The Last Dori Monson Show

Feb 5, 2023

On Saturday, February 4th at Canyon Hills Community Church in Bothell, the last Dori Monson show aired to a few hundred friends and family.  It was billed as his memorial service, but as I sat watching his life remembered and the gratitude for his friendship, coaching, and love expressed, it struck me that what I was seeing was really the last Dori Monson Show – a show voiced almost entirely by others, but nevertheless a show he wrote with intensity, purpose and devotion over the course of his life and career.

Dori grew up poor on the “mean streets of Ballard” but his drive and competitive spirit inspired the people around him to intervene when financial limitation might have limited his opportunities.  There was a coach who bought him his shortstop glove when his parents couldn’t afford it. A friend whose $800 gift kept him at the University of Washington in an English class in a quarter in which he would meet the love of his life and mother of his children. 

Dori had three goals in life: to be a husband and father; to coach basketball; and to be a broadcaster.  And he did all three – at the same time - and he was the best. His show was the number one talk show in Seattle. He coached his girls to become State Champions. And his wife and daughters made clear his success as a family man was not to be beat.

The key to his success was not just innate talent.  In their reflections on his friendship, Paul Moyer and Dave Wyman detailed his unmatched work ethic – for his shows, for his coaching and for his relationships, both family and friends.  Moyer and Wyman, men who must have physically towered over Dori when in his company, praised him as a friend to look up to.  At one point, one of the men revealed how when he felt he might have slighted Dori and how he apologized to him the next day.  Dori explained their relationship, their friendship had equity in it. Years of bonding and good will that would absorb and erase any word, phrase or incident that might otherwise drive a wedge between them.  And throughout the room, you could see Dori had invested his relational equity well.

Sheridan Stephenson, Janie Uppinghouse and Mickey Greenburg – three young women who Dori had coached and mentored, described how coach Dori would create opportunities for memories. With purpose, he set out to make his girls remember not just the games, but each other, the youthful energy, dreams, and laughter.  He created a “midnight madness” practice focused on goal-setting and them playing on a court by candlelight so they would never forget that season of their lives.  He led them in karaoke and in inspirational songs.  He made their basketball season and that season of their lives immortal.

One of the women described how at a pivotal point in a game with victory on the line, she spoke up in the timeout and said, “Coach, I know how we can win.”  Without missing a beat, Coach Dori handed her the pen for the whiteboard. Her plan worked, and she enjoyed talking strategy with him from that day onward. It wasn’t the first time I heard a story like that about Dori. It was just who he was.

Dori’s daughters spoke of how he made them feel loved and honored. How he didn’t wait for life to hand him memories but set out to make moments with them.  He set a high bar of expectation for the kind of man that his daughters should expect and there was no mistaking the high praise intended when one of the girls described her husband as like Dori.  Dori’s wife Suzanne, whose voice never waivered and whose smile beamed as she remembered him, described an awkward but handsome young Dori, oblivious to his hold on her affections, awkward in his flirtations, but when finally ignited, embraced fun, love and life like no one else. Like he Billy Joel song that lit the spark to their romance said, he was “just the kind of lunatic” she was looking for. And they never looked back.

It is said that some people wear their emotions on their sleeves.  Dori wore his on his face. He cried shamelessly and didn’t mind if people knew about it.  When Dave Wyman and Paul Moyer drove across the state to see Dori’s girls play in a big game as a surprise, when Dori looked into the stands, he wept in gratitude for the support.

Brock Huard of UW Quarterback fame and now broadcasting renown, and one of the nicest people in broadcasting I’ve ever met, shared his friendship and admiration of Dori and read memories of Dori on behalf of his family.  Somehow he kept his voice steady.  Somehow he kept it from cracking even though he had to paint a picture of such terrible loss. 

Two videos played during the service.  I know Dori’s producer (my former producer) Nicole Thompson had a heavy hand in creating them. They showed multiple sides of Dori, not just in pictures of him, but in the songs and joy of the people affected by him. We saw Dori as a baby, Dori doing an awkward, in-studio dance both cringe-inducing and infectious. We saw him practicing for his dance with his daughter at his wedding.  We saw the intensity of his eyes for his competitions and professions, his enormous sense of humor love of laughter and most of all, his love for family and friends.

Pastor Steve Walker offered “the message”—an explicit call to faith in Jesus Christ which fit Dori, a man of faith.  The message was simple: live life with purpose, love and faith so that when your time is up, you’re ready. These things are needed to truly live but are also needed to die well. The goal being to use the gift of time, live aware of its ephemeral nature and live life grateful for your numbered days.

Politics were mentioned a couple times. Mostly to dismiss but once by one of his daughters to illustrate how her dad’s strong stance and willingness to challenge the status quo taught her the value of finding other perspectives.

The whole service was beautiful.  Sad, but beautiful.  Everyone involved contributed to telling Dori’s story and evoking who he was and how he made people feel and what made him so special.  I found myself thinking of how, at a certain level, the whole event was scripted by Dori, crafted by how he lived and what he valued-- his last Big Show.

And while it’s the last Dori can write, it’s not the last he will influence. In the eyes of his daughters, his wife, the young women he coached and the friends he inspired, you could see that his legacy will live on in many, many stories to come.  Dori Monson lived a wonderful life.

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