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Happy Birthday, Dad

I wrote this tribute to my father in 2007 to be read at his memorial service. This year, on what would have been his 100th birthday, I’m sharing it in gratitide and admiration.

Imagine for a moment that the young Paul Kidd met the old Paul Kidd. Young Paul, full of life, might look at old Paul and say, “Cheer up. Smile. God loves you. Think about the wonderful life you’ve had.” He might sit down beside the old Paul, share a cup of coffee, and lead him through the events of his life.

Paul Russell Kidd was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 6, 1917. His father Earl was a watchmaker. His mother Lillian kept an immaculate house and showered love on her two boys, Paul and his younger brother Earl Webb. Paul’s grandfather, whom he called Daddy Key, was a stern man, but he gave the two boys a priceless gift—music—teaching Paul the trumpet and Earl Webb the trombone.

In 1925 the family moved to Nashville. During the Depression they struggled financially, but Paul blossomed. He gathered friends around him. He learned to listen and to lead. And the torrent of creativity that shaped his life began to flow—drawings, poems, neighborhood newspapers, stage productions, and musical compositions of all kinds, including a rousing victory song for Hume-Fogg High School, written when he was 15 years old.

Paul learned about God at Vine Street Christian Church, where he met the other love of his life, a pretty young woman named Ida Sue Smith. At a summer camp in 1938, the couple committed themselves to a life of Christian service, and in 1940 they were married. They had three children, Russell, Ronald, and Carol Sue. With the boys playing trumpet and the girls on the piano, this was a band that Daddy Key would have been proud of.

Paul always loved putting on a show, and he made a career of it, producing films and filmstrips for churches and schools. His work took him briefly to Chicago and then to Family Films in Los Angeles, where his family lived for over thirty years. During that time, music continued to pour out—songs, anthems, trumpet trios, musical scores for filmstrips, and a cantata.

Paul retired in 1980. Iin 1994 he and Ida Sue moved to Davis, California, to be close to family and enjoy their grandchildren. They made wonderful friends in the neighborhood and at Davis United Methodist Church. Shortly after moving, Paul was struck with a severe depression which, off and on during the next 13 years, immobilized him and at times drained him of joy and creativity.

Then, at the very end of his life, an amazing thing happened. While he was packing to move to an assisted living home, the imaginary meeting took place: old Paul met the young Paul. In a dusty box in the garage, the family came across Paul’s Hume-Fogg Victory Song. They took it to Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville, and the band played it for the first time in 74 years, at the spring concert. Paul was there, with Ida Sue, Russ, Ron, and Carol. When the band finished his piece, the crowd jumped to its feet and applauded. How many people can say they ended their lives with a standing ovation?

Young Paul was in the audience. He leaned over to old Paul, put an arm around his shoulders, and said, “Smile. God loves you. You’ve had a wonderful life.”

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