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Southworth could barely move, but he had strong character

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 12:15 am

FAIRBANKS — Dennis Southworth, who not long ago said he wanted to have a birthday party every month, has died at 61, just before his third monthly birthday party at Denali Center.

Southworth was a geologist, a baseball fan and a man who managed to keep a positive attitude when others would have abandoned hope.

Whenever I feel the urge to complain about a little problem, I think of Dennis. I’m not about to forget him.

At his request, his friends plan to gather for a party at the Red Fox Bar & Grill from 5 to 7 p.m Dec. 10.

I first met him in 2008 and although he could hardly move a muscle, it was clear that he had strength of character. That’s what defined him, not the disease that put him on his back.

I had gone to see him at the urging of Kathy Carrico, who had what she said was a crazy idea — getting Dennis to Seattle to see the Mariners play.

After talking it over, Dennis and I agreed that she was not crazy.

He could move his head from side to side and he could speak softly, but other than that he was paralyzed from multiple sclerosis.

Motionless he may have been, but there was a lot of life in this man, pouring out through his eyes, his jokes and his upbeat attitude.

From his bed, Southworth watched every baseball game he could on TV. When no games were on, he would have someone put “The Natural” or “Field of Dreams” or some other baseball movie on the DVD player.

Though he was fond of the Cubs and the Mariners, he enjoyed all teams, with the exception of the Bronx Bombers.

He had come to Alaska in 1976 and earned a master’s degree in geology from UAF. For his thesis, he wrote “Geology of the Goodnews Bay Ultramafic Complex.”

Dennis worked for the U.S. Bureau of Mines for 19 years and covered a lot of ground across Alaska, living a rich life in the outdoors.

The trouble that forced him to spend the final years in bed began about 20 years ago. He gradually lost control of his muscles.

After meeting him, I wrote this: “His mind and his sense of humor are sharp, however, and he wanted to know all about my job. He nodded yes under his Cubs hat when I asked him if he enjoys life.”

One of the things I remember about that day is reading an account he had dictated in which he said he got depressed at times, but his life was good.

“To find peace, I use creative visualization to go to my ‘happy place’ in my mind,” he said.

Kathy had met him many years earlier when Dennis was a patient at the dental office where she worked.

Their first conversation went like this: He asked her how many holes she had in her head. She said six, adding up the piercings in her ears.

“That doesn’t include the one between your ears,” he replied.

After that, they had no trouble appreciating each other.

Kathy asked me to meet Dennis because she wanted to see if people in Fairbanks would help her get him to a big league baseball game.

It was going to be tough because he could not sit in an airline seat. He had to travel in a special wheelchair that supported his back, legs and head. They needed eight airplane tickets.

They didn’t get to Seattle in 2008, but it was a “wait till next year” situation, something that any Cubs fan could understand.

Thanks to Kathy and about 50 other people who helped in one way or another, Dennis flew to Seattle in August 2009. Dennis’ doctor said it was OK and two nurses volunteered to go with him, along with Kathy.

He saw the Mariners play the Yankees that day at Safeco Field. He enjoyed a beer, got a ball, jersey and the Mariners flashed a message on the scoreboard.

The Yankees lost 10-3, which he considered a plus.

It wasn't a crazy idea. It was a great idea.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter at FDNM@dermot.

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