Tony Radulescu led a life one might describe as painted with bold brushstrokes of color. He was a Romanian immigrant, who spoke five languages and liked tulips.
Not the average credentials for a Washington state trooper.
“He enjoyed beautiful things,” his girlfriend Gina Miller said. “Cars, flowers, going on trips.”
The 16-year veteran was gunned down in February during a traffic stop in Washington. His assailant killed himself later that day. Because he was a registered organ donor, doctors were able to harvest Radulescu’s corneas and some tissues.
It surprised no one in his community, that even in death, the man known as "Trooper Tony" would continue to give. Whether it was serving in the army or arresting a drunk driver, he felt the need to give back to the country that had taken him in.
One cornea went to a recipient in Korea. The other, to a Bay Area nurse.
Though Miller didn’t know the identities of the recipients, she wanted them to know who Radulescu was -- how he’d stopped more than 400 people for seat belt violations; how he’d received the chief’s accommodation for his work in the community.
“He would care very much and want them to see what he has seen,” Miller said, “and experience what he has experienced.”
Miller wrote a letter to each recipient describing Radulescu’s life. Through the donor network, one of the letters found its way to Debbie Strych, a Contra Costa County nurse who had lost part of her sight due to an eye illness and received one of the slain officer’s corneas.
As she gripped the letter, Strych felt the tears falling tumbling from her eyes -- as well as Trooper Tony’s.
“Once I was seeing better, I wanted to meet Gina in person to see how she was doing,” Strych said.
On Thursday morning, the two women met for the first time in the East Bay city of Lafayette. Strych clutched a bouquet of burgundy colored tulips, embracing Miller like a long-lost comrade.
“It’s just an unbelievable gift that Tony and you have given me,” Strych said.
“I hope that you are able to see all the beautiful things that you didn’t see before,” Miller said.
With a box of tissues between them, Miller gave Strych a tour through the life of Radulescu. They pored through a coffee table filled with pictures, medals and Radulescu's state trooper badge. Strych gave Miller a piece of jewelry her mother had given her -- Miller presented her a t-shirt for a Trooper Tony memorial walk. Both agreed they would be like family from now on.
Strych said her vision was much better, though still blurry -- the doctor was still adjusting things.
Miller said the encounter was the first time she felt good about losing Radulescu. Something about meeting Strych made her feel he was still around -- still giving, still seeing the broadstrokes of color.
“Just looking at her,” Miller said, “knowing that she has a part of Tony, is ok.”