A Joyous Prescription for Living

Pat Boushell had the capacity to become completely immersed in the power of words, poems, songs, political and social possibilities and, of course, religion, which brought him a deep sense of connection, comfort and family. Pat treasured life’s gifts and saw the magic in a moment that can transform a soul.

Pat Boushell, a lay minister, participated at the altar during Good Friday services at Newman Hall in Berkeley.

by Carol Denney

John Patrick “Pat” Boushell, 58, passed away on November 30, 2013, after a life of joy and struggle. A quick-witted writer and public school teacher in his early life, Pat was deeply steeped in contemporary folk music, literature and religion.

Pat loved to talk about ideas. He was a National Merit Finalist in high school and authored self-published, hand-written manuscripts full of joyous prescriptions for living, observations on political struggles, poetry, and fragments of songs written throughout his life. He would send his works to his friends throughout the years, even in the last year of his life, despite suffering from the hypertensive cardiovascular disease which finally took his life.

I met Pat in the early 1980s when I used to carry my guitar to lower Sproul Plaza on the University of California campus in Berkeley to practice in the covered area near the steps. He sat for long periods of time quietly listening to me, and we got to talking. It was unusual for me to meet someone who listened to lyrics, and whose respect for music was so deep.

I later learned that Pat had been traveling through from the East Coast on a whim, and was so inspired by the creative culture Berkeley had in those days that he decided on the strength of the amazing experience he had while visiting in that week to move to California. He wrote to me about his plans, and we never stopped writing, even after he moved to town.

We stayed in touch all his life. He worked steadily to qualify as a teacher, and arranged concerts for me occasionally at the schools where he worked so that his young students could hear both traditional and contemporary work songs, which he felt were a natural part of the study of literature. He came to my performances often, sometimes bringing a bouquet or some fresh cookies, which were a salute to a silly blues song.

I knew Pat for many years as a sharp, witty, focused man, so when he became disabled in later years by mental and physical disabilities, it was very difficult to see.

I came to understand that disabilities can strike anyone at any time, and leave them struggling for support and understanding.

Father Bernie Campbell, a priest at Newman Hall, appreciated Pat Boushell’s participation at Mass, and his keen political analysis. Carol Denney photo


Pat would have long periods of success with a medication, and then, when the balance somehow changed, he would struggle to simply keep up with overwhelming surges of ideas and impulses.

Pat attended services at the Newman Hall Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley. Father Bernie Campbell of Newman Hall acknowledged Pat’s struggle, but noted that Pat was also a lay minister, participating at the podium during traditional Good Friday services with the dignity appropriate to his role.

“He’d wear a tie,” Father Campbell said smiling, remembering that another priest once remarked that although Pat’s connection to reality might waver on occasion, the clarity of his perspective on political figures and the larger landscape of the world around him was astoundingly astute. Pat had his own unique genius.

One of his apartment mates was casual about his passing, saying, “it happens all the time” at UA Homes, the low-income housing complex where Pat was living. It made me realize that those who only knew Pat in his later years had little chance to see the thoughtful, generous, and funny man he had been as a teacher whose strongest desire was to inspire creativity and joy in his students.

Pat was never nonchalant about life’s gifts, or about the magic in a single moment that can transform a soul. He managed to have the capacity to become completely immersed in the power of words, poems, songs, political and social possibilities and, of course, religion, which brought him a deep sense of connection, comfort and family.

He had loving friends at Newman Hall who helped him when he needed it and mourned his passing. We both attended Christmas Eve services there sometimes, and it was so clear that, as Father Campbell put it, the church was, for Pat, “a place of dignity.”

But I will always think of him as the man who listened, long ago, when we were both so young. When we passed on the street, Pat would smile at me and quote from an obscure song of mine that often I had forgotten myself.

Pat saw, as a young man, a chance to completely transform his life into that of a writer and teacher, and, until disabling illness intervened, accomplished those goals with clarity and grace.

Those who were fortunate enough to know his quick wit and kind nature will miss him.

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