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2020 Man of the Year: Gary Lenius

Packets of a Nivaquine, tablets containing chloroquine and Plaqueril
Packets of a Nivaquine, tablets containing chloroquine and Plaqueril / Getty Images
• December 28, 2020 12:00 pm

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You might remember the headlines from last March: "A Man Drank Fish Tank Cleaner After Hearing Trump’s ‘Medical Advice.'"

The story was as bizarre as the headlines promised. Gary Lenius, 68, was dead and his wife Wanda hospitalized after they ingested a parasiticide used in tropical fish tanks, which contained chloroquine. The couple was supposedly inspired by Donald Trump’s claims that chloroquine was effective at treating the coronavirus, the wife told NBC News from her hospital bed.

The news immediately captured the interest of the press because it summed up their view that Donald Trump is the single greatest threat to global public health. The man’s death also presented new and creative ways to potentially get Trump out of office. Sure, the president survived his impeachment, but now that he basically murdered someone how about putting him on trial at the Hague for "crimes against humanity"?

The media portrayal of Gary bothered his friends deeply. Gary Lenius was a serious man. He was level-headed. He had worked hard, rising through the ranks over 30 years to become a senior engineer at John Deere.

"I would like people to know that Gary was not the fool that some of the media stories and comments are depicting him to be," one friend told the Washington Free Beacon. "I really don't think Gary knew what he was taking."

As it turned out, the man who died, Gary Lenius, didn’t drink the chloroquine because he was a Trump supporter. He drank it because it was given to him, mixed into a soda, by his wife, Wanda Lenius, who was a prolific donor to Democrats, including a "pro-science resistance" group that was highly critical of the president’s coronavirus policies. Wanda told the Free Beacon they decided to take it because "we did see that they were using it in China and stuff."

Gary’s marriage wasn’t perfect. Then again, whose is? Wanda, years earlier, was arrested for allegedly trying to club him with a stake-mounted birdhouse. Her therapist, in an unrelated lawsuit, claimed she had psychological issues that could send her into uncontrollable rage attacks.

Those who knew the couple had stories. There was the time Wanda allegedly destroyed her husband’s laptop because he downloaded the wrong software update onto her computer. And the time she reportedly smashed his treasured, hand-built model aircraft collection because he came home late for a meal. "Gary did not get angry," said a friend. "He simply junked the planes that were not repairable and fixed the rest. That is the Gary I knew, he would never get upset, he just accepted what happened and carried on."

When Gary retired from John Deere a few years ago, he and Wanda moved from the Midwest to sunny Arizona. His free time was filled with activities: tennis, nights out at restaurants, flying model aircraft. He made some good friends down there. Despite Wanda’s disapproval, he had been kicking around the idea of buying a Corvette.

Whatever happened that night in March, Gary’s death was a tragedy. Sadly many pundits and reporters tried to turn him into a political punchline. We would all do well to remember that there’s more to a story than the headlines suggest—sometimes a lot more. An intelligent man, a beloved friend, a patient husband, a life. Gary Lenius is a Washington Free Beacon Man of the Year.