Home & Garden

Remembering Paul Mickiewicz

By Matt Cantor
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 10:20:00 AM
Paul Mickiewicz with his daughter Miranda in an undated photo.
Paul Mickiewicz with his daughter Miranda in an undated photo.

There is, for me, no virtue greater than kindness. The world suffers for an inadequacy of this greatest of dispositions and today the world is a little more deficient for the loss of our friend Paul, who knew kindness as both student and teacher. 

Paul Mickiewicz was a mere 63 when he left this plane of existence (he would have said it that way, a very ethereal spirit, Paul) on the 12th of July. I will miss him very much, and I'm not alone. 

Paul leaves behind a life rambunctious in music (he played clarinet and sax), sailing and the repair of chimneys. A friend pointed out that all these things manipulate or rely upon the wind—I liked that.  

Paul was a bit like wind himself, so it’s no surprise that he was attracted to windy things. Paul wafted and occasionally flitted, as his extremely active and beautiful mind drew him from atom to mountain to galaxy. “Renaissance man” is not an inappropriate term for this lover of science and psychology. A psych grad from San Diego State and a former doctoral candidate here at Berkeley, he began college when, accepted to Rutgers, at the tender age of 16!  

The word “beatnik” keeps rolling up for me as I think of Paul’s life. Though Paul attended Woodstock with his buddy Ed Bergman in the summer of 1969, I will always consider him more a Beat in the model of Jack Kerouac, searching the road for some holy grail of freedom and deep purpose. This Merry Prankster even found himself a big yellow school bus that same year and ran an ad in the Village Voice exhorting fellow wanderers to come West for the promised new enlightenment (did we find it?). 

In 1984 Paul met Tansy Mattingly, a similarly psychedelic Berkeleyite. They married two years later (Marriage in Berkeley?) and, in 1988, brought forth the hope of the future in their child Miranda. Miranda was exploring Peru when she got the rotten news this last week. 

Leslie Prince, a criminal defense attorney in Solano County, shared near 10 years of Paul’s life in recent years. Leslie remembers Paul as a true free spirit and person of gentleness rarely seen in men. Paul was never afraid to cry or be touched by beauty. Paul also played a big role in the lives of Richard and Robin, her two children. 

Paul is described by many friends as something of a rebel (albeit a very quiet one) but always with a purpose. Though he played classical clarinet (with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra for 22 years as well as the Piedmont Light Opera, the Berkeley Opera and most recently with the New Millennium Strings), he was something of a risk-taker and a political dissident. His friend Lisa described the environment he created for a tiny Miranda and her tiny friends as something of a nightmare of the risk-averse including an indoor trapeze, ropes to swing by and just a wee bit o’ chaos. Naturally, kids loved it, as they surely did Paul. 

Bob Hood remembered the concrete hot tub at their house on Parker Street and the many bohemian soirees that I could not illustrate else surely fail the censors. Suffice it to say that Paul created a playground for adults and children leaving a mark that will not soon dull in the minds of those lucky enough to partake. 

Paul may be best remembered as chimney repairman extraordinaire, but the word is that Paul could fix anything. I, for one, sent hundreds of folks his way over the last two decades and I know I’m not alone in this. Paul managed thousands of repairs over the years despite a rather appalling case of Psoriatic Arthritis that had contorted his hands to the point where their utility was devastated and pain was a daily affair. The saxophones (yes, he played that too) finally had to go last year as a result and Tansy’s son, Abraham was a grateful recipient of at least one of these. 

Paul wasn’t always the best at returning a phone call but Paul was never a businessman. Poets don’t do voice-mail. 

He did have the rare gift for inventing the cheap fix and often resolved a chimney problem at a fraction of his competitor’s rates by simply rethinking the matter. He gave wonderful tutorials and anyone who ever heard Paul describe the building of a fire was the wiser and more gleeful for it. He was fun, smart and a genuinely nice man. 

In addition to daughter Miranda, former partners Tansy Mattingly and Lesley Prince as well as Leslie’s children, Robin and Richard, Paul leaves behind a sister, Susan Mickiewicz who will remember Paul as an uplifting and positive older brother who possessed the rare ability to play. 

For those who wish to share in a celebration of Paul’s life, an evening of remembrance will be held Sunday July 27, from 5-8 p.m. at the Hillside Community Church, 1422 Navellier St., El Cerrito.(510) 235-3646. Words or food can be brought to share. 

Donations can be made to the Kensington Symphony Orchestra (1335 Carlotta Ave., Berkeley 94703) in lieu of flowers.