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David Kuo: An Easter goodbye

By Michael Gordon
Michael Gordon
Michael Gordon writes on faith and values for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

David Kuo had this thing about Easter.

For the last decade, many of the big events of his life occurred around the holiday.

Now his life was ending at the same time of year. I asked Kuo’s pastor, David Chadwick, to share the irony with Kuo the next time he saw him. Chadwick fittingly delivered Kuo’s response.

“Tell Michael that if he doesn’t deal with Jesus, I’m going to come and kick his A$$.”

What kind of man forces his preacher to use language like that?

Read on.

Kuo, 44, died late Friday in Charlotte, closing out a 10-year period in which he had a far greater impact on the lives of those around him than brain cancer ever had on him.

At various stages of his life, he was a CIA agent, a top political operative, a writer and a professional bass fisherman.

He was kind. He was funny, and to hear him talk was to watch unbridled curiosity and bedrock Christian faith share the same swing.

His political views, tied to his best definition of the truth, were also evolving, and his friendships included a Noah’s Ark of political persuasions.

President George W. Bush appointed Kuo second-in-command of his “faith-based initiative” to spend $8 billion on the poor.

Later Kuo wrote a book that said the program was a sham concocted to control the votes of Christian conservatives.

Though he didn’t know it at that time, Kuo’s political life began to close 10 years ago on Palm Sunday. His new life included a brain tumor.

I met David and Kim Kuo in 2011, two years after they moved to Charlotte with their two kids. I was a religion reporter desperate for an Easter idea, and Chadwick told me he knew this guy with an resurrection story I wouldn’t believe.

In 2010, again right around Easter, Kuo’s tumor had miraculously disappeared. The doctors were confounded. The Kuos credited faith and prayer.

When we met for lunch, David had been cancer-free for a year. He wanted to sit in the sunshine, and he wanted his dessert served first.

He talked openly of his illness and faith, of why some die while others live, and the strain his cancer had put on his marriage. His candor was startling. David Kuo no longer wasted words or time.

“I have the gift of knowing what most people choose to forget: We will all die, and we don’t know when. Kim and I look around and know that this day is a gift.”

Three months later, I sent him an email. His response came back in phrases. “UCLA hospital,” it read. “Now I really know what a miracle the last year has been.”

The cancer had come back. The final months would be agonizing.

Last week, David Kuo issued his last Easter manifesto. It appeared in the Web magazine Politico:

“Favor? Do something outrageous today – give way more than reasonable to a homeless person, take the family out for an ice cream dinner ... and serve only ice cream. Call someone you hurt and ask forgiveness, call someone who hurt you and give forgiveness ... And send me a pic.”

I’m sending this column instead, David. Hope that’s OK, and happy Easter.

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