It might surprise you to hear that I liked Steve Meyer, the Oak Park Republican committeeman who reportedly took his life last week.

We agreed on almost nothing politically, but I wrote a story about him back in June of 2000 during his first battle with cancer?#34;the kind of story that transcended politics.

When I sat down to talk with him, he surprised me. Liberals often presume conservatives are humorless, guarded, and close-minded. Conservatives, I know from experience, often assume the same about liberals.

Steve was warm and down-to-earth?#34;kind of a big kid in some ways, though very committed and dedicated to the cause of resurrecting the Republican Party in Oak Park.

I surprised him too, I think. As a journalist, I’ve always taken pride in being able to leave my own opinions aside when writing a story about someone with whom I disagree. My job is to tell that person’s story, not mine.

We were always cordial after that, but he surprised me again a couple of years later when he had a couple of extra Cub tickets and invited my son and me to join him.

We had a grand time. My son, who delivered Wednesday Journal to Steve’s house on South Euclid for several years during the 1990s, reminded him of his own son from a previous marriage.

Steve was a master of the back route to Wrigley Field, which he learned during his job as a UPS supervisor. At the park, we discovered we shared a passion for the game, and I suspect we were both a little surprised to learn just how much the other knew about baseball.

It turned out to be a very pleasant evening.

We talked a few times after that, but Steve sort of dropped out of sight the last year or so. That worried me a little, but not enough, apparently, to make me pick up the phone and call. I wondered if it meant a return of his cancer.

One of the things I learned from Steve, and that I hope he learned from me, is that personal connections allow people, especially on the local level, to rise above petty political differences.

Rev. Ray Pritchard, meanwhile, taught me the same lesson (and vice versa, I hope) about religious differences. A lot of Oak Parkers don’t like what Pritchard and his Calvary Church congregation stand for, but I always liked him as a person. Maybe I’m just a sucker for big, affable conservatives like Steve Meyer and Rev. Ray.

Many liberals seem afraid to admit something like that. They’re leery of being manipulated, proselytized or ideologically softened up, but Ray never tried to convert me, and neither did Steve.

Ray, thank God, is still among us, but he’s leaving Calvary Church where he became a bonafide institution. Based on his web site postings, I’m guessing he was motivated by some mid-life rumblings. Contrary to the conventional attitude, I believe mid-life “crises” are a healthy?#34;and necessary?#34;stage of personal development when approached in a positive way.

Ray never exhibited that tiresome “martyr complex” one too often finds among conservative Christians who like to pretend they’re an oppressed minority among the Godless masses. He relished the give-and-take in opinionated Oak Park. When we asked him to join a head-to-head Q&A with Rev. Jay Deacon of Unity Temple a few years back, he never hesitated. I doubt many other conservative pastors would have been so willing to put themselves on the line.

Whenever my columns strayed into theological realms, as they are wont to do, he usually sent me some personal feedback, sometimes critical, often complimentary. I found his honesty refreshing.

Though it might surprise some readers who see me (mistakenly, I think) as one-sided and close-minded, I’m saddened by the departure of two of Oak Park’s best conservatives.

This liberal will miss them.

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