My father passed away November 23rd. We buried him at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Since I’m the writer of the family, I wrote and delivered this Eulogy.
We’re here to say farewell to my father.
If he stood before us, he’d first say “call me Tony”, then, when asked to comment on the event of his passing, he’d add without hesitation or hint of irony: “All good things come to an end.”
That was Dad’s way. He possessed a very no-nonsense, matter-of-fact outlook on life.
Born in 1940 at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, he grew up with two sisters, Madeleine and Ann, and two brothers, Sean and Donal. It wasn’t long before he earned a reputation as somewhat of a character. Sean recalls his antics as a social gadfly during his teenage years. Reportedly, he attracted a number of very beautiful local ladies. He also sketched pictures, as a closet artist, among other things. Cousin Catherine remembers sketches from Dad’s elementary school days found in the Grandparents attic, and she still remarks upon this talent – a skill he passed to my brother Marc and I.
In the Sixties, Dad traveled to the United States, looking for opportunity. He was always a sharp dresser, even well into his later years. In fact, while working in New York, he once received a promotion because he chose to wear a suit and tie everyday to a job unloading boxes at a loading dock. You see, the truck drivers mistook him for the Loading Dock Manager, because of the way he dressed. Tired of Dad outshining him, the Manager eventually arranged for a transfer to another department, much to Dad’s delight. “Only trying to look presentable,” Dad always said.
He joined the United States Air Force in 1965, where he served for more than 20 years, retiring at the rank of Master Sergeant. At first, this may seem a strange choice for a boy from Dublin, until you realize commitment has always been the cornerstone of Dad’s personality. When he decided to do something, he committed 110%. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything,” he repeatedly said when I was a kid – and he believed it.
An Air Force career presented Dad with the opportunity to indulge his great love of travel. He traveled the world and lived in such far off places as Iceland and Spain – where Marc and I were born. He enjoyed driving and maintaining exotic, high-performance cars, also. There are famous family stories about Dad’s Racing Green 1967 Mustang. “Like Steve McQueen, in Bullet,” he said. He shipped this brand new Mustang — only 3 months off the assembly line — to Europe, when the Air Force ordered he and Mom to Spain on assignment. During a day out shopping in downtown Dublin, they returned to find an inexplicable mob gathered around the car, craning their necks for a closer look. Dad sometimes enjoyed being the center of attention.
Over the years, he earned a legendary reputation as a penny pincher. He took great care to carefully manage his money. At any time, he could tell you, within a penny, the cheapest place to buy gas in all of San Antonio. Last year, the tires on his beloved Audi began showing signs of wear. Turns out, dry rot was the culprit. I wish I had been there to see the look on the salesman’s face when Dad showed up at Discount Tire. You see, the 10-year / 60,000-mile warranty clearly covered the low-mileage, 8 year-old tires – so Discount Tire had no choice but to replace them. Dad probably still chuckles about that one.
If you’ve spent time with Dad, you know he liked to tell stories. He’s always been a talker. In Ireland, they call that the Gift of the Gab. Once, for example, while on holiday in Ireland, we stayed at a small bed and breakfast. When time came to leave, the hostess mentioned she’d never heard of a VCR. VCRs were new technology then. Well, you probably know this story well. That woman was in for one heck of a treat! Dad launched into an hour long treatise on the intricate inner workings of Video Cassette Recorders. Meanwhile, a ladyfriend, Marc, and I suggested, prodded, hinted, and demanded. Time to go, we said. But to no avail. Soon the three of us waited outside, packed and loaded into the car, but Dad stood inside and patiently explained VCR timer settings.
On another occasion, at the finish of one of Marc’s Little League games, Dad talked patiently with each of my brother’s teammates, to explain where they could improve their gameplay. The only problem? He wasn’t a coach. In the way of teenagers, this embarrassed Marc at the time, but we certainly laugh about it today. If Dad stood here now, he’d be completely unapologetic. “Just being helpful,” he would say.
But talkativeness aside, Dad exhibited a fierce loyalty to family and friends, marked by a willingness to go to the ends of the earth to look out for them. For example, in the early Nineties, Marc decided to join the Navy, then changed his mind. A hapless recruiter was trying to mislead my brother about his options. This guy was in for a surprise when Dad caught wind of the situation. Marc and Dad went to see him. After asking Marc to step outside, Dad gave this recruiter an earful. Marc reports not knowing what Dad said, but when the recruiter emerged, he looked shaken, white, and apologized profusely to Marc.
Another time, during a 1998 visit to San Antonio, Dad invited a friend and I over for Christmas dinner. Truth be told, Dad’s never kept the cleanest house. He relished his bachelor lifestyle late in life. Frankly, bringing a guest over made me nervous – not because I didn’t want her to meet Dad, but because I worried about the state of his apartment. But we went. We walked through the door and discovered the entire place cleaned from top to bottom, and a beautiful Christmas Dinner prepared and ready to serve, to boot. Dad was like that. He liked to surprise you.
I followed in Dad’s footsteps and joined the military. Halfway through Navy Flight School, I seriously considered quitting because of the difficult program. Dad came to visit me at Corpus and we talked. He told me, no matter my decision, whether I soldiered on or packed it in, he knew I would do my best. The best was all anyone could ask, he said. No matter what happened, he believed in me.
I went on to receive a Commission and get my Wings of Gold, thanks to him. Later, jokingly, I suggested that as an officer, I outranked him. He retired as an enlisted man. He shot me a calm, unapologetic look and said: “Last time I checked, Dads outrank Sons.” I have to give him that one.
He made a very comfortable life for himself these last few years. He lived in Oak Meadow, rated, he would tell you, as one of the best neighborhoods in San Antonio. He spoke with great pride about his neighbors and friends, Emily & Jim, Vroni, Pat & Richard, Victor & Flo, and Lynne. He really enjoyed his time with them. For example, they all came out at Christmastime, like good neighbors often do, to visit and set up the Luminaries — small candle-lit bags placed along street curbs. This always transformed the neighborhood into a bright, wondrous Holiday Wonderland, a big treat for Dad every year, and he really loved that.
So all good things come to an end.
At this moment, Dad’s sister Madeleine and her family in Sydney & Melbourne, Australia, and dad’s brother Sean in Dublin, Ireland, are raising glasses in his memory. We will miss him, as sure as the sun rises tomorrow. He was a special guy. To quote Madeleine, Dad strolled through the gates of heaven a half-hour before the devil even knew he was dead.
I’d like to finish with a traditional Irish blessing, one of Dad’s favorites:
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there… I do not sleep.
I am the thousand winds that blow…
I am the diamond glints on snow…
I am the sunlight on ripened grain…
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you waken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of gentle birds in circling flight…
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry—
I am not there… I did not die…