You don’t just meet Peter Root. You become his friend.

Like a lot of people in this area, I was saddened to hear that Peter had died July 3. He seems like a friend to me even though I’ve only talked to him a handful of times.

The first official meeting that I remember was in 2010 when I interviewed Peter as a human interest feature in the newspaper. Even before that, I had seen him at Walmart where he used to work as a greeter.

Peter was born with spina bifida and was paralyzed from the waist down. He had to have a lot of surgeries over the years, and he told me, “I’ve conquered it all. It’s your attitude. If you have a good attitude about life, you can conquer it.”

And he gave me that 100-watt smile of his, and I liked him immediately, just like everybody does.

I even felt a little convicted because when I talk to people who have that message, I always ask myself, “How’s my attitude? Probably not that great.”

To give you an example of Peter’s attitude, here’s a guy who would tell you without any hesitation that he loved his job at Walmart as a greeter. He loved talking to people. He liked all his co-workers, without exceptions. And you know there had to be a crabby one here and there, right?

He appreciated work. It was fun. It was a chance to get out of the house and see his friends. I can relate to that after the doldrums of the pandemic.

But how often do we overlook the fun aspects of work or school or any myriad of things? How often do we gripe?

He had a number of jobs in his life, but his favorite was Walmart. He worked for a time in billing with The Courier-Gazette, which I was only reminded of when I read his obituary.

Peter was very independent. He could drive and get around down Rockland’s hilly streets to visit his friends and family.

Years later, I got it into my head to do a “Positive Edition” of the paper. I apparently thought of Peter because I found a story of mine about him putting out “Pete’s Positive Posts of the Day” every morning on Facebook. He had almost 3,000 Facebook friends, and he noted that for him social media was a great way to connect with other people.

While some use the Internet to act as trolls and fight about politics, Peter made it a positive thing. Of course he did.

In the second article, I learned that once he couldn’t drive himself, he was not able to get out of the house as much as he wanted due to a lack of adequate public transportation. That’s something we need to work on to prevent our neighbors and friends from becoming isolated.

I used to look forward to stopping by Peter’s house on Halloween with my kids and saying hi. It was always great to catch up and see that smile.

I think a lot of people are going to miss him, but we were all lucky to have him in our community. It’s on us now to pay his positivity forward and give it to other people.

I will conclude this column by noting that it will likely be my last, at least for a while, in The Courier-Gazette and affiliated papers. I have taken on a new position in the community working outside the newspaper business, but I am leaving with 24 years of great memories.

I want to express my gratitude to all the newsroom people I have worked with and learned from over the years. I will point out in particular Steve Betts and Ken Waltz, who have been great mentors for me and wonderful friends. But that is not to take away from the many other great people in a list too long to mention here.

I also want to express my thanks to Reade Brower for bailing out the papers in 2012 and keeping them going. At that time, he didn’t really know me and he put a tremendous amount of trust in me to lead the news department here. Reade loves the news and he’s interested in everything we do, and I think he deserves credit for that.

I’ll wrap up by saying how much I appreciate all the people who have helped me with stories over the years, and that includes the people who simply did their part by getting a subscription or picking up the paper and reading it. Newspapers are like any other local business… we need the support of the community to survive and hopefully even thrive.

I’ll miss this chapter of my life, but I am also very excited to take on some new challenges. As for the community, I won’t need to miss that because I’ll still be around.

Dan Dunkle is the Executive Editor of The Courier-Gazette, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal.