Saturday, February 22, 2014

5/10/1938 - 1/29/2014

This is the last picture I took of my grandfather. I couldn't be more pleased that it was taken during the happiest Christmas I can remember, and that he is in an elf hat.

Today was his memorial service, and since I could not attend, I thought it would be comforting to reflect on him with a post.

Included below are a few things; the eulogy written by my father, a short piece that I wrote for the service, and a few photos from a session that I did before his passing using one of his old cameras (Argus C4).

~*~*~*~*   Eulogy   *~*~*~*~

Good morning, everyone!

On behalf of Gordon’s entire family I’d like to thank you all for being with us today. We’re happy you were able to spend some time with us celebrating the life, the accomplishments and, most of all the legacy of Gordon R-----.

Gordon’s loved ones have all contributed comments and stories that we’d like to share; I’ll use those to underscore some of Gordon’s personal characteristics and principles which were his most important gifts to us.

Gordon was one of the most self reliant people we’ve ever known. Perhaps he got that from his father, Gene, who was orphaned at the age of 16 in an era when a person in that situation had no social ‘safety net’. Regardless of where it came from, Gordon recalled stories of his college years when he and Dottie struggled to make ends meet while he attended the University of Miami (in Ohio) full time…and worked full time too. When it came time to feed their lovely baby, Geri, Gordon was not above gathering a bucket, soap and rags and canvassing the neighborhood looking for cars that needed washing…whatever it took! Throughout his life, Gordon held others to the same high standards he had met: he was a cheerful and helpful guy but he made sure others had explored opportunities to solve their own problems and we all learned the value of that approach from him. Geri and Sharon can both vouch for this since the rattle-trap Pintos and Gremlins they drove around in were bought with money they’d earned working for minimum wage in restaurants and nursing homes. Gordon’s self help attitude lives on; anyone who has worked with Geri, Sharon or Dottie knows that they are extremely dependable…they GET THINGS DONE!

Gordon was an intensely loyal and supportive husband, father and friend. He was extremely proud to put the talents of his loved ones on display to be sure that the rest of the world knew that they were contributors. I’m sure he has friends that are convinced that I’m the CEO at Dow Chemical and, in my spare time, I regularly ‘sit in’ whenever Kenny G. can’t play a show. Sharon’s intellect, particularly in the area of science were the subject of many conversations we had on the golf course and she may be surprised that he convinced lots of our playing partners that she had invented most of the elements. Geri’s skills as a mother, a bell-ringer and, in the final stages of Gordon’s life, a loving and caring nurse never went unnoticed by Gordon and those around him. Dottie’s skill as a singer and pianist were sources of constant admiration…deservedly. (This admiration may have been more pronounced since Gordon’s own musical abilities were pretty limited…to the point that a song leader at The University of Miami singled him out as the one guy who would be forbidden the privilege of singing. How many choir directors actually send singers away?!?!). His grandchildren, Eric and Sarah held even higher places on Gordon’s list of achievers…to think that he would miss a single theater production that they took part in, a swim, soccer or dance event, let alone their graduations from Michigan State was...well…unthinkable. His dedication to them has surely built their confidence and sense of self worth…deservedly.

Gordon was REALLY comfortable trying things and was a very hard person to discourage. During his professional life he tried (and succeeded at) jobs ranging from fixing bicycles to field inspecting in the public health area, managing the affairs of professional medical and dental societies, arranging travel for large groups as an agent, constructing carports and locker facilities in his own business and, most recently, for Macomb County, acting as an investigator, negotiator and collector for debts the county had been unable to recoup. He would try anything and, with effort and study, MASTER anything! On the personal side of his life, he raced and fixed cars, he bought, overhauled, sold and operated more boats than I can remember. He hunted, fished, gambled (can I say that here?) and traveled extensively. The idea of failure was foreign to him since the only real criteria for success was enjoyment. This courage to try things has rubbed off on all of us; we could cite lots of examples… Eric and Sarah have both lived in Japan, Sharon learned to SCUBA dive at a young age, Geri became a baton twirler and Dottie acted as his very capable chief technician in the final months of his life when his medical needs became substantial. His willingness to act boldly was a gift to all of us. He never concerned himself with embarrassment about how things might go and that enabled he and Dave and I to golf together regularly in spite of the fact that he and I would lose our balls in the woods and water at every possible opportunity…while Dave looked on in amazement. Dave cared about his golf game and he golfed well; I cared about my golf game and golfed badly; Gordon cared only about who he was with and enjoying the experience.

Gordon was an organizer; he would take charge of situations and immediately bring sensible ideas to the table. He became a board member of his condo association in Florida, a leader at the Detroit Yacht Club and one of the ‘go-to’ parents when Geri and Sharon were active in Job’s Daughters. He embraced challenges and could act with conviction when disputes came up: he could easily accept the possibility that he might become unpopular helping the side he felt was ‘in the right’.

Gordon was equally comfortable with ‘wine and cheese’ and ‘beer and pretzels’. He was a quick friend to anyone whether he and Dottie were attending an elegant art auction eating hors douerves or a Tiger game eating a hot dog. All of his family members can surely remember times when we had to drag him away from what appeared to be a lifelong friend and was, actually, someone he had just met. We have all had conversations with others that his example helped us engage in.

Gordon was often a very thorough thinker. He’d analyze risk and reward on the things we all wanted to do and he appropriately encouraged us…or talked us out of doing something dumb! Geri recalls his attitude about safety with cars, boats and her twirling of a fire baton at the Southlake band’s football game performances. Gordon sat dutifully on the sidelines with a blanket on the chance that he’d be pressed into the role of a fireman if Geri caught fire. (We DO wonder how the same guy would take Sharon on a 12 hour drive to Northern Michigan University in the back of his pickup and, dressed as a clown, ride a bike through a hoop of fire, off a diving board into a swimming pool.)

We regret that Gordon is no longer with us in person…but we know he is here in spirit and we hope that the love andcaring he showed us lives on in our own actions. Eric told us that he discussed some things with Grandpa Gordon a week or so after Gordon’s passing. Apparently Gordon was still able to put Eric’s mind at ease as they sipped a Coor’s Light together on Eric’s front porch in Seattle. I was inclined to wonder…why Coor’s Light so I chose to discuss that with Gordon myself. He told me that he likes it and…besides…it’s cheap!!!

We hope that we have honored his memory appropriately and we know that he looks down on all of the folks he knew with the satisfaction that he was a friend to them and that he exerted positive influence on them that will live on.

~*~*~*~*   Short memorial piece   *~*~*~*~
“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Less importantly, the quote is from Ayn Rand. More importantly, I find that it speaks to a quality I sincerely treasured in my grandpa.

Recently I had the pleasure of looking through all of his old slides as he narrated them; where he had been and what he had done during various stages of his life. I was awestruck at what a rich range of experiences he had cultivated for himself and his family. Pictures of bullfights in Spain, of stock car races, birthday parties and trips out on the lake. One picture that I found noteworthy was outside a cozy little lodge, showcasing the prized boar he had shot, which would later be proudly mounted on his wall and forever known as, “Charlie”. It was ugly and had a creepy fake tongue and always watched me sleep when I spent the night. It was loved solely by my grandpa. But when I finally saw the full picture of Charlie, strung up outside the lodge, alongside my grandpa’s bandaliered hunting buddy, I realized how much that ugly pig had meant to him and why it was hanging on his wall. It was a proud moment in his life, and it was a really cool feeling to share in the moment that had captured why. I didn’t understand it until I saw the picture taken, literally, through his eyes.

I think more than understanding Charlie’s origins, for me looking at that picture was one of those serendipitous moments that I realized something I had always known. My grandfather and I have such a similar spirit, even if they tended to march to different drummers. I used to think that because we had different opinions about things that we didn’t share in the same approach to life. What I realize now is, even when we had many differing viewpoints, we did in fact share a similar approach. He was always proud of me because I was choosing my own path.

If ever I felt like I had strong direction, adulthood has certainly done a powerful job in muddling it. I feel constantly afraid that my efforts to make those I love proud will wither on the vine. Life often feels difficult and scary. But one thing that I took away from Charlie’s picture was that there has always been at least one other weirdo in the background cheering me on, and urging me to keep true to myself. To be proud of my own ugly pig on the wall, even if nobody else gets it. I finally understood that my grandpa never wanted me to get out of life what he got out of life; rather I think, he wanted me to live in a way that would make me proud of myself. He lived by his own standards, and has been so encouraging of all of my ventures. I am forever grateful to Gordon R-----, my grandfather, for being an inspiration to myself and all those he loved.

~*~*~*~*   Argus photo session   *~*~*~*~

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