Rumor Has It

Remembering Peter Gunn

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My dad is the kind of guy who will stop and give five minutes of his time to just about anyone. Because of this, I have learned that it is entirely possible to form lasting, meaningful bonds with people five minutes at a time. 

If ever there was anyone made for friendships formed in five-minute increments, it was Peter Gunn, who passed away a few days ago. In his official capacity before his recent retirement, Peter was a longtime employee of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership dedicated to keeping our streets beautiful, as well as a steadfast volunteer for and board member of the local nonprofits he so loved.

In his unofficial capacity, he was a sort of People’s Mayor of Bellingham, elected year in and year out by an overwhelming majority of the popular vote.

But to the marrow of his being, he was a standup comedian, no matter what he was doing.

For me, spending five minutes with Peter—a thing I did a few times a week for many years as I’d go about my downtown business—looked a little like this: First, he’d spot me across a street or down a block and his face would light up with anticipatory glee. We’d go through the standard niceties of greeting each other before he’d ask me if I had a minute—and I always did—and then, with a decided twinkle in his eye that belied his somewhat deadpan voice with the thick East Coast accent he never lost, he’d tell me a joke. But it wouldn’t just be a joke. It would be a bit, complete with setup and punchline. In keeping with his off-kilter sense of humor and comedic timing, his bits never went where I thought they were headed. Most of them made me laugh, some of them made me groan, but I never tired of being one of the likely hundreds of people treated to a mini standup act with every encounter.

But Peter packed so much more than laughs into our five-minute visits. We talked baseball—I enjoyed pretending to hate his beloved Yankees—politics and whatever local happenings that captured our fancy. Over time, we talked about other things that were harder and more personal, and that’s how I discovered his generous nature, sensitive soul, and the depth and breadth of his love for the people he cared about.

Peter’s death, from natural causes, was both sudden and surprising, enough so that it left many of us feeling not just bereft, but also robbed of opportunity. I never got to tell him I don’t really hate the Yankees. I never told him there’s a big piece of my heart with his name stamped all over it. But I think he knew. You can tell a lot about a person in five minutes.

Past Columns
COVID Chronicles

May 27, 2020

Pandemic Problems

May 13, 2020

A Bummer Summer

April 29, 2020

The Show Goes On

April 15, 2020

My Pandemic Diary

April 7, 2020

We’re Baaaaack

April 1, 2020

Strange Days

March 25, 2020

Making it through

March 18, 2020

Pandemic Panic

March 11, 2020

You’ve got mail

March 4, 2020

Of bongos and backwards balls

February 26, 2020

Drink it up

February 19, 2020

Apologies in Advance

February 12, 2020

All-Ages Action

February 5, 2020

Music at the Movies

January 29, 2020

Hot in Herre

January 22, 2020

Chicken and egg:

January 15, 2020

Say It Ain’t So:

January 8, 2020

Passages:

January 1, 2020

A necessary update:

December 25, 2019