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Tony Messenger is the metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dick Bauer

Dick Bauer, with longtime friend Paul DeGregorio standing by him, enjoys a dinner with friends shortly before he died. Photo provided by Paul DeGregorio and used with permission. 

Once a year or so, Dick Bauer used to invite me to dinner.

He would regularly host dignitaries and journalists from other countries in a program that was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Last year it was three journalists from Fiji. The year before that Bauer’s visitors to his Kirkwood home were from Argentina and Lithuania. He’s hosted other groups from Jordan and Malawi.

I never made it to Bauer’s house for dinner. There was always something.

Shame on me.

He died last month at the age of 75 after a battle with myotonic dystrophy. His longtime friend and former boss, Paul DeGregorio, let me know of Bauer’s passing.

Bauer had been hired by DeGregorio at the St. Louis County Board of Elections in 1985. For nearly a quarter of a century Bauer was an important cog in the region’s democracy, working to protect the integrity of the election process.

It’s not the kind of job that earns headlines. He literally shows up in the Post-Dispatch archives less than a handful of times, usually offering a quote about the number of absentee votes or some other Election Day fact.

But Bauer lived the sort of life that should be remembered.

DeGregorio turned to Facebook to memorialize his friend.

“Dick was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things to make this world a better place. He was one of the best people I have ever known,” he wrote.

Most of us have people like Bauer in our lives.

They aren’t flashy, but they do big things.

We have regular interactions, but don’t take the time to get to know them. They invite us to dinner and we come up with excuses not to go.

Bauer emailed me every few months, usually responding to a column.

“I’m going to save today’s column and ask if they have similar problems in the South Pacific,” he wrote last fall about a column on the modern-day application of debtors prisons in Missouri.

In so many ways, DeGregorio wrote of his friend, this is who Bauer became in his later years: an American ambassador for democracy, with friends all around the world.

“In 1997, I picked him to be an official U.S. observer at a crucial election in Albania, which at the time was the poorest country in Europe and in turmoil. Dick had never traveled abroad and didn’t even have a passport. The trip would change his life forever,” DeGregorio wrote of his friend.

“Dick volunteered to do other missions to Bosnia, Ukraine, Belarus and other places. He didn’t just represent the US in a technical way on these missions, he was the heart and soul of the United States. He wanted to know people, stay in their homes, meet their family and friends and learn what made them happy. Over the years Dick kept in touch with his interpreters, drivers and people he met along the way.

“After he retired in 2009, Dick approached the St. Louis World Affairs Council and volunteered to host international visitors to St. Louis. Dozens of people from all over the world stayed with Dick while they learned about democracy, health care, government, entrepreneurs and other entities. He would often host small dinner parties where first-time international visitors to the USA could break bread and meet Americans. I was honored to have attended many of Dick’s dinners. A couple of years ago I sat next to a young Jordanian at Dick’s table. His name is Samer Marashdeh. He spoke no English, and I no Arabic. But through an interpreter Samer asked me to visit him in Jordan. Just a few months later I was asked to speak at a conference in Jordan and did indeed break bread with Samer and his family and friends, and became his friend for life. All because of Dick Bauer.

“Today Samer and many others from around the globe are grieving Dick’s loss and giving thanks to God for his life, for Dick had a gift of touching people with his head and heart, and he had a way of connecting people to make the world a better place.”

DeGregorio gave his friend the memorial he deserved. It was a gift of love and a reminder of the gravitas that so often is just a dinner invitation away.

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