The office of the S.D. Secretary of Agriculture is made up of several individuals that together comprise a team. We lost an important member of that team recently – my friend, Paul Riley. Paul collapsed and died here at the office last week, "with his boots on and among friends" to quote his obituary.
Paul's official title was Federal Land Policy Coordinator/Staff Attorney, but he was much more than that. He penned most of these columns. The thoughts were mine, but the choice of words and sentence structure, the style – those were his.
He was an outdoor writer for the Rapid City Journal before he went to law school to become a trial attorney. When his loss of hearing made it impossible to continue as a litigator, Governor Janklow hired him as a researcher, a job he was doing when I became Secretary in 2000. He was an excellent researcher, but it didn't take me long to realize he could do that and much more.
This column was Paul's idea. It served as a way to share my views with many – to challenge people to think, and yes, to some degree, to influence the way they think. It has been fun and most rewarding. And it has been successful.
One of my favorite columns was titled "Circle of Life." It took Paul almost a year to write it, but when finished, it captured this Lakota belief with respect and dignity. Another of my favorites was written when my Uncle Frank died. I hope it brought comfort to others as it did to me.
Last spring, while spending a few days at the ranch during calving season, I was riding one of my good horses early in the morning – a beautiful spring morning – the kind ranchers cherish. I wanted to share that morning – the peace of that morning – with you, the readers.
Paul and I talked about that "morning" for not more than five minutes. He could only hear about 15 percent of my words. However, 30 minutes later, he had drafted the column. When I asked him how he was able to capture my thoughts when he could only hear a small portion of what I said, he replied, "It's simple. I listen to your heart, not your words."
He then informed me that only 15 percent of our ability to communicate is oral. The rest is delivery, facial expression, body language, gestures. I began to appreciate Paul even more that day, for he was teaching me to be a better person, a better communicator, a more effective Secretary.
During the past couple of years, Paul and I collaborated on a book in our free time. Several of my favorite columns are included in the book, woven together with a sequence of "rides" – a grandfather and a grandson together on horses out on the ranch. The conversation allows the grandpa to share his philosophy with the grandson and the reader.
In the last chapter of the book, the grandpa dies. When we read it, my wife, Charlotte, and I became very sad. Paul asked if we were afraid of death, saying there was nothing to fear.
I believe in the Almighty. I believe in the Hereafter. I believe Paul is in a Better Place.
I learned a lot from Paul – last but certainly not least, he showed me how to die. I will truly miss him.