I hadn’t heard the news when Nikki first texted me yesterday, and I wasn’t in a position to get online and find out. So when she told me what had happened, I was in shock.
It was through Nikki and Chadd that I was introduced to The Renaissance Guild, and to its founder, Paul Riddle, Jr. They had known him for several years – PrimaDonna‘s earliest work was with TRG, and Nikki (as actor and producer) and Chadd (as director) were both active supporters of the theatre company. So when I joined PDP, I joined their partnership as well.
From that beginning, I was very impressed with what Paul, Danielle King, and everyone at TRG had accomplished. While the company was advertised as “San Antonio’s premier black theatre company”, the appeal of TRG’s shows (including a performance of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias that would introduce me to our great friend Denise Swain) was entirely universal. And I made an effort to emphasize that in the reviews I wrote, with Paul’s support, for African-American Reflections and the San Antonio Observer. That’s something I’ll always remember: I am a published writer today because Paul Riddle helped make it possible.
And then there was Rumors. I’ve written at some length about my experiences working with PDP and TRG on that production. It was my debut as an assistant director, and also my debut as a professional stage actor, and in both roles I had so much to learn. To be honest, I still regret the cues I missed. But even in those missteps, Paul, like everyone in the cast and crew, supported me, and never failed to show their appreciation for my efforts.
Looking back on our time and work together, the first thing I’ll remember about Paul as a person is his temperament. Though he was a tall and imposing figure, he was one of the most soft-spoken individuals I’ll ever meet. And he was always a gentleman – ever courteous, consistently gracious, and genuinely compassionate and nice. Were I forced to try to define him with only one word (as if it were possible to do such a thing), that would be it: “Genuine”.
I last saw Paul two weeks ago. He was a panelist for Nikki’s final acting class showcase. At the time, like all of us, I knew only that we were saying goodbye to those acting classes. None of us had any idea we’d be saying goodbye to Paul as well.
When Nikki broke the news that he had passed away, I was left speechless. And I responded as anyone would. I looked back to that last meeting, trying to find the warning signs I missed. I remembered our work together, from beginning to end. I tried to keep moving, to find strength (or at least distraction) in just doing.
But the memories haven’t gone away. And there’s some solace in that.
Going through life, it’s so easy to take people for granted. I know I’ve failed that test far too often, and I owe far too many apologies for it. But it’s so important to let the people who matter to you know that they matter to you. Paul mattered to a lot of people, and I hope he lived long enough to know that.
For his achievements, Paul Riddle, Jr. was a great man. For his character, he was a good one. The world will miss him, and more than that, so will his family and friends. If I may ask this of you, I ask you to remember them during this time.
Thank you for allowing me to share these memories with you, and for your support…