Not long ago, my friend Chris Raines posted on Facebook about how Hank, a dog he lovingly referred to as ‘the best dog in the world’, didn’t seem to want to perform potty duties in the rain. When I saw the word rain in the weather forecast this morning, it made me wonder how Chris was doing with the task of training his dog to poop on command – a suggestion posted by several of his friends. As was the case in nearly all of Chris’s posts, a lot of friendly banter followed. But a split second after I thought about Chris and the Hank training project, a far more sobering thought followed: the still-new reality that Chris lost his life in a car accident last night.
Chris was the well-respected meat science guy at Penn State University; respect he earned in just a short time. He was sharp, friendly, open-minded and a great teacher. I remember the first time I heard Chris address a group of beef producers in Lancaster. He was a relative newcomer to Penn State, still in the ‘we have to make sure you’re doing a good job when you’re addressing producers’ stage. He apologized for having to pass out evaluation forms to the audience. But I didn’t have to see the questionnaire to know how I’d fill it out. Chris was dynamic, interesting and easy to listen to. It was hard to believe he was the new guy on the block.
At the same meeting, several new beef cuts were available for sampling. I recall giving my feedback to Chris, and he assured me that he’d pass it along to the people who developed the product. I know he did just that. He made me feel as if what I thought mattered.
When I heard him speak the following year, he was (not surprising) even more interesting and polished as a presenter. Although I didn’t see him often, I had a chance to say hello at several events over the past couple of years. I remember being glad to see him at a USDA meeting on mobile slaughter units – we’d have a chance to chat again. But during the lunch break, another attendee grabbed Chris’s attention and spent nearly the entire lunch hour talking his ear off about her cattle. Throughout the conversation, Chris was patient, courteous and thoughtful, and provided her all the help he could.
That’s what Chris did. He was so passionate about agriculture, so willing to help and answer questions that he didn’t seem to mind having his lunch interrupted by a producer who had questions. And he wasn’t always the giver of advice – he was open to new ideas.
Chris helped bring people together. He posed questions that made us think – mostly about meat and livestock production, but also about agriculture in general. Chris also worked hard to address one of ag’s most challenging problems: the producer/consumer gap. Through social media, he educated countless people about topics many consumers have questions about but don’t know how or where to get the answers.
Others have written beautiful memorials about how much they valued Chris’s friendship and mentoring. It’s obvious that he touched many lives, and that he will be missed tremendously.
I don’t know how all of us who knew Chris will cope over the coming days, weeks and months. All I know is that death is a part of life, and sometimes it just plain stinks. I pray that his family will find peace in the knowledge that Chris was much loved by many, and that he did everything he could for the good of the industry he clearly loved.