Alum Donated Life, Honored in Rose Parade

By Scott Craig   |   April 16, 2024
The OneLegacy Donate Life float (photo by Scott Weersing)

A floral portrait of Westmont alumnus Paul Eskildsen (‘81), who died in 2017, appeared in the 2024 Rose Parade on the OneLegacy Donate Life float, Woven Together: The Dance of Life. Paul was passionate about serving others even in death. As a registered donor and in excellent health at the age of 59, he gave his heart, liver, kidneys and lungs to save the lives of four people, and his eye and tissue donation improved the lives of 66 others. April is National Donate Life Month, a nationwide initiative highlighting the critical need for organ, eye, and tissue donation.

A spontaneous and unexpected brain injury led to his death the day after Christmas. Throughout his life, Paul worked in various information technology jobs. He and his wife, Leslie, were married for 26 years, and their daughter, Emma, is now 29.

Leslie Eskildsen poses with floral portrait of Paul

A year after she lost Paul, Leslie became an ambassador for the Donate Life program. “The circumstances surrounding Paul’s death — and the ability to donate everything — were so unique, I felt it was part of my obligation,” she says.

Leslie learned about Donate Life’s annual float that features floragraphs of the donors with organ recipients as riders. To participate, she had to learn to give media interviews and be involved in public events. “I was patient and waited through COVID, and then I applied last summer and was accepted,” she says.

With six members of the family, Leslie began the emotional and tedious process of recreating Paul’s likeness in a floragraph using flowers and other natural materials. “I thought it was going to be like paint-by-numbers, but it took us 10 hours to figure out what colors to use for his skin and hair,” she says.

They settled on five different shades of cream of wheat and used espresso for his glasses and a different seed for the background. “They even asked us to put one grain of rice in his eyes to give his picture life – to put a glint in the eyes,” she says.

As a Boy Scout growing up in Pasadena, Paul decorated Rose Parade floats at least once with his Boy Scout troop. He went to Lake Avenue Church and was involved with Christian youth groups at John Muir High School. He graduated from Westmont with a degree in religious studies.

Paul and Leslie were married in St. George’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills, where he was confirmed and later earned an Education for Ministry. He began donating blood to the Red Cross and organized blood drives for his church. Eventually he gave platelets twice a month. “His Red Cross hematologist brought flowers to the ICU at Mission Hospital when she learned he’d died,” Leslie says. “It meant a lot to Paul to help a specific cancer patient who matched with his plasma.”

Paul also formed a meaningful relationship with a boy through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. “It was a difficult conversation for my daughter when Paul died as this youngster was on vacation with his family in Mexico,”
Leslie says.

In the obituary, Leslie and Emma wrote that Paul “cared for his nieces and nephews as if they were his own children and could not have done more for the wife and daughter he spent every day serving, supporting and loving with unparalleled care and intention.”

One nephew, Sam Reep (‘20), earned a degree in computer science at Westmont and works as a software engineer at HG Insights in Lompoc. Sam learned Paul was an alumnus after he registered. “I felt a kind of connection to him,” Sam says. “He was an intelligent man who took the time to listen well and engage in meaningful ways. He selflessly chose to give back to people through the Big Brother program, his organ donation and other things. My family and I miss him dearly.”


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