People Watching

Sometimes I wish that it was socially acceptable to just walk up to a stranger and ask what their story is. “Hello sir. You look like an interesting human being and we’re stuck in this airport for a while. Would you mind telling me where you’re from and a little about your life philosophy?”

Since I wasn’t brave enough to do that, I’ll have to settle for making up my own tale. But really, friends – doesn’t he look like he’s been on some adventures?

Remembering Mr. Prusas

There was a man who I crossed paths with years ago while I worked my way through college as a student assistant in the university library.

He was a well dressed elderly man who came in early every morning. He read things like the New York Times and financial magazines. No fluff. He never checked out anything and rarely spoke to anyone.

I became friendly with him but knew very little about the man aside from what I learned from a supervisor. His name was Dr. Zenon Prusas but we just called him Mr. Prusas. To me, he was the nice man who liked to be the first to read the Wall Street Journal every day.

Looking back, I wish I had the opportunity to know him better and recently Googled him on a whim. Sadly, I found his obituary – not surprising as I figured he would be close to a hundred by now.

Being a sort of connoisseur of fine obituaries (yes, it’s weird but don’t judge me) I was pleased to see that someone had taken the time to honor a life well lived by telling his rather colorful story.

Mr. Prusas was born in 1921 in a small village in eastern Lithuania. He was forced from his homeland by the Russian invasion during World War II and immigrated to the United States.

He landed at the Mead Corporation’s Central Research offices in 1955 where he became an industry expert on pulp and paper technology. Colleagues described him as “a national treasure.”

Mr Prusas loved the outdoors and personally planted over a thousand trees on his own property. He published much professionally but also wrote a book about his family’s experiences during the Soviet and Nazi invasions and occupations of his homeland.

Mr. Prusas left many lasting marks on this world but I loved learning that he was a tireless advocate for the freeing of his native country from Soviet occupation. After Lithuania gained independence, Mr. Prusas organized and sponsored the creation of a monument in the center of his boyhood town. It is dedicated to the Lithuanian freedom fighters.

He died almost eight years ago but lives on in so many ways. In fact, I don’t think Mr. Prusas wasted a minute of his time on earth.

All these years later, I can’t help but wish I had been braver and tried harder to get to know him. My job experience as a reporter taught me that people often are open to questions about themselves – I suspect, if the opportunity were presented today, I could get some really good stories from this man.

Wherever he is, I hope Mr. Prusas has found peace and that he’s still always the first to read the morning paper.