If you never got the chance to meet Richard J. Comer, you missed out on knowing a complex, wonderful man.

By engaging Comer, you would have learned something about yourself, others and life.

He passed away two weeks ago at the age of 87.

I got to know Comer on the political beat in Lake County. Although his obituary didn’t make mention, he was deputy mayor under the tenure of Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher.

In many respects, he was a voice of reason in an often turbulent administration.

Comer and I talked often over the years about issues facing all forms government. It was part of both of our jobs.

More often than not, those discussions became philosophical before they ended.

We didn’t solve all the world’s problems, but we sometimes felt we came close.

Comer was exceptionally bright, not just from what he learned from books but perhaps more so from what he learned from life. He had a smile that lit up every room he walked into and was respected by those who knew him.

I hadn’t talked to him for the last decade or so, but there’s no doubt in my mind he kept reading and writing. Someone correctly called him a “lifelong learner.”

He earned degrees from Purdue University in engineering and Indiana University in public administration. Those degrees came after graduating from Froebel High School and a stint in the U.S. Army.

Besides being deputy mayor of the city that he loved, Comer was dedicated to enhancing the lives of others, especially working to keep young professionals in the city.

He helped people get into college and then worked to bring them back home.

Few had a better grasp of the King’s English. All his verbs agreed with their subjects. And when he used adjectives, they always painted a vivid picture.

When I think of Comer, I almost always go back to a story that was passed on to me by an administrator in the Lake County Government Center.

The administrator was on the up escalator, and Comer was headed down.

As the two got next to each other, he said, “Hey lady, how are you doing?”

“I’m doing really good,” she responded.

“You mean you’re doing really well,” Comer said.

That, my friends, was the essence of Richard Comer.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjamescolumns@gmail.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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