Laurel Piippo: fighter, foe and friend to all humanity

How do we memorialize the seemingly immortal? Let's start by saying how much we're going to miss Laurel Piippo (when her time actually comes).

Saturday is her "Awake" -- a kind of pre-funeral, held while the honoree is still above ground so she can be there to hear all the wonderful things being said about her.

Laurel is also celebrating her 85th birthday.

So today we honor one the Tri-Cities' most beloved and cranky characters.

In her own words she is a "world traveler, mother, grandmother, teacher, travel agent, three-time cancer survivor, perennial student of life and humanity ..." (Or at least that's what it says on her blog -- yes, she blogs and has a Facebook account.)

We would add to that list grammar snob, lobbyist and friend. For many years Piippo took it upon herself to proofread the Tri-City Herald, make corrections and send those corrections to the editor and publisher.

We haven't received any editing critiques from Laurel lately. We would like to think it's because we're putting out a flawless product, but suspect it's because she is involved with other interests now more than ever.

At 85, she shows no sign of slowing down. Rather, she is like a boulder hurtling down Mount Adams, picking up momentum as she goes.

Her interests include world travel, grandchildren, Kiwanis, medical isotopes for cancer treatment, a glass of wine, decadent desserts and political activism. Chief among her unpaid jobs -- self-appointed government watchdog.

While many in the Mid-Columbia are patrons of the arts, Laurel could possible be the "patron saint" of the arts.

But, for all the titles we could bestow on her, perhaps the simplest is the most descriptive: teacher.

She is a legend at Kennewick High School.

And not just because she taught there for close to forever, but more because of the type of teacher she is. She is the kind of teacher who goes far beyond lectures, homework and tests.

To her credit, she has kept in contact with many of her former students and they eagerly acknowledge the impact she made in their lives.

She is a teacher who teaches ... still. (She carries copies of the Constitution with her to hand out to people who, in her mind, clearly could benefit from some additional exposure to the document.)

And she still teaches us.

She has taught us humility, both by taking the editorial board to task when we have needed it and also by apologizing quickly and sincerely when she was the one off target.

She has taught us about perseverance (a three-time cancer survivor and relentless letter writer) and we pity whoever she locks her sights on -- since we've actually been there a time or two.

When she joins a cause she is tenacious -- whether it's to keep the Fast Flux Test Facility open or to shine a spotlight on the salaries and bonuses paid at Washington State University.

She has also taught us what it means to have an open heart and mind.

For all of this, we thank you, Laurel, and will miss you -- when it's time. Happy birthday.