Former Oklahoma state legislator Opio Toure died today.
Opio was an amazing man, one of the most genuine people I've ever had the privilege to know. I met him the first time about twelve years ago when I was a cub reporter in Muskogee, covering his visit to some group or another, and being utterly stupid about how to spell his name, but he patiently spelled it out again and again for me.
We met again a little more than three years ago, at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. We were part of a tour group traveling through holy sites in Turkey for an interfaith education trip. Opio joined us late, and I introduced myself by mentioning that previous incident. Of course, he didn't remember me, but during our 10 days abroad, we talked a lot and got to know each other. He told me about his grandsons, whom he spent time with every week. He encouraged me in my studies and told me that I needed to go to seminary. And he followed through; he called the admissions office of my seminary, told them to call me, and then did. And the rest, as they say, is history. And I am in seminary because of him.
What amazed me about Opio was his presence, his utter inability to ever know a stranger or an enemy. In his time in the legislature, he believed in being bipartisan, of crossing lines to do the right thing. In Turkey, he borrowed the tiny Turkish phrasebook I had brought along and learned all the words he'd need to know to get around: hello, thank you, grandpa, grandkids, tea. Unable to join the group for the most strenuous activities like scaling hillsides to visit one fabled place or another, he would sit down with some tea, pull out pictures of his family and share himself with others and invite them to share themselves. I remember thinking I wanted to be like Opio when I grew up.
I knew last month that he was in the hospital, but I put off visiting. I planned to drop him a card, but I forgot. It never occurred to me that Opio wouldn't be here. Sick as he was, he was one of the most vital people I've ever known.
Thank you, Opio, for bringing me to seminary, for being a light to drew people and showed the way. I wont' forget you again.