Noel Safe and Strong


When Noel died Monday, in Wales, the sun splashed orange, red and green tulips lining Michigan Avenue here in Chicago seemed to droop, lose their brilliance and cower back from the sun. And if you were to have even the smallest dollop of faith, you could smell the red roses, planted by Noel, alongside the red brick neighborhood church where I remember Noel sitting behind a table of used books that I immediately started straightening for sales, while Noel looked on amused, eyes twinkling, as I had the thought, here is a person that will always make a difference. Here is person who first makes me want to be like him; then even before I ‘ve finished that short thought, makes me glad to be who I am. Tough, like a rugby player tough. Smart like an architect. Funny and kind. He lived lives that spanned continents. I remember a line he once told me, “I got my ‘Dear John’ letter laying in the malaria ward in Southern Rhodesia. But I went. I went to her wedding.” Noel had stories. A rich, long life. And a laugh that echoes still in the flowers of Chicago where just one of those lives was spent.

I remember Noel and Fritz, a fellow elder of the church, engaging in spirited laughing discussions over coffee after church. Their respective Welsh and Swiss accents as think as ancient stone walls. Both understanding about ½ of what the other said (each would later ask me for a translation) but what was so wonderful was that it did not matter what they said! What mattered was that we were all together. What mattered was the joy.

In the very last sermon, the Pastor gave to the church, he told the story of going to a restaurant supply warehouse, at the beginning of his time at the church, to buy pots and pans for the church kitchen. Upon entering the warehouse, they realized the pots and pans were on a shelf at least 50 feet high. No one was around to help. So the pastor went off to find help. And when he got back, there was Noel, at age 70, laughing and hanging on to the very top shelf, 50 feet in the air, well in reach of those pots and pans. The pastor remembering thinking, “Oh my God. My first month on the job and I’m gonna be responsible for killing a member of my church!”
But of course Noel made the climb and landed safe and strong.

Telling us all to carry on.

16 Responses to “Noel Safe and Strong”

  1. hcgagel Says:

    Wish I’d met Noel!

  2. pinkyy9 Says:

    Great tribute to Noel’s spirited take on life. He was always a man in his own sphere defying the limitations of time and place. One learned just from being in the vicinity. I feel we were all as a result of his companionship changed for the better.

  3. chicagoguy14 Says:

    well said Sir! I agree. We were all changed for the better.

  4. chicagoguy14 Says:

    You would have liked him!

  5. macsmarvels Says:

    Your portraits always capture the spirit within the person and somehow manage to relate to some experience of the reader. My “Dear John” went for a Nun – no competing with God!

  6. Michael Crowley Says:

    Noel was my next door neighbor on Chicago for quite a while, until he returned to Wales. Beautiful tribute for a wonderful man that captures his essence perfectly.

  7. Tom Dickinson Says:

    What is his last name? First name pronounced no-ell, or nole? A beautiful tribute to a very special guy…gotta respect his dear John response! How did you get to know him? Thanks Roger!


    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      No-ell Fowler. Got to know him in Church. You know what that is like!

      • Paul Haider Says:

        I can remember Noel and Fritz from Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago’s West Wrigleyville neighborhood. Great writing, Roger.

  8. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Thanks Paul!

  9. toritto Says:

    Nice Roger. People like that make us all better. We need more like him. Best from Florida. I competed with an architect!


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