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Rest in Peace, Shawn Vann

I knew Shawn almost four years, not nearly as long as most of you, but certainly as long as I’ve worked in Aberdeen as a pastor. He was a hard person not to know, honestly.

I knew him as he camped on and off at the river. And lived in various places around the city.

I knew him as a leader. He may never have sat on city council or been named as a city father. But on the streets and to a large community in Aberdeen, he was a leader. He was a man that people looked to- to solve disputes, for protection, for advice.

He was a passionate sort of guy—a big guy, not just physically, but the kind of guy who everyone noticed when he was in a room. He had a huge personality. When he was angry, it seemed like the whole block vibrated with his anger.

But he could also be uncommonly kind. Shawn was the kind of person who could tell what was going on with people and he was the kind of person who listened.

To me, Shawn as always deeply respectful—not so much because I’m a priest, but just because he had a way of treating a person, no matter who they were, as human. We had many conversations over the years—about the injustices people faced on the streets, about life in general, about how tired he was of eviction after eviction, about Aberdeen and life here.

Most of the time I knew him, his health was failing. And by the end, he knew he was dying. He suffered a lot in that last part of his life, and I saw him suffer with a certain dignity and courage. At the last, he was tired. He hated doctors and he hated hospitals and at last he died in the spot that was probably more home to him than any other place in the universe.

I’ve always felt that the banks of the Chehalis river have carried something of Shawn’s spirit and I think that they always will. That his spirit is still there, still with us, still in the place he called home—that Shawn, now, is looking down on us, as we try to find our way through this maze called life.

The last conversation that Shawn and I had, about a week before he died, was all about his concern for the people who were camping around him. It was all about getting sanitation in place for the community that always formed around him. In all the conversations I ever had with Shawn, he never forgot about the welfare of the people around him.

It doesn’t seem at all fair that so many in our community die so young. And I don’t think any of us were ready for Shawn to go.

But I do know that Shawn is free now, flying high and likely partying hard. I do know that Shawn looks down over this place that he loved, this place that was his home, this place where he was a leader, where he was loved, where he lived and partied and fought and loved and died. I do know that Shawn is safe in the arms of a God who loves him.

And I also know that many of the people in this room have stories to share about Shawn and about his life, as we celebrate a man whose life touched so many.

Rest in peace, Shawn, rise in power.


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