I remember the first time I met Dick Nichols. I was visiting McPherson to consider moving here to practice surgery. Our little family attended the Methodist church to see what it and its congregation were like. Of course, we didn’t know anyone, but several people recognized us as newcomers and in typical church fashion approached us after the services to meet us. Up came this white haired man in a nice suit sporting a dazzling smile and practically radiating happiness. He shook my hand and began to tell me he was president of a bank in town and former a U.S. Congressman. Having lived my life in a large city up to that point I was a little taken aback by this gregarious man who seemed so delighted that a surgeon might wish to move to his town. Little was I to know that over the next 20 plus years Richard “Dick” Nichols would change the course of my life and that of my family. He did so through generosity of spirit and true, natural kindness.
Dick died very recently. At 92 he had lived a full life of service maintaining that internal happiness and external sparkle that few people can consistently muster throughout a very long life. Dick’s life was blessed in many ways, but he knew tragedy as much as any man or woman. Those times made him sad, but they never defeated his amazingly ingrained optimism and sense of community which led him to serve others.
I guess it was about a year after I’d met him that Paul Ediger, Bill Collier and Dick Nichols called upon me at my house. I was completely in the dark about what they wanted. Home State Bank was my bank and I had loans there. I’d come to know Dick, Bill, and Paul well since my move. Dick was a true community banker, Paul was his colleague and analytical friend, and Bill was my surgeon friend. I was fully prepared that they were coming to call my loans (a totally irrational thought), but they surprised me by asking me to serve with them on the board of Home State. Now, I knew something of banking since I’d grown up in a family two generations deep in that business. I had seen the change from banks serving and working with a community to being branches of mega corporations whose interest was completely on return of investment rather than economic well being and stability. It took my new friends a while to convince me they were the sort of bankers my father had been, but for the next 15 years I sat on the board of that bank comfortable that under Dick and Paul’s philosophy I was a part of helping McPherson as a community. Certainly, the bank was not a charity; but it was always looking at the customer as a person. Not many people really love banking institutions given the Mr. Potter of “It’s a Wonderful Life” depictions, but I came to enjoy watching Dick take the high road in policy time after time. I was proud to be his associate. He treated me and every board member or customer with respect they deserved.
Through the bank I came to learn more about the community than I did through my medical practice. Dick gave me the opportunity to understand there is more about a town than a hospital, a bank, a grocery store, or an industry. It was a lesson in human economics few get to receive.
Dick, though, was more than a businessman with a conscience. He was a patriot and lover of his country. That patriotism was the reason he ran for Congress and his love of his fellow man was what drove his political decisions. One of my most memorable moments was when I got to attend a Presidential Inauguration. Dick and Linda Nichols invited us to dinner during that time at the famous Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. We talked into the late, late night about the triumphs, trials and people of the United States. It was that night I realized he wasn’t just a good man, but a great man living among us with humility.
Dick knew my daughter was living in Washington D.C. studying International Relations. He thought she would be an excellent intern for then Congressman Jerry Moran. Dorothy did get that job and stayed on for several years as staff. Ultimately, it was that little suggestion that led her to become a recognized expert on health policy. Dick started that chain of events even though he had no idea where his suggestion might lead. He was like that. He did good things for people and assumed good things would come of them. He was usually right.
So, we mortals have lost this man to the inevitability of age and mortality that is the human condition. I want to be sad, but it is hard to be sad knowing all the good this one man packed into his time on earth. I close my eyes and can still see that dazzling smile behind which lived a man of greatness because he tried to think the best of all people and wanted to make their lives better. Goodbye, Dick. I miss you.