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.