One of Walla Walla's finest taken too soon

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WALLA WALLA — Death seldom plays fair. It usually deals from the bottom of the deck.

In the case of Dick Monahan, who died in the early hours of the morning the day after Christmas, it was a sucker punch to be sure.

Dick was 69 and lived a full, busy life. But there was still so much to be done.

He was active in his successful law practice, Monahan-Hood, where he was in partnership with his daughter Bridie. And he was active in the Walla Walla community he loved.

For 37 years, Dick carried on a family tradition of service to the YMCA. He was an ardent member of Wa-Hi’s Big Blue Boosters. And he put in tireless volunteer hours, spring and fall, as the pari-mutuel horse racing secretary at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds.

It was Dick’s horse-racing connections that led him into the Quarter Horse breeding business and his subsequent involvement with the American Quarter Horse Association. He served 20 years as the AQHA’s Washington state director, then became a director at large and was elected to the association’s executive committee in 2007.

He was the second vice-president of the AQHA at the time of his death. In 2011, Dick would have served as president of an organization with a membership in excess of 330,000 nationwide.

Most important of all, Dick was a loving husband, father and grandfather.

Brenda, his wife and lifelong rodeo queen, daughters Bridie, Casey and Lori, and eight grandchildren will miss him dearly. As will his younger brother Mike and his family.

The Christmas season, I’m sure, will never be quite the same for the Monahans.

Before I ever met Dick Monahan, I knew who he was. I’d see him regularly at the golf course, having a hi-ho time playing in his usual foursome with brother Mike, fellow attorney and judge-to-be Jerry Votendahl and the late Dave Dayton.

I was already acquainted with Mike, who was an assistant football coach at Walla Walla Community College. Everyone, of course, knew the Monahans’ father, Don, the distinguished YMCA director. And I often crossed paths with their mother, Ina, as she patrolled the banks of Stone Creek searching for wayward golf balls in the stream as it meandered through the Walla Walla Country Club.

Dick remained an avid golfer right up until last April when a courtroom fall resulted in a broken shoulder. And it was during treatment for his shoulder that it was discovered that Dick had leukemia.

But it wasn’t the leukemia that cost Dick his life. It was the pancreatic cancer that was diagnosed just six weeks ago.

"That’s what ultimately did it," Mike Monahan said. "And he went downhill pretty quickly. We spent a lot of time at Virginia Mason in Seattle considering treatment options, but he continued to slide from that day."

Separated in age by two-and-a-half years, Dick and Mike were about as close as two brothers could be.

"Ours was a special relationship," Mike said. "Growing up, he took me under his wing and took me everywhere. He was the example of a big brother everybody would hope to have. And the fact that we lived in the same town forever, we were able to keep that relationship.

"He was easy to be admired," Mike said. "He was a super big brother and I was pretty proud of him."

Dick and Mike were star athletes at Wa-Hi, and Mike followed Dick to the University of Idaho where they played football. And Mike is sure that the Vandals’ 43-42 victory over Bowling Green in Wednesday’s Humanitarian Bowl in Boise certainly would have made Dick smile.

"And we would have talked 10 times if we weren’t watching together," Mike said. "Dick remained a loyal fan to Idaho. The school had a special place in his heart."

I finally got to know Dick in 1981 when we became neighbors living across from each other on East Chestnut Street.

During the moving-in process, with my van loaded with boxes, lamps and end tables, I recall having a flat tire right in front of Dick and Brenda’s house. It was dark and pouring down rain, and as I struggled to change the tire, suddenly there was Dick by my side, flat on his back and getting soaked.

Together we got the tire changed, and I knew then and there that I had found a good neighbor.

But it was at the track where I really got to know Dick.

In his capacity as the racing secretary — this before, during and after his nine years on the Walla Walla Fair’s board of directors and an additional five years on the foundation board — Dick worked the paddock at Walla Walla’s spring and fall race meets. And I was there to bet on the horses.

As the horses left the paddock for their track introduction and the crowd headed for the grandstand, I’d wait for Dick to complete his duties. Then he’d look over my program and put check marks alongside the horses he thought were in shape to run or had the history to be successful in that particular race.

Most times I’d take his advice. Occasionally I’d strike out on my own. I should have listened to him more often.

Dick was also my source when writing news stories to preview the races. He was always accessible, always informed and always optimistic. But he was also realistic when it came to the difficult climate pari-mutuel horse racing finds itself in to this very day.

It was in 1993 that a basic news story on the weekend races evolved into a feature story about Dick and Brenda, how they met, fell in love, married and then went into the Quarter Horse business.

"Brenda came with a horse," Dick was quoted in that story. "She was a (4-H member) and the queen of several rodeos, and she always enjoyed riding. It became obvious that we were going to have a horse around, so I thought it would be interesting to have one with something to do with racing."

Dick liked the story so much that he entered it in a national AQHA writing contest. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t win the first prize.

It’s the only journalism award I’ve ever won, and I’ve got Dick to thank for it.

There’s a long list of those of us indebted to Dick Monahan for one reason or another.

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