Richard Tapper was one of those golden young men, blessed with a lovely family, a successful career, a community to which he was deeply committed and a sense of joy that spilled over into every aspect of his life.
And then he was gone.
When he was eulogized Monday, when the 35-year-old husband, father, friend and professional was laid to rest, there were tears and laughter in the congregation. He died of colon and liver cancer quickly and cruelly, diagnosed on New Year's Eve and dead mere months later. He left his pride and joy, 18-month-old Gabriel, and his beloved wife of not quite two years, Lauren. He left a wide circle of friends gasping in pain.
Lauren's diagnosis of thyroid cancer came five weeks after Richard's tragic news. It's a gift in the storm the 29-year-old widow is now cancer-free. Tapper was eulogized by his cousin and best friend, Gerald Olin. The two lived around the corner from each other, walked their dogs together, shared Jets tickets, took their first trip to Disney World together as kids.
Olin laughed when he told the story of Tapper telling his oncologist he had a five-year commitment on the Jets ticket, explaining he needed a good prognosis.
"Gabe (Tapper's son) can already say, 'Go Jet, Go!' I know when we go to games together, someday the strength of Richard's voice will be there."
Tapper, a chiropractor, was well-known not only in the tight-knit Jewish community but in Winnipeg at large. Shortly after graduation from college, says a relative, he was driving past Siloam Mission, pulled over and offered his services. He went weekly to treat the mission's clientele.
He and former Blue Bomber Obby Khan co-hosted a radio show called The Doc and the Jock, a sports and health program.
While there will certainly be recognition for Tapper posthumously, he was already considered a leader. On Wednesday night, he was to receive the Jewish Federation's Harry Silverberg Young Leader of Distinction Award. The ceremony went ahead.
Bob Freedman, CEO of the federation, called Tapper's community work "incredible."
"He wanted to give back," said Freedman. "He was a unique individual. He did a million things people don't do in a lifetime. He always sort of related to people who were down on their luck."
Tapper was given the award for his volunteer work in the Jewish community, in school, at camp, as a member of the Combined Jewish Appeal, author of two books and head of the United Way's chiropractic division.
He was also the youngest signatory to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Endowment Book of Life. It's essentially a commitment to leave a bequest to the foundation and support its work while you're still alive. Tapper signed in 2011. He was 34 and had not yet been diagnosed with cancer.
In an online letter, he wrote about his North End upbringing, the grandson of Russian immigrants.
"We weren't wealthy, but we never felt deprived," he wrote. "We participated fully in community life; and if it weren't for the great childhood I had and my supportive parents, I wouldn't be the person I am today. My parents taught me to work hard and never give up on my dreams."
He talked about Lauren and their son.
"In 2010, I married Lauren Goldsman from Edmonton. Lauren is a neonatal intensive care nurse, and I'm so happy that she has embraced life in Winnipeg. This is now her home. Our son Gabriel was born in 2011. As his parents, Lauren and I plan to share our values about Jewish living, tzedakah and community service."
I didn't know Tapper, but I am too familiar with the cruel severing that comes from an early cancer diagnosis and death. He had already made his mark but he was just beginning.
The guy who talked his way into the B.C. Lions dressing room after their Grey Cup win, who watched the Canadian Olympic hockey team win gold, who explained his remarkable feats with a shrug and the words, "I'm Tapper!" will be missed.