By David Hummels
Mark Hummels was a champion swimmer, an eagle scout, a writer of eloquence and wit, an ace reporter, a rising star in the legal profession, a loving father and husband and judging from the turnout today, a man who touched many lives.
But before all that, he was my little brother. And I loved him, and looked up to him, all of his life.
Mark was fearless. As a boy he would dig the tunnel in the vacant lot a few feet deeper; he would build the ramp over which we jumped our bikes a few feet higher, he would push our parents and other authority figures just a few feet further than he was allowed.
Mark first ran away from home when he was two. Some great parental injustice had been done and we brothers packed a few items - marbles, string, toy compass - and headed out for a life on the rails. We ran out the front door but Mark was little and could not yet run fast so Dad caught him in the driveway. "Which way did they go?" he asked. Mark pointed left. On to him already, Dad went right and caught Bob and me a few houses down.
As a young teenager, after losing an argument over an early curfew, Mark snuck out to meet friends at the park. When he came back our parents caught him and laid into him about sneaking out. Mark looked calmly back at them and said, if you make the curfew an hour later, I'll stay home next time. Litigating even then. Winning even then.
He was fearless. When Mark was 3 and we lived in California, our parents were taking adult swim lessons and they left the kids poolside to watch. A few moments of inattention later, Mark had snuck off, climbed to the top of the 3 meter platform, the high dive, and was perched on the edge. Before anyone could move to stop him, he launched himself into the air, arms and legs churning and he hit the water hard. He came up spitting water and giggling. That was Mark. He giggled a lot. He possessed a heightened sense of mischief.
As he got older, being unafraid went beyond taking daredevil risks, though he kept doing that as well. He would try almost anything because he was never held back by the fear that paralyzes so many of us: what if I fail?
One day in high school he decided that he would build a car. He knew nothing about cars, had only pocket change from mowing a few lawns, but that didn't stop him. He bought one broken down VW bug, then another. He borrowed a tattered copy of a VW repair manual. He had the occasional conversation with our neighbor who built dune buggies. And he slowly learned about brakes and transmissions and carburetors. The first two cars were not enough to make a complete whole so he bought another and then another. Soon our backyard resembled a VW graveyard, a fact which drove our neighbor to distraction. Remind me sometime, and I'll tell you about the epic running battles we had with Ms. F, who did not like Mark's car, and did not like us picking her cherries.
Anyway, the problem with VWs is that a part would go wrong, and so you'd get another junked VW to find a replacement , and then another and another, and you'd recognize that the same stupid part would go bad on every single car.
Eventually, and to my amazement, he finished one working car and drove it for a time in high school and college. One day he brought it home from college in Colorado Springs to my family house, a drive of about three hours on the highway and through the heart of Denver. He told my parents he was leaving the car and dad decided to take and park it at our grandmothers, one town over. As he was heading out the door, Mark called over his shoulder. Oh, Dad, be careful taking the car over there. The brakes don't work.
I looked up to my little brother because he was a great writer. Many of you know that he was a reporter before coming to the practice of law and he wrote his whole life. He filled notebooks with stories and plays written with neighborhood kids. And he wrote funny and whimsical pieces for the high school paper.
When he graduated from college he started writing for the Colorado Springs Independent, a new paper just getting its start. They couldn't pay him much at all, mostly free concert tickets and so he slept in the office closet and showered at the YMCA, and for a time moved into a halfway house because it was cheap. Dana's mom Leah tells a great story about how Dana broke the news. Dana said, "Mom. I'm dating someone. He's really great. You'll love him. He lives in a halfway house." Mark didn't care. He wanted to write.
As an aside, when they married a few years later, after giving relatives two days notice, he took Dana to Alcatraz on their honeymoon. I can't imagine what Leah and Fritz were thinking. But Mark and Dana loved each other so much; she was the only girl I remember who could go toe to toe with Mark.
I looked up to my little brother because he was so creative, so endlessly inventive. When he was 12 Mark had a class assignment to research a famous person, dress up like them, and at a presentation for parents, answer questions as that person. Mark chose King Tut. He built a huge sarcophagus out of cardboard and paper mache, got inside, and answered questions as a disembodied voice. It was such a cool idea, and not for the first time or the last I sat there wondering "how does he come up with these things?" He was so proud of that sarcophagus...it looked exactly like the picture on the National Geographic cover. Mom kept that thing mouldering away in the basement for about 20 years. It was just too great to toss out.
In church Mark and I would make up alternate lyrics to hymns. My wife Tanya says that some of her favorite time with our family was Christmas Eve services. Mark and I would be singing irreverent versions of The First Noel or The Little Drummer Boy, and my parents would be glowering at us, giving that "grow up" look. Mark, you'd be happy to know, we sing those same cracked carols every year in my house, and make up new ones as well. Last years "O Christmas Tree" was a classic. I wish I could sing it to you.
I looked up to my little brother because he was so adventurous. He thought nothing of hitchhiking through Mexico and Central America, first by himself, and later with Dana.
In college, in the summer of 1990, Mark traveled with friends to Alaska to work on a fishing boat. They arrived too late to get on a crew so they took work in a plant that processed the catch. A boat would arrive, unload, and they would spend a frantic 12 or 20 or 36 hours cleaning, prepping and freezing the fish for sale in Japan. It was cold, dirty, dangerous back breaking work and he dove into it.
But he was not a saint. One day toward the end of another excruciating long shift, a coworker who didn't like Mark kept spraying him with ice water. The guy wouldn't quit and Mark finally had enough. So he grabbed a giant fish off the line and, swinging it by the tale, threw it across the room and knocked the guy to the floor. The foreman saw the whole thing, smiled, and kept walking. Smacking a guy around with a Great Alaskan salmon - that was Mark. And getting away with it, that was Mark too.
He was so full of mischief. He would try anything. And he could get away with anything. I guess authority figures were just so charmed they couldn't bring themselves to ever really crack down on him. He seemed untouchable and rather than resent him, we loved him for it.
When it was time to come home from Alaska, he arrived at the airport with a few days to kill and 25 cents in his pocket. He called my parents to let them know he was on his way and out of money. Dad asked: what are you going to do for food? Mark said: I have a can of beans. Dad was incredulous: A can of beans? For two days? Mark replied, with his perfect sense of comedic timing. "Well, it's a big can."
He came home to be the best man at my wedding to Tanya. He arrived with the smell of dead fish pouring off him. It was in his clothes, his hair, under his fingernails, saturating his skin. Many showers later he joined me at a reception and I nearly gagged at the smell. Being a good brother, I remarked on it. Mark said, yeah, just think of the girl sitting next to me on the plane for 8 hours before I showered or changed. But he said, she got used to me after a few hours and we had a nice conversation.
Mark made hundreds of friends, some in the most unlikely places. He could befriend professors and high powered judges, but also the socially awkward, outcasts at school, and, how do I put this, the highly unconventional. Those without homes. Those with substance problems. Maybe that was compassion, his gentle soul.
My parents tell a story of when Mark was 7 and already a great swimmer. He had a shoebox full of swimming medals from the top meets, nearly all gold. One day Mark came home from school to report that during show and tell, a girl in his class, a new swimmer on the team, brought a yellow fourth place ribbon to proudly display. Dad asked: Do you want to bring your box of medals for show and tell? Mark answered, No. I think it's better for her to enjoy some attention for a while.
But even more than his gentle spirit, Mark made friends so broadly because of his ability to just accept people for who they are. And maybe more than that, Mark was not afraid to be seen with them. Befriending outcasts is not an easy thing when you are in high school, and it's not an easy thing when you are a professional either. There is a kind of cowardice that takes the form of avoiding lepers. Mark embraced them. I so deeply admired that.
When I say that Mark would try anything I don't mean to suggest that that he was flighty or a dilettante. He WORKED.
In junior high he memorized all the parts to Our Town, including his own, the infamously lengthy Narrator part, in time for first rehearsals. The other kids were amazed and chalked it up to the unfair advantages of a superior intellect. But they didn't see him in the basement running lines for hour after hour after hour.
He rode unicycles like he was born on one wheel, but I saw 8 year old Mark out in the street taking hundreds of falls, hundreds, as he figured it out.
He spent a month in 1981 mastering the Rubik's Cube. Long after I was bored with 2 sides, that cube was in his hands every waking minute until he had it.
When he was studying for the bar, Dana moved home to Colorado for a month because his focus was so singular.
He worked on those VW bugs for years.
He just would not give up. But he memorized that part. And he rode the unicycle. And he solved the cube. And he passed the bar exam with the highest score. And he built a working car. And last Thursday as he lay in the hospital bed, his body failing and the organ recovery team hurrying their preparation, he rallied. He fought back. He stayed with us long enough for the organ team to do their work so that more lives could be saved.
We had a conversation last night with Michael from the donor network. He wanted to share with us how Mark's gifts had been used. His two kidneys and liver saved three lives. His heart valves, skin and connective tissue with help another 70 people. His lungs will be used for breakthrough research focused on helping transplant recipients accept organ donations without anti-rejection medication. And that research may help thousands.
People have been so kind, asking the family how they can help. Consider this. Register as an organ donor. Talk with your loved ones about it. In situations like these, time is critical and advance directives really help.
My brother left his mark on us all. As children, those marks took the form of scars. And there were many scars; from dares gone bad, a baseball bat over the head; a pair of scissors he threw from across the yard that stuck in my neck. (His punishment for that, after more excellent litigation: Mom grounded him from using the scissors for a week. Seriously mom?) Being around Mark was always a thrill ride, and sometimes dangerous.
The marks he left on the rest of us are no less permanent. The marks left by love and kindness and the resolution to do right. We carry those forward as cherished memories of a dear friend and colleague, a beloved son and brother, a loving and devoted father and husband.
Mom, Dad. You should not be here saying goodbye to your son, your beautiful beautiful boy. But as you look around this hall at the thousand who have come to pay him tribute, and the hundreds more online and back home expressing their love and affection for Mark, I hope you can find comfort in knowing what a wonderful son you raised, and how much he affected the world for the good.
Dana, Ella, Henry. You have gotten a bad deal, left with memories and not the physical presence of a husband and father, a great man. And he was the best of us.
The only words I can offer are these: be like Mark, be like your Daddy. Don't give up. Create new and wonderful things. Have adventures. Be unafraid.