A Wounded Hero Departs

January 6th, 2007 by Editor B

Dr. Paul Gailiunas has been my hero ever since I met him — what, five years ago? It seems like I’ve known him forever.

He’s the only punk rock anarchist vegan doctor I’ve ever known.

But he is a hero for how he’s lived his life, dedicating himself to helping the poor, the hungry, the uninsured. He has demonstrated an exemplary love for humanity. And the cornerstone of that love was his relationship with his wife, Helen Hill, and their two-year old son, Francis Pop.

When I heard Helen had been killed Thursday, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t accept it. Couldn’t process it. Even after digesting the basic facts, it still seemed like an unreal scenario, a nightmare from which I hoped to awaken.

It wasn’t until seeing Paul in the flesh yesterday evening that it became so painfully real. He was shot three times, point blank, so I was amazed that he was out of the hospital at all, much less walking around. He was bandaged up, but really doing remarkably well — physically.

As for his psychic state, I can’t even begin to fathom the pain he must be experiencing. I feel absolutely shattered by Helen’s death. How many more times could this despair and anguish be multiplied in one human soul before some sort of limit is reached? It’s terrible even to contemplate.

Here’s a picture of Paul in far, far happier times:

Dr. Paul in the Hall

I love this picture because it captures a bit of his exuberant personality. Like Helen, Paul seemed to be always happy. And now — will we ever share a laugh together again? It doesn’t seem possible.

It’s so difficult to imagine Paul without Helen. Their relationship was one of the greatest true love stories I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter.

When I first got the news of the shooting, I was so distraught that I’d mistakenly thought they had both been killed. When I realized Paul had survived, for one brief second I actually thought, that’s worse. A horrible thought, I suppose. I wasn’t thinking of Francis at the moment. But that’s how difficult it is for me to imagine Paul without Helen.

Paul’s gifts as a songwriter and musician were a wonderful complement to Helen’s talents in the visual arts. In Halifax he led a band called Piggy. In New Orleans he led a band called the Troublemakers. He also had a solo act: Ukulele Against the Machine.

Ukelele Against the Machine

I passed along a couple MP3s to a Times-Picayune reporter and they were posted on nola.com. I’d like to share them here as well.

Health Care Is a Human Right” is an anthem that really lays out Paul’s philosophy as a doctor and a humanist, and it’s a great example of the peppy, political, ska-inflected rock music the Troublemakers played.

The Maharishi Effect” is a gentle love ballad which I am certain Paul wrote for Helen. I used to think this verged on sappiness, but now it just seems like pure sweetness, and I can’t get it out of my head. Listen to the lyrics:

Many of us here find it hard to trust
We know that life tends to play many cruel tricks on us
But all I can think about is love, sweet love
Every mosquito in the air is a turtle dove
Wedding cakes are all that I keep thinking of

Yes, life certainly does play some cruel tricks. But this is beyond cruel.

Paul is leaving New Orleans today with his son. I wish we could provide some comfort and support, but his family will have to do that for now.

There’s so much more I want say but I can’t find strength or the time.

8 Responses to “A Wounded Hero Departs”

  1. Yoni Says:

    Actually, Paul wrote “The Maharishi Effect” for the wedding of two of their friends, whose names escape me. “Atheist” was for Helen, though, and there have certainly been others.

    Anyway, your posts have been wonderful tributes, so thanks for them (I played saxophone in the Troublemakers for a while, if you’re wondering who this is)…

    Peace,
    Y.

  2. Sophmom Says:

    I’m so sorry for all this, Bart. I’ve been watching all week, thinking of ya’ll all the time. You have given and continue to give, this loss, beautiful expression.

  3. Martha B. Says:

    Thank You for introducing me to Helen ,Paul , and Francis.I met them through you on 1-4-07. I feel your grief along with the hundreds/thousands they touched. Please help heal by continuing to write about these speciel people.

    Peace And Confort to all
    Martha B.
    Baton Rouge

  4. Anonymous Says:

    While I never had the honor of meeting Paul or Helen, her murder and his wounding has left me frustrated, angry and despondent. And it has sealed my plan to leave New Orleans once and for all. I have lived here my entire 49 years and I love this place. But the sad fact is that it will never get better. I have attended the marches, written the letters, voted for new people and nothing ever changes. The corruption, ignorance, stupidity and complacency are permanent fixtures of this city’s landscape. Nothing will make these thugs ever have 2 parents. Nothing will keep them in school. Nothing will get the guns or the drugs off the street. Nothing will make our police less corrupt and our politicians less ignorant. New Orleans is dead and I don’t plan to be here for the funeral. I love this place, but I refuse to take a bullet for it. The only solution for me is to get out while I’m still alive.

  5. devon damonte, oly, WA Says:

    We Love You Paul!

  6. pj Says:

    Lots of love from here. If there are Indiana people who want to get together let me know pjchristie {at} gmail. We are with you in our grief, we are with you.

  7. Susan White Says:

    I’ve read many blogs about Helen and Paul. This one is so beautifully written and sad that I find myself much affected by it. My husband and I never met them, although we knew some of the same people and surely would have met, eventually. I do recall seeing them a handful of times in the Vieux Carre and down on Frenchman; my husband and I always toted around our two-year old around, and seeing another couple with a little one in tow made us feel less conspicuous about bringing our child out to enjoy the New Orleans scene with us. Sometimes, we’d pass on the street, and pause to say hello and admire each other’s kids before going our separate ways.

    We too lost our home in Katrina, and have contemplated returning, but Helen’s murder has left us angry and depressed, and questioning our emotional commitment to a city that fails so miserably to protect the citizens. I feel such regret for Paul, and for baby Francis, and for all of Helen’s friends and family. Beyond that, there are no words for something like this.

    Some may say that there is a greater plan for all of us, a purpose to even this tragic loss of life, but there’s little comfort for me in such platitudes. The truth is, the magic of New Orleans only comes from its people, and Helen and Paul epitomized the best of what New Orleans was. And that too has died, for me, in that little house on Rampart.

  8. Dan Greenspan Says:

    I read the account of Paul’s tragedy with a sense of shock and horror. His name and picture in the paper were eerily familiar and then I realized with a jolt that I had been a classmate of Paul’s in college. Although I didn’t know him, I remember him quite distinctly from a small class on African political history that I took my senior year. I remember Paul sharing some food with me one morning in the computer lab in the Science Center as I struggled to finish a paper for the class. It was a nice gesture, and apparently consistent with the type of person that he is.

    What a terrible, senseless loss. My heart goes out to him.

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