Among the countless people I've met in my 12 years reporting for The Oklahoman business section, Nate Waters was among the most memorable. He worked in Tulsa as an accountant for WPX Energy, formerly the Williams Cos.
To do that job, he rose at 5 every morning, bathed and dressed with the help of nurse aides, and caught the 8 a.m. Tulsa Transit lift bus for a one-hour commute downtown.
A quadriplegic — paralyzed 16 years ago when his mother's boyfriend broke his neck in a domestic dispute — Nate was found dead in his wheelchair on Sunday. Autopsy results are pending. He was 35.
I learned the sad news Monday night on Facebook, where Nate — a high school dropout who, after his accident, went on to earn a bachelor's degree and volunteer in widespread community activities — had 1,684 friends. I was proud to be one of them.
Wrote Kristy Long, founder of The DREAM Institute on whose board Nate served: “I never saw Nate without his smile; it lit up a room.
“He was a mentor to so many others who had disabilities and he made a difference in so many of the lives of the young people in The DREAM Institute. As a disabled person myself I understood Nate's dreams and he never once gave up on any of them.”
When I met Nate in March 2009, his biggest dream was to move out of the nursing home where he lived and get off the Medicaid health care system so that he could live independently, save without an earnings cap and plan for his future. I gather from Facebook posts that, with the help of corporate and individual benefactors, he finally did move into his own home in 2010.
Nate's passing was just one more bit of sad news in a sorrowful week after the bombings in Boston.
An Oklahoma native, I lived in Boston from 1994 to mid-2000. I worked for Little, Brown publishers, which was in the building where the second bomb went off, and ran the Boston Marathon three times myself. I knew several friends running last week, including one who crossed that painted finish line just 15 minutes before the bombings.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology security officer killed, Sean Collier, is the nephew of a good friend's sister-in-law. We don't need the actor Kevin Bacon to experience the six degrees of separation thing. Our world is definitely small, and our time on Earth is definitely short.
A few days after the Boston bombing, a friend asked me to fill in for the last, 10K relay leg in this weekend's Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I can't remember the last time I ran 6.2 miles. But I jumped at the chance to memorialize Boston's bombing victims, as well as our own.
Along with the names of Oklahoma City infant victim Baylee Almon and Boston victims Martin Richard and Sean Collier, I plan to write domestic violence victim Nate Waters on my race bib.
In 8-year-old Martin's own words, scrawled on school artwork of his, which has gone viral on the Web:
“No more hurting people — Peace.”