Tim Carpenter, My Friend and Comrade

In General Interest by Jonathan Tasini1 Comment

The many people Tim Carpenter touched in his life will recount his many qualities and contributions to the progressive movement, particularly as the national director of Progressive Democrats of America. But, remembering Tim, who passed away Monday after a long battle with cancer, I’d like to write a few words mainly about one thing: baseball.

See, we were both baseball fanatics BUT Tim was a Red Sox fan, I’m a lifelong Yankees fan. But, damn it, if we didn’t have the most cordial conversations whenever we talked baseball, which was quite often a good relief from the rest of the agenda. He was always generous: “You guys really look strong in…”, to which I would respond, encouraged by the good will, “Yeah, but look at what you have over there…”. Now, we’re both competitive guys so, inside, each of us harbored probably a bit of, “well, I hope his team isn’t that good”. We went to a Yankees-Red Sox game one year in NY—I can’t even remember the score because we had a great time, and, most important, Tim scored a prime special seat using his disabled person’s status.

But, there is a lesson here (as baseball, Tim would agree, tells us everything about life): Tim always seemed to know, or figure out, or at least convey, belief and passion but not feel animosity. He was no wimp or touch-feely liberal, and we would often have a good chuckle about the crazy personalities in and around the movement. But, he was an immensely generous person—generous with his humanity, his time and with his comradeship. He would often ring off, after a rapid fire recounting of the 100 irons in the fire he had in play to somehow keep PDA moving, growing, relevant (using an astute combination of a thin thread of string, glue and a few staples), with “keep ‘em honest, Jonathan. ”

Which I think was really what he believed: if we kept them honest, if politics was honest, if politicians were honest and accountable, the world would be different.

Honesty was how we first met in 2005. I think all the candidates Tim… “adopted” is the word that first came to mind…were part of his mission to “keep ‘em honest”. It might take a long time, it might mean a lot of hand-holding (and making sure the elected politicians on his Board didn’t have a seizure) but, once you were his project, he was there for you. At any hour.

I can’t write more than a sentence or two of this without crying a bit, partly because of a friendship and sense of loss. But, also a political tinge: I’ll always remember where I was when I found out Tim passed away, in the same way I remember the moment and place I heard that Paul Wellstone had died. It feels the same: one of the relatively few decent progressive leaders that we have, taken before it was time and when we need every soul like Tim to keep the fire burning.

Tim had recently given me the exact, excruciating details of his health; I don’t know another human being who went though as many medical crises and lived to tell about them so the sharing, in fine detail, was pretty common: the procedures—steroid injections directly into his eye and experimental drugs, to name just a few. But, this time he basically said, “look, it’s terminal but I’ve lived longer than anyone thought but I’m going to really cut back on traveling to be with the family…but, I might try to sneak down to NYC, if I can, so we can go to a game.” I was skeptical but I held on to the notion. Exactly one week ago, in an email, he asked: “how are you doing?”. I responded: “all good. You?” Tim: “still alive.” Me: “both of us!” Tim: “good news.”

I thought, then, maybe he might be down here after all.