NORMAN — Vaughn Shain Alexander died Sunday, May 4, 2014, just a few weeks shy of his 33rd birthday. Aside from family and friends, he loved three things in life: a good Caesar salad, a crisp, blue oxford shirt and a well-inked passport.
Shain grew up in Norman in his dad’s garage, surrounded by the smells and textures of wood, lacquer and paint. At the dinner table with his mother, it was common for them to discuss such topics as total hip replacement surgeries or even the finer details of a triple lumen catheter.
Neither of his parents ever told Shain that something was impossible. So, at the age of 4, he tied a blanket around his neck like a cape and climbed a ladder in their backyard. Shain then attempted to fly. Despite multiple failures, his dad came outside simply holding a slip of paper, which he calmly handed to his son. And Shain’s dad said, “It’s our address. Just in case you make it out of the neighborhood and need to find your way home.”
Later on, Shain would find a real passion for travel — and for meeting people as far outside his daily life as possible. He didn’t just think of it as a hobby; travel was a way to cultivate a better person within yourself. Naturally then, some of his most cherished moments came while traveling. He watched baby sea turtles hatch and scurry into the ocean in Costa Rica. He witnessed a Varanasi family’s last moments with their deceased infant before they cast the child into the Ganges to be reborn.
Shain met survivors of the Rwandan genocide and attended the International Criminal Tribunal to see the perpetrators of that horror stand trial. Shain gave alms to Buddhist monks in Laos, he stood eye-to-eye with mountain gorillas on the Congo border and he spent time with Kosovar refugees — two brothers, who’d escaped Serbia’s ethnic cleansing to build new lives for themselves in Italy. Shain believed that if everyone could share what he’d experienced in his travels, the world would be a warmer, kinder place.