February 2016 marked the passing of Paul M. Splett. He is remembered by those who love him as the person who taught them to go after their dreams. He was a loving husband, father, son, brother, mentor and friend. He was both a heavy metal musician and a lawyer. A philosopher and a football fan. A lover and a sufferer. He refused to be limited by the hardships life threw at him, loving all things, pondering the questions of meaning, religion, and existence. After his second kidney transplant, Paul got out of bed and taught himself how to build a house, which became the beautiful home for him and the love of his life, Ronette Meyer. Paul's time on earth contained multitudes, but he left us too soon.
Paul was born May 23rd, 1961 to Gilbert and Carolyn Splett in Chewelah, Washington. He was the middle child between Kathryn and Tim. As children of a Lutheran pastor, they were often under the community’s microscope. So naturally, Paul got into metal music.
He grew his curly brown hair long, framing an intense unibrow and intelligent blue eyes. He promised his parents that he’d meet their expectation and graduate college. But only after he gave being a musician a serious go.
Over ten years, Paul played bass in The Edge, Traxx, Passion, Hammerhead, and Sgt. Friday. He and bandmates Scott ‘Ralph’ Alberts, Pete Kneser, and Chris McLernon would pack the bars they’d play. On Sgt. Friday, McLernon would later write:
Our set list was an eclectic mix of everything from the Monkees to W.A.S.P. to ZZ TOP to Bryan Adams… We played what we liked, and simply acted like chattering morons in between songs. It came naturally, it worked, and we drew big crowds quickly.
Oh, and we were loud.
McLernon went on to a long career in heavy metal and credits Paul with convincing him to become a serious musician. Sgt. Friday garnered a big enough following to move to LA. They’d play at the it venues, where everyone wanted to play: Gizarri’s, the Rainbow, FM Station, White Trash. He lived for music, and would relish hosting his visiting friends, introducing them to other musicians and showing them the local scene.
Throughout this era, a young Paul was struggling with chronic health issues stemming from an autoimmune disorder. He lost use of his kidneys in 1986, requiring a transplant from his father. Subsequent medicines wreaked havoc on his bone system, leading to a hip replacement at 26.
Paul met Ronette Meyer through his brother’s friend Shelley Bredeson. When Ronette heard that the gentle, patient man was recovering from hip surgery, she checked in on him. They soon moved in together, and married in the spring of 1988.
Everyone loved when he found Ronette. They were such a match for one another. He was energetic and curious and funny and kind. She was snarky and interesting and had really great energy, like he did. She made him happy.
Their wedding took place on an LA estate Houdini built for his mistress. The house and grounds were beautiful, and to save money their friends all cleaned, catered, and provided the entertainment. A mansion wedding starring the metal scene of LA.
As Paul’s health deteriorated, the band had to break up and move on. Ronette and Paul’s daughter Athena was born November 11th, 1988, and their son Gilbert a year later on December 13th. Kids, health, and Paul’s promise to get an education all conspired in the family moving back to Madison.
Ronette studied to become a high school English teacher, and Paul pitched his own major, putting together philosophy and religion courses. Paul was a deeply spiritual person. He believed in forces of nature more than a deity. He wrestled with who he was religiously all his life, turning every single rock over in pursuit of the truth. His introspection lead to an attitude of inclusiveness. He was dissatisfied with organized religion and loved the overriding truths that many religions shared. Like his favorite philosopher, Spinoza, he was God-intoxicated, if ‘god’ meant the unity of all substance.
His passion for philosophy and religion touched his friends and family. He could bring philosophy to life, discussing old texts with his sister as if they were in a room riffing with Kant over a few beers. Paul was responsible for his parents becoming inclusive in their faith, too. His father, Gilbert, was a theologian as well as a pastor. The two would talk endlessly on the phone, two hours would be nothing. Paul was a master at getting these kind of conversations going, with anyone in his life. Discussions that would happen over the course of years, spiraling back, as challenges arrived and the things that gave life meaning changed.
He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and was accepted in the philosophy master's program at the University of New Mexico. He moved to Albuquerque, wanting to focus on Native American religion and philosophy, but Paul was frustrated by his advisor’s misguided claim that Native American philosophy was non-canonical, or even non-existent. He discovered the next best thing: Native American law, and pursued a career in Mediation. Law school connected him with fellow students Rob Sutphin, Marcus Rael, Paul Spruhan and Bidtah Becker, who became his lifelong friends. Rob and Marcus would bicker and argue about who was Paul’s best friend, a goofy rivalry that continued as they both established prominent law practices. Paul was a rock to many in his life, he was an attentive friend with whom no subject was off-limits.
Throughout the late nineties, Paul’s health was deteriorating. Paul’s first kidney failed, after 17 years, followed by years of daily dialysis. The man who defied limitations and inspired those around him to live fully was ready to give up, his talk was of finality.
Though his brother, Tim, was willing to donate a second kidney, local hospitals were unwilling to perform the transplant. Paul’s mother, Carolyn, kept searching for somewhere to perform the operation, and landed on the University of Madison’s School of Medicine. They would consider a transplant, if Paul wanted to live.
Even though he was in constant pain, he chose life. Paul was still the same man who refused to categorized by his suffering. The kidney transplant happened in August of 2005. He used this to re-focus his life on his dreams. He lived in an earth ship in Taos, working on a book delving into quantum physics through the lens of atheism. He wanted to build a house. He wasn’t a carpenter, but that was hardly an obstacle. He found a little piece of property. Ronette was less than enthused at first glance. There was nothing there but an empty lot on a weird little dead end street in Los Ranchos.
They rented an apartment nearby, and got to work. Paul designed a small adobe house and built it super efficiently, with solar electric, passive heating and cooling, and a roof catch-water system. The floor plan was Ronette’s, together they drafted up the kitchen cabinet layout. Paul hired two professionals, Mexican nationals who provided expertise throughout the project and saved him from rookie mistakes. Everyone leant a hand, from Gilbert Sr. raising the beams to Marcus financing the finish stucco. But every detail, from the ironwork to roof beams to the Alligator Juniper trim, has a piece of Paul’s mind and heart in it.
In the final 10 years of his life, Paul became what he really wanted to be. He built the home for himself and Ronette with his own two hands. He became an Assistant Attorney General of New Mexico. He never stopped thinking about the universe and our place in it. Athena and Gilbert recall a wonderful father, a humble, funny, loving man who was at equally at ease discussing gnostic gospels or the Green Bay Packers. He was a passionate motorcyclist, and would meet with his buddies at local dives to swap stories before kicking off rides in the Jemez Mountains.
Through it all, he was unfailingly kind. He knew that he was not perfect. He knew none of us were. That allowed for an incredible empathy, compassion for all people and all ways of finding meaning in life.
Paul passed away peacefully early in the morning on February 10th, 2016. Ronette made him as comfortable as possible in his final struggles.
His life was cut short when it was at its best, and Paul would not have denied the cosmic unfairness in that. But holding his memory are many who were inspired by his love and enthusiasm for the mystery of life, gifts which will ripple through the rest of their lives. Paul loved to hurl questions out into the void. He now knows the answers to the mysteries about which we have only been able to guess, argue, and ponder.