In Memoriam: Paul Alexander ’84

Black and white photograph of Paul Alexander.

Paul Alexander, who was paralyzed at age 6 by polio and confined for decades to an iron lung—a mechanical respirator enclosing the entire body from the neck down—but nonetheless earned his undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 1978 and his Juris Doctor from Texas Law in 1984, died on March 11 in Dallas. No cause of death was given, but Alexander had recently battled Covid.

Alexander’s life story was already well-known around the globe when he published his memoir in 2020. That book, “Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung,” described his life of setbacks and triumphs and his quest for normalcy in situations that were anything but normal. The title referred to a challenge issued to him as a boy: If he could learn to hold his breath for three minutes, he could have a puppy.

Photograph of Paul Alexander in the Iron Lung

Alexander got his puppy, and much more, by teaching himself methods of breathing and breath control. It was only by doing so that he was eventually able to spend hours outside his respiration chamber so that he could attend school, first as salutatorian from Dallas’s W.W. Samuell High School, then as a college student and, later, a law student.

Breathing was one challenge, but far from the only obstacle. Paralyzed, Alexander could only write using a pen or other implement clenched in his mouth. It took Alexander five years to write his autobiography, using “an improvised stick to type the words.”

Alexander practiced family law and handled bankruptcy cases for nearly three decades.

For more about the extraordinary life of Paul Alexander:

Category: Alumni Focus, Alumni News