knew what he was about.
He had a vision for his life and he lived the vision.
He scripted his life like a fine Noel Coward play.
And when the virus took him in Michigan, where he and his wife, Nedra, were serving a mission, he’d pretty much written the third act for his story.
On stage he was the best Henry Higgins or best Fagin imaginable. He was just as good in the roles he chose for himself in life.
As someone once said of poet William Stafford, “He wasn’t a star. He was better than that.”
And if someone decides to add a line of dialogue to his headstone, let me nominate this from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
“His life was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.’”