As I pulled out of the driveway to attend Pat and Connor Porter’s celebration of life service, the song “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum came on the radio. That set the tone for a true celebration of the lives of a father and son taken too soon in a private plane crash on July 26.
The extensive obituaries for two-time Olympian Pat and his son Connor (included at the end of this post) detail their achievements, their personalities, and their personal relationships with Jesus. This part focuses on how their lives were celebrated at this service.
As hundreds of people filled the sanctuary at Calvary of Albuquerque, an extensive photo-montage of the active, happy Porter family in a range of activities cycled as soothing Christian music played over the sound system. At the front was a color-coordinated display for Pat, whose color was purple and Connor, whose color was red.
Purple flower displays, a large photo of Pat wearing purple, and a purple ceramic urn holding his cremated remains stood to the left of the podium. Red flower displays, a large photo of Connor with a medal around his neck, and a red wooden urn stood to the right. Farther back on the stage, two columns of balloons, one red, one purple, complemented each other with a heart shaped balloon at the top in the other color. Attendees were given little purple ribbon flowers made by Pat’s daughter Shannon and her friends.
As Angela DiPrima and JoAnn Huber performed an opening song, four cousins of Connor carried in a flag of the U.S. Olympic team and hung it on poles between the balloon columns.
Pastor Skip Heitzig opened with a welcome and a prayer. “We see this as a home going for them. We hurt today because a piece of the future has been taken, when those who are young face death. Life in this world leads to death, yet God has given us a hope so great beyond this world.”
Angela DiPrima performed a rap song that Connor sang to her when she first met him. The refrain was “Keep your head straight, keep your heart pure.” She got the audience singing the refrain with her by the end of the song.
Trish Porter, Pat’s wife and Connor’s mom, started by saying “When people find out I was on the Olympic team (she did high-jump), they ask if I got a medal. I did – I got Pat.” They met during 10 days of training and had a ton of laughs. When they got to the Olympics in Korea, she didn’t know if they’d meet again in the huge complex. When he showed up at her room, smiling, she thought, “This is good, he’s chasing me.”
Before their kids were born, they used to ride their Harley Davidson motorcycles all over the U.S. and Canada. She joked that once when they rode into a small town, wearing full leather gear, they’d overhear whispers of “I didn’t know the Hell’s Angels were in town.”
Connor was, “A white version of Pat: strong beliefs, conviction that he was right and wanted you to know it. He was sensitive, a hugger and toucher. Connor did more than most people do in a lifetime.”
She spoke of extensive travels with him, with lots of photos to illustrate. He was incredibly active – a fencer, a hunter, a paintball player. He “Got stitches in four different states.” He loved his sister, family, friends and his dog. “Everything was laced with laughter and jokes – mostly dumb ones,” Trish said. “I enjoyed every moment of being his mother.”
“He was confident and knew who he was – a child of the King,” Trish said. “I believe he has done great things in his life. Pat, Connor and Connor (Mantsch, also killed in the crash) have changed lives.”
Daughter Shannon spoke next, praising her brother and father and Jesus. She said, “Everything happens for a reason. I hope you will accept Jesus into your heart. Jesus is real and offers the gift of eternal life. We’ve received gifts of food and flowers, which is nice, but if you have not accepted Jesus, please invite him into your heart now.” Then she led those willing to say a prayer to accept Jesus.
Pat’s good friends Mark Manzanares and Paul Lucero shared stories of humor, generosity and loyalty. Paul said when he asked Pat what made him a running champion and he replied, “I hate the taste of dust so I just had to run faster.”
Joe Vigil, Pat’s college and Olympic coach for 14 years, spoke next, as pictures of Pat during his track and field days flashed on the screen. He asked for his team mates who came from out of state to attend this celebration of life to stand up and be recognized.
“We have many choices in life. He chose to be a runner and he chose to be excellent. He was one of the greatest distance runners of the past 50 years,” Joe Vigil said.
Friend Connor Arndell then told stories about Connor, who went to school with him at Albuquerque Academy. (Yes, there were three good friends all named Connor.) “He always had a great attitude. To him, nothing was impossible,” he said. “I am honored to be a part of his journey. He will be missed but never forgotten. The class of 2016 will carry him in their hearts as they graduate.”
Next door neighbor and close family friend Ken Konash spoke of how his daughter babysat Connor and Shannon as they were growing up and teaching Connor to hunt. Connor’s cousin Sam King shared thoughts from all the cousins. He ended saying that they loved the “gun-toting, footie pajama-wearing, Jesus-lover that you were.”
Pastor Skip Heitzig spoke next with the pastoral message. He started by saying, “Shannon, you’re gunning for my job,” referring to her call to come to Jesus. He spoke about the words “if” and “persuaded.”
“‘If’ hurts because it takes us back to a past that cannot be changed. ‘If’ raises questions that cannot be answered,” he said. And as for “persuaded” he quoted Romans 8: 35-38 – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … I am persuaded that nothing shall ever separate us from God’s love.”
Trish’s last text message to Pat was “When are you coming home?” “He was going to his home prepared by God. Something isn’t lost when you know where it is. This life is simply gestation for the life beyond this life.”
In the closing prayer he said, “Lord, we start and end by talking to you. We celebrate and thank you for Pat and Connor. We are not sorrowful for them – they are free, in your presence at peace and joy. They might even say ‘wish you were here.’ We hope they’ll show us around when we get there.”
After a closing song, everyone in attendance was invited to continue celebrating Connor and Pat’s lives at a reception at The Albuquerque Academy, where a memorial had been erected earlier in the week.
Here are the obits that appeared several times in the Albuquerque Journal:
PORTER — PATRICK R. (PAT) Our beloved Pat, age 53 of Albuquerque, died Thursday, July 26, 2012. He was with his treasured son Connor (15) and great friend Connor Mantsch in an airplane accident in Sedona, Arizona on July 26th.
Pat was a two-time U.S. Olympic Team Member (1984, 1988) in the 10,000 meters. He was a world record holder, twelve-time U.S. National Champion, won a record-setting eight-time consecutive USA Track & Field Senior Men’s Cross Country National titles, he’s in the Guinness book of World Records, he represented the U.S. at the World Cross Country Championships from 1982-1989 and placed 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th throughout his career. He was inducted into the following hall of fames: NAIA, RMAC two-time inductee, and Adams State Athletic Hall of Fame. He was an All American at Adams State College, and was on three NAIA National Cross Country Championship teams.
In 1998 he played Finnish distance runner LasseViren in the movie Without Limits, a biographical film about American distance legend Steve Prefontaine. He competed for Athletics West, Nike, Mizuno and Pearl Izumi throughout his running career. He was a top salesman for Centex Homes, new homes construction, and won a plethora of awards including a car. He graduated from Adams State College in 1982, was a pilot, NRA member, and attended Calvary of Albuquerque.
But more important than all of his amazing achievements was how he could make others laugh, touched lives, gave to others, and loved his family. He was our strength, our rock, our protector and the one who made us laugh from morning until bedtime. His commitment and dedication to those he loved and what he believed in was visible throughout his life. His impact on both the running and airplane community reaches around the world.
Pat loved spending time with his children and wife. He spent countless hours helping Connor and Shannon with their homework or bible verse memorization, flying family and friends throughout the country, shopping with his girls, and lying on the floor playing with his dog Theo. He enjoyed collecting art, watching movies, riding his Harley or bike, flying, and shooting. Pat had strong convictions including the first amendment.
We are comforted knowing that because of Pat’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ we will see him again in heaven one day. Pat would want each of you to come to know Jesus through this tragedy. We will miss him terribly and our lives and hearts have a huge hole. Also, we pray for the comfort to the Connor Mantsch family whose son was with Connor and Pat on their boy’s trip. It was evident to all their last days were a total blast.
Pat is survived by his “Honey” and wife of twenty years and 1988 U.S. Olympian Trish King Porter; “Punkin” girl Shannon Porter; father, Jack Everett Porter and mother, Ruth Taylor Porter from Cedar Edge, Colorado; twin sister Patricia Porter Van Inwagen and Chris Van Inwagen from Evergreen, Colorado. A Celebration of Life will be held Sunday, August 19, 2012, 2:30 p.m., at Calvary of Albuquerque.
For friends who wish, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Albuquerque Academy (www.aa.edu/giving) or Operation Heal Our Patriots (OHOP) with checks made out to Samaritan’s Purse with “OHOP in memory of Pat & Connor Porter” in the memo line, P.O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607-3000. Please visit our online guestbook for Patrick Porter at www.RememberTheirStory.com FRENCH 7121 Wyoming Blvd. NE (505) 823-9400
PORTER — CONNOR Our precious Connor, 15, passed away with his fun-loving dad and great friend, Connor Mantsch, in an airplane accident in Sedona, Arizona on July 26, 2012. Connor was full of life, exceedingly energetic, and was bursting to share it with others. There was nothing he enjoyed better than spending time with family, friends, fencing, paintball and dog. Connor was an amazing son and brother. He was so proud of his sister and boldly exhibited his love for her.
Connor was a sensitive and loving son. We were so blessed by his quirky sense of humor, quick smile, and loving hugs. Connor regularly attended the church Calvary of Albuquerque. We are comforted knowing that because of Connor’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we will see him again one day in heaven. Connor would want each of you to come to know Jesus through this tragedy. Connor knew what he believed, had a profound sense of personal integrity, and had an unassuming confidence. He loved to memorize scripture with his dad and earned multiple awards for Awana (Approved Workmen are not Ashamed). He was working towards his Citation award.
Connor was entering ninth grade at Albuquerque Academy. He loved school, not wanting it to end for summer break! He was first chair in the flute in the Academy Charger Band. His latest musical passion was playing guitar. In fifth grade, Connor earned the Academic Presidential Award at Sunset Mesa Schools.
Connor loved to fence, paintball, and hunt. His enthusiasm for fencing motivated him to get his homework finished early so he could fence at the New Mexico Fencers Club daily. Connor tied for 3rd at the 2012 U.S. National Fencing Championship in the Men’s Foil, Division III. Connor’s passion for living life to the fullest, energetic enthusiasm, and contagious joy will be missed more than words can say.
Also, we pray for the comfort to the Connor Mantsch family whose son was a kindred spirit with Connor, they were both old souls. Their last days were filled with tons of smiles, laughter and fun.
He is survived by his mother Trish King Porter, 1988 U.S. Olympian; favorite sister Shannon; grandparents Chuck and Debe King; Carol King Garibaldi; Jack and Ruth Porter. He was preceded in death by his fun loving father Patrick (Pat) R. Porter, two-time U.S. Olympian (1984, 1988) in the 10,000 meters, and eight-time U.S. Cross Country Champion. A Celebration of Life will be held Sunday, August 19, 2012, 2:30 p.m., at Calvary of Albuquerque.
For friends who wish, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Albuquerque Academy (www.aa.edu/giving) or Operation Heal Our Patriots (OHOP) with checks made out to Samaritan’s Purse with “OHOP in memory of Pat and Connor Porter” in the memo line, P.O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607-3000. Please visit our online guestbook for Connor Porter at www.RememberTheirStory.com FRENCH 7121 Wyoming Blvd. NE (505) 823-9400
If you have memories or additional comments, please share!