Bad things come in threes. Or, so it’s said. Dumitru’s loss was the first. John Guldaman’s was the second.
Dumitru Manea. A small man, probably only five-five. Thin. A Romanian by birth, his words tinged with the hard edge of an unmistakably Eastern European past, he gesticulated–his arms waving, his hands thrust out, his head nodding punctuation–as he railed about politics, people, his homeland, the failings of the bureaucracy, American values and greed, the clients whom he was hired to serve. And then, after the outbursts, a sly smile would cross his face, he’d raise his palms up and conclude: “Only in America.”
Dumitru passed several weeks ago. He was about sixty-nine. He was a good man. He was a courageous man.
Born to working class parents in Romania, his only sibling–who survives him–is his sister, Elena. In Romania, Dumitru worked as a warehouseman and overseer of supplies, I believe, for the Romanian government. It was during the dangerous and deadly reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, when Dumitru’s outspoken criticism of this Communist thug, Ceausescu, resulted in perhaps predictable consequences. Dumitru’s courageous openness came to be scrutinized by the government which had created a repressive society where “informing” on those critical of Ceausescu was encouraged. Indeed, Dumitru was eventually tried and sentenced to hard labor in a work camp for political prisoners. He suffered through three years of incarceration.
Although I worked closely with Dumitru, he never described to me the horror of his incarceration. But, it was to Kate–another workmate–to whom he provided a mere peek into the particular hell he encountered. “He spoke to me only about two years ago of his years of incarceration, which included beatings, psychological torments (he did not elaborate on these), and backbreaking labor digging ditches and trenches with had shovels (even in extremely cold, snowy weather), loading bags of chemicals, cement, etc. He became ill with pneumonia at one point, and was very weakened and in serious condition, though he recovered after finally being place in a bare bones ‘infirmary.'”
Following Dumitru’s release from prison, his sister, Elena, assisted with his emigration from Romania to the United States. He eventually gained employment with the City and County of Denver’s Public Works Department, serving as a vehicle parts technician; a blue-collar laborer. And, as is the want of blue-collar employees, Dumitru–a mere slip of a very opinionated man with a foreign accent to boot–was “ribbed” constantly by his co-workers…a lighthearted (usually) and most likely well-meant xenophobia; if xenophobia can ever be well-meant (and, not to say xenophobia is unknown amongst white collars). Interesting though, that when Dumitru promoted into the city’s Purchasing Division, he was always asked after by those same blue-collar workers who called him “Dimitri.” In their own way, I do believe they missed him. I do believe they cared for him–his presence, his smile, his tirades, the back-and-forth they, his co-workers had with him.
Once again, in Kate’s words: “Throughout his years in America, in fact, he was an avid and quite fearless traveler (as opposed to a mere “tourist,” and he was adamant about the distinction), journeying to Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, India (several times), Australia, Vietnam, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Argentina and many trips to Mexico (these are the destinations I know of; there may be more). He commented that it would take “more than a lifetime” to grasp the complexities of India, and he also loved America’s national parks, visiting many as a dedicated hiker. He would visit obscure and hard-to-reach monasteries on some of his journeys, always donating money to the monks for their upkeep and charities. (On occasions when he and I drove somewhere together in the course of our work with the City and County of Denver, he would always insist on stopping to give some money to any person holding a “need help” sign along the route. Always.) He had a library of organized photo albums of his travels, and would proudly point them out to visitors at his home. Prior to his cancer diagnosis, Dumitru had been planning a return trip to France, and considered travels to Iran, South Africa and even Zimbabwe (again, he was rather fearless–maybe a result of his experiences as a political prisoner, and all that he survived).”
Kate continues, explaining that she and her husband–who lived near Dumitru: “…enjoyed walks with Dumitru in Bible Park over the years (he would wear a jaunty canvas “safari” hat in hot weather or a woolen “stalking” hat in the cold, and the talk was mainly of politics and the “state of the world,” in general. He was well-read, faithfully watched PBS television, listened to National Public Radio, and held very strong opinions about government and politicians. (He was horrified at our invasion of Iraq, and predicted the deadly fiasco that it became.) I think he felt that Americans took civil freedoms and cultural resources for granted, and he was always eager to discuss politics, no matter how heated, with friends and acquaintances.
“Dumitru was devout in his Orthodox religion, and told me many times that his faith had sustained him while he was in prison. His condo was decorated with colorful religious icons, beautifully framed art prints and wall hangings from Romania, and, of course, a library, and he always appreciated the gift of a book. He could appear severe, and lived an “ascetic lifestyle,” exercising and eating sparingly, but he also had a sense of humor, particularly about peoples’ foibles and random absurdities reported in the news media. It was often a delightful experience to talk with Dumitru and his sister, Elena, who was temperamentally such an opposite, but they complemented each other, and I always appreciated their astute observations and their broad knowledge of cultures and politics.
“I was pleased when Dumitru asked my help in his petition to the European Court of Human Rights headquartered in Strasbourg, France, for monetary redress from the Romanian government (still controlled largely by officials of the former Ceaucescu regime) for his years of incarceration in the labor camp. We examined numerous documents, and I helped him with the English translations and with his petition letter and multiple forms, which had to be submitted to the Court. He held no illusions about receiving any compensation, and there were many petitioners ahead of him, but the process and the “venting”-in-writing gave him some satisfaction. In any case, there is no adequate compensation for what was inflicted upon him during that horrible time, though he never appeared bitter, only wistful about how the experience altered his life.”