Goodbye to a Dear Friend


The shock of learning about my dear friend Rich’s death was crushing, as I know it also will be for the faithful readers of his monthly PFFC column, “Material Science.”

Dr. Richard Martin Podhajny passed away from a massive heart attack on Saturday, July 16, only three weeks following the death of his loving wife, Susan Caryl Glass Podhajny, who died after a three-month battle with metastasized breast cancer.

Rich and Susie are survived by their three grown children, Debra, David, and Daniel, along with six grandchildren, all of whom Rich and Susie were so dotingly proud. Rich’s life reads like a drama that no Hollywood screenwriter ever could have imagined. When I asked his youngest son Daniel to share some memories, I knew they contained the kind of victorious stories from which others could learn and be thankful for their good fortune.

From infancy, Rich’s life was beset by trial and tribulation. Rich was born as the only son of Mary and Michael Podhajny on July 27, 1940, near Soviet-Union-occupied Lvov, Poland. After the Nazi Germany betrayal of the German-Soviet Pact in June 1941, Rich managed to stay with his mother throughout the subsequent turmoil but lost contact with his father.

During the interveninig years, Rich experienced horrific conditions, particularly under Nazi rule, as he recalled at the age of two, running with one leg numb fom the cold and limping to catch up with his mother, from whom he had become separated. He also remembered at least twice being lined up at gunpoint to be shot. The first time he was saved by Russion planes swooping down and scattering Nazi troops to allow Rich and his mother to escape. A second time, both Rich and mother were again lined up against a wall to be shot when Mary managed to produce evidence that her father had served in the German army in Austria during WWI. Instead they were miraculously placed on a train and sent to Western Germany in early ’42 to live in a Nazi work camp that shared a fence with an infamous concentration camp. Rich vividly recalled attempting to pass a piece of bread through the fence to a starving Jewish child when a Nazi guard started shooting at him.

Rich’s children said, “It is a testament to both his survival skills and good luck that he is being mourned in the year 2005 instead of the World War II era.”

Following the Liberation and a move from a displaced person’s camp in Western Germany, Rich and his mother emigrated to the US through Ellis Island and ultimately moved to Chicago. His adolescence in the city was tough, inspiring him to learn how to defend himself on the streets. At Holy Trinitiy High School, one teacher actually told him he was stupid and would never amount anything. How short sighted. Rich went on to Loras College in Dubuque, IA, on a full football scholarship and ultimately graduated with the inspiration of Monsignor George Schulte with a degree in chemistry in 1963.

After graduation, Rich volunteered in the US Army, enrolled in officer’s school, and then met the love of his life, Susie. After meeting only three times and carrying on a daily courtship of letters, they married on July 3, 1965. Susie and Rich named their three children in remembrance of Rich’s time as a Displaced Person during WWII—all had the initials of DP, and all brought joy into their lives.

Rich pursued a doctorate in chemistry at Loyola Univ. while working full time. He passed his tests in one attempt, an uncommon accomplishment.

Rich’s work experience reads like a corporate list of Who’s Who. It includes A.B. Dick, AM Corp., American Can Flexible Packaging, International Label, Borden Chemical, Inmont, his own Graphic Arts Industries consulting company, and ends with his position as manager of technical development for Colorcon’s No-Tox Producs Div., West Point, PA. All of this over the course of more than 30 years. He was also the recipient of the prestigious 2003 NAPIM Award for Technical Achievement. I hired Rich in 1987 to write for Converting Magazine, then PFFC.

Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Rich prevailed and became the person we all came to know and love. It was easy to befriend him because he was so outgoing and willing to share experiences. Rich formed a camaraderie that was unique to each of his acquaintances, both personal and professional. He will be sorely missed.

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