Amazingly he survived a near fatal collision with a parked Semi Truck on a side street on his souped up motorcycle. The bike was going so fast it climbed up the semi and flipped Big Mike up in the air and severed his spinal cord below the waist.
Big Mike landed in a wheel chair. Fast forward to twenty years ago.
Then, Big Mike suffered a stroke--and doctors told his sweet Carol that her husband would spend the rest of what was left of his life in bed--they spoke from experience. No one lasted long after that kind of punishment. Any day it could be all over!
He beat all the odds until May 13, 2010. At the age of 69, Big Mike was liberated to run all over the Spirit World Paradise--or roar all over on the afterlife version of the best dream-cycle he could imagine. He credited his marvelous care from wife Carol and all his nurses and doctors. I personally believe he kept his attitude alive and enthusiasic---and that sustained him and all around him to the very end.
I couldn't do it--minimal use of my arms and hands--and really nothing but my brain, my face and my voice to serve my fellow man--but he did, my, how he did.
Poetry--on long car trips with friends, they would quote poetry back and forth all the way to Southern Utah. It's a lost art--but Big Mike recited to anyone who would sit still long enough to thoroughly enjoy his enthusiastic renditions. A little DVD recording of Mike reciting with his whole being three poems on camera and a number just in audio track is a precious memento of Mike's great talent and skills.
His many interests were wide and deep. Above all he loved his family--and they dropped by often--all three kids, spouses, kids, pets. He was a fanatical fan of the Utah Jazz and BYU Football. A big man himself, well beyond six feet six inches tall he loved to research Giants, Utah history and Stamps! - Back in the day of the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, Big Mike led a group of philadelists (Stamp Collectors) in arranging a special cancellation of a commemorative stamp of the majestic Temple right on temple square.
Wheelchair bound, Sullivan met with the First Presidency to make arrangements for the crowd and outdoor facilities for the ceremonial cancellation by U.S. Post Office Staff.
"I put on my best suit to meet with President Hinckley and President Monson, both counselors to President Benson in the board room at 47 East South Temple." Mike recalled. As we posed for pictures to remember the occasion, I remembered I was wearing wide bright orange suspenders. As the photographer got ready to snap the the picture, my suit coat fell open and President Monson saw the bright glow of my galluses.
"He laughed out loud and I covered them up as quick as I could." he said.
"'Don't do that Mike," President Monson chuckled! "They'll show up great in the picture! Where can I get a pair like that?' " How I love that great prophet! Big Mike chuckled in the telling.
Mike was renown throughout his family as the smartest Grampa ever. At the memorial service, Big Mike and Carol's only daughter, Kathy told the story about her fourth grade daughter. When she had a difficult homework assignment she would go to her mother and beg permission, "Let's call Grampa Mike! He'll know the answer". Kathy told the crowd gathered to say goodbye to Big Mike that often she had to simplify Grampa Mike's College level explanations, "so the teacher wouldn't figure out where we got the answer!".
Oldest son Mike told the group how proud he was of his dad. "He was the smartest man I ever knew. He could take a math problem like 4,843,533 times 17,000 and instantly give back the correct answer. I checked it out with a calculator several times--and he was always right!" Son Mike said his dad worked as a commercial artist. "He was soon promoted as the boss of whatever operation he became a part of. He was a natural leader."
"With Dad flat on his back for so many years, Kathy said, "I always hesitated to tell him when I had a head ache or sour stomach. He always wanted to know when we were sick. He was a wonderful dad. He told us he would rather have the headache for us!
One of Big Mike's life long friends, Brent Cheney told the assembled friends and family about joining the Merchant Marine together.
"One day downtown in San Francisco, we were walking along in uniform when a drunk man came out of a bar with a big bottle of whisky, remembered Cheney. "He weaved and slurred, "Hey sailor boys--- let me buy you a drink!" Well Mike smiled, thanked him, took the bottle and walked off down the street. I couldn't believe it!
Big Mike just grinned and said, "He's had enough. He doesn't need this too!"
"We had to go through a lumber yard on the way back to the base," said Brent. "Big Mike hid the bottle there. Several weeks later I got a cold I just couldn't shake--it went on for three weeks and I was still congested and coughing. Big Mike said we should take Liberty that Friday and 'go out for dinner'" He got that bottle and told me I should take two big swallows."
"We're both good Mormon boys", remembered former Seaman Cheney. "Neither one of us had ever taken a drink in our life! Well, Big Mike insisted and I figured it couldn't hurt, so I took the first swig and it burned all the way down. I took a big gulp from the bottle--and we went out for a hot dog on the pier. Suddenly I began to sweat---I got better almost immediately---and I've never had a cold since! Laughter and knowing nods across the chapel.
Many of the Holladay Second Ward High Priest's quorum visited Mike on a regular basis, as a service project. Mike always cheered up his visitors and they always left with more than they brought.
Bishop Steve Crump told the group at the end of the service that he, too dropped by Mike and Carol's home for a little bit of Big Mike therapy. With so much going on his life as Bishop, he needed someone to cheer him up. Mike always brightened other's lives. He quoted poetry from memory from a vast mental store. He knew more jokes than anybody I ever met--and he loved to make folks laugh. He loved to laugh with them!
After the memorial service was over--and the family gathered for the trip to the cemetery, One of Big Mike's closest friends, Brent shared a story that couldn't be told over the pulpit that Mike told him on one of his last visits.
One Day Big Mike was workin' on his car when he noticed a young druggie breaking into his neighbor's house. Quickly, Big Mike grabbed his 22 pistol and shouted, "Hey! Whatcha doin? The kid took off like a shot down the street. Big Mike shouted the classic line from every cop show you ever saw, "STOP OR I'LL SHOOT!
Then, ever the consumate showman, Big Mike went silent. Brent was well into the story-- it wasn't a joke--it was a true story and after a few beats, he got desperate for the rest of it. "So, Did you?--Did you shoot him?"
With his face wreathed in a great big smile he said, "Sure did! Hit him in the ass and dropped him on the spot!"
"Well?" asked Brent!
"Oh, I didn't kill him, just wounded him a bit in his dignity!" Mike chuckled. The police ended up congratulating me--of course that was then, and this is now!
"You're so lucky!" Brent laughed "The laws have changed-- You coulda' been sued by him...or his parents.
"That's right, laughed Big Mike, "but that was then, and this is now!" and he smiled another broad smile remembering how it used to be!
No one knows what they call the Mortality Degree that Mike earned with highest honors for the relatively short time he was here. Gramma Rosie said they might confer on Big Mike a P.T.A.H.D. (Passed To a Higher Degree)! lol
Friend Cheney, who spent so much of his early life with Big Mike said it best.
"I know where Big Mike is right now! He's up there in Paradise, hugging all those great friends and family who preceded him, but I think, if I know Mike at all, he's saying something like, 'Wait just a minute--I'll be right back!' And then, using legs he hasn't had in twenty years or more--he's running from one side of the kingdom to the other and laughing like heaven's never heard!"
Good on ya , Big Mike-- Save a place for us, we'll all be up directly! JWH
J. Wizard Howe
Curator of the Great Grampa Hall of Fame
Curator of the Great Grampa Hall of Fame
Producer of Grampa in Training (GiT) Blog:
Currently writing "On We Go--Laughing!"
Creator of "Teaching Moment Boosters (Vitamin TMB)"Co-Author of "Stop Business Interrupters, Encourage Agents of Change"