Don Perdue: Chapman a champion to all who knew him
Hosea Chapman was a visible presence in my life, though I had not seen him for over a year and only very infrequently over the passing decades. His passing on May 2 is neither easy to accept nor to speak of.
I first met this finest of men when a child of 10 or so when he first came to our home in Ceredo to visit my Dad. They had come to know each other in those halcyon days as game fowl aficionados, but their friendship far transcended the first bond crafted there.
You see, my Dad was anything but embracing of other races. In fact the "n" word was often used in our home. That is, until he met Hosea. Afterward, I never heard it. Met on even terms with someone he respected and revered as a friend, I believe it had become clear that no label ever really defines a man.
Hosea in many ways was a mentor I spent only very little time with; only a few days and hours over a lifetime actually. But the talks we had, this growing boy caught up in all the insecurities of adolescence and that extraordinarily simple and just as extraordinarily wise man, are as plain and resonant to me as they were those many years ago.
I remember the first time we spoke directly to each other when I was around 12 or 13 years old. He spoke to me and not at me (as most adults up to that time) and he called me by my first name implying a "man to man" relationship I was unfamiliar with at that time. I had just asked him why he had ended his professional boxing career.
"Hosea ... why did you stop fighting?" He looked at me with only a vague twinkle in his eye and said "Don (bless him!), I stopped when I started getting hit." From that moment I knew this was someone I needed to listen to, and that I was not "Donnie" or "Buddy" or "Boy"... I was an equal with all the privileges that come with the understanding of that.
On another occasion the subject of race came up (the only time in my recollection) and those direct and probing eyes caught me up short when he said (pre-dating the quote of Senator Byrd by several years), "Don, that word applies to a lot of people of every color. It's a bad person, a lazy person, a worthless person. Nobody is born that way. They choose it." I have never heard it put better.
He sent word a couple months ago for me to come see him. Although I went to his home, he was not there and we never made contact. I deeply regret not seeing him one more time. To hear the gentle wisdom grown from a life of struggle, of combat and of spiritual awakening that this great man so freely offered.
He was my family's friend, my father's friend ... and he was mine. A champion to all of those fortunate enough to have known him. Kindred spirit, comrade and confidante, he enriched this earth by his presence on it and leaves it less so by his passing. Goodbye, my dear old friend, until we meet again.
Don Perdue, of Wayne County, is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
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