Paul Koors was one of those kids that parents brag about – a brilliant student who went to medical school in Richmond, married the love of his life, had two beautiful children of his own and completed his residency in Charlottesville – becoming a highly skilled surgeon.
This weekend, however, the community will celebrate him for something more.
Anyone who has held down a job while raising kids knows the challenge – finding time for anything more than meals and sleep, but Paul Koors was a master juggler. His wife Liz cites his determination to stay fit.
"He ran the New York City marathon. He ran a triathlon at Monticello – the Monticello Man," she says.
He also loved music – composing, singing and playing acoustic guitar -- his songs a gentle blend of folk, rock and county.
He always made time for his children. Liz Koors recalls a welcoming school picnic for James as he prepared to start first grade.
“It was a potluck. It was a very hot night as a remember. Paul was at work, and I was just looking at a text I saved. I was saying ‘Don’t bother coming. It’s so hot. It’s not worth it,’ and he laughed and said, ‘Don’t try to ditch me. I’m coming to support James.’”
Afterward Liz took the kids home to get ready for bed, and their dad went off to the gym. That was the last time they would see him alive.
“Two police officers came to the house and said, ‘Your husband collapsed at the gym,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, he’s just dehydrated.’ We were all sweating profusely at the picnic.”
She figured Gatorade would fix that and headed for the hospital. The children were left in a waiting room to color, while Liz went to another room where she learned her 38-year-old husband had died from a heart condition he didn’t know he had.
Aortic dissection is the same disease that killed actor John Ritter of Three’s Company. It occurs when the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears. Blood rushes through causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate. If the outside layer bursts, it’s almost always fatal.
“It was brutal. I mean it was a shock for everybody,” says Greg Howard, the sound engineer who helped Koors record his first record in Charlottesville. They had just finished Paul’s part of a second album before he, Liz and the kids moved to Connecticut to be closer to extended family.
“Paul literally met the movers and helped them pack up the truck and then drove up to meet us here," Liz says. "It’s amazing to think about how he got us all settled in, good to go, before he had to leave.”
Back in Charlottesville, Howard was determined to finish the album.
“He’s a really brilliant songwriter and a great guitarist and singer, " he explains. "I really wanted to make sure his music got heard.”
He recorded and mixed his own parts and those of musicians James McLaughlin, Justin Esposito and John D’Earth. Then, working with Liz and the rest of Paul’s family, he helped organize a concert that will feature those musicians and Peyton Tochterman – a singer/songwriter who had met Koors once.
“He and I hit it off really well," Tochterman remembers. "I mean we were the same age, had young kids. If he had stayed in Charlottesville, I think we would have been easy friends, and the cool thing is I’ve gotten to know him really well through his music. The songs are powerful. They’re powerful about the things I think many middle-aged men go through with trying to define who you are – especially once you have a family and you have kids and you have to make many decisions that are not what you would have done as a younger person. The truth that he speaks hit me extremely hard.”
And he reasoned these song would keep Paul Koors alive for this and future generations.
"His kids someday will be sitting around, and somebody will say, ‘Put on some tunes,’ and they’ll put this record on and say, ‘This is my dad!’"
The band will perform at Charlottesville’s Southern Café and Music Hall October 12th – the proceeds will benefit the Paul Koors Memorial Foundation, launched to support research on aortic dissection and to support aspiring musicians.