Dad’s Eulogy

Today was a glorious day to celebrate my Dad’s life. Due to Covid we had an invitation only service at the sweet Church of the epiphany in Danville. The weather was perfect and all our important loved ones were there. My mom showed me the program yesterday and said, “You have three minutes to give the Eulogy.” My response was, “No one came all this way to just hear the standard Episcopalian service.”

My eulogy as written was more like twenty-three minutes, so I took just a few details out of it, but left most of the stories. My sister Janet read exerts from letters my mother had received about the impact my father had on so many people’s lives. So between us we gave a fairly well rounded picture of who my Dad was.

I promised my friends and Family that I would post my full eulogy so they could hear the whole thing. It was a good celebration of his life and it was great to talk with so many people who loved him.

Good Morning. I’m Dana. The oldest of Ed and Janie’s three daughters. On behalf of my mother, my sisters and our family I would like to thank you all for coming today as we celebrate the life of my father. If you knew Ed I am certain that what I am about to say will just remind you of your own interactions with him. If you didn’t know him well I promise what I am about to say is true, to the best of my recollection, no matter how far fetched it might sound to you.

See, Ed was bigger than life, until recently. There was hardly anything that he could not do and this was a quality he demonstrated early in life.

Growing up in Winston-Salem he shared a room with his younger brother Will in a tiny two bedroom home with his parents. At age ten, he decided he wanted to have a room of his own. So he asked his father if he could dig out a basement under their tiny house, which was set on a slope. Why my Grandfather ever allowed a ten year old to do this I will never know, but my dad begun digging in his spare time between his morning and afternoon paper routes and school. It took him two years to dig, and build the walls with cement blocks, pour a cement floor by wheel barrow, insert a window and a door.

About half way through the project my grandfather, seeing the progress my father was making did pay a plumber to come in and put in water and drain lines so my father added a bathroom to his original plan. At twelve years old, he finished and invited his brother to come down and see for the first time what he had done, and his brother announced it was great and he was going to move in with my Dad. Of course, my father said yes.

Having the confidence to build a basement in an existing house and not have the house fall over was just the beginning of Ed’s life ahead. There was hardly ever anything he thought up, that he didn’t think he could do and he passed that to his girls.

There was a flip side to this confidence. He had a hard time taking no for the answer. At sixteen, before he was about to go away to boarding school at VES he wanted to get his braces off his teeth. The orthodontist told him that he still needed to wear them a while longer, but Dad disagreed. So one day he lay down in the grass, behind his basement room and holding a mirror in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other he removed both the top and bottom braces and all the silver bands. When he went up to dinner that night, he showed his mother and her response was, “Good, I was tired of paying for those.” Getting away with bad behavior was probably not a great thing that early on in life.

Ed was always very entrepreneurial, starting with his paper routes. In college he had more than one job going on at all times. His legitimate one was working at the Rathskeller in Chapel Hill where he was strong enough to change the beer kegs and make friends with the Budweiser distributor. Realizing that all his fraternity brothers were ill- equipped to wash and iron their own shirts, Ed set up a laundry business with four women in Carrboro. He bought them washers and dryers and would collect the shirts from all the brothers in four fraternities and bring them to his laundry women who would do the work. He made good money on every shirt. It was a great business model, but somehow even those two jobs were not enough. So with his friendship with the Budweiser guy, Ed bought soda machines and changed them to be illegal beer machines which were placed in closets in many fraternities. So when the hour came when frats could no longer be having parties, they closed down the kegs and opened the beer closets and each person paid double to get a cold beer from the soda machine. Thankfully, when Ed married Janie in college he gave up his less legitimate pursuits to concentrate on trying to graduate.

It was no surprise that Ed started his career in sales and really never left that as the center of his working life, although he moved into the executive ranks eventually owning his own Sales and Marketing consulting firm working all over the world. He was the original creator of social marketing inventing the Friends and Family plan for MCI, which meant you got money off your phone bill if you convinced one of your friends and family to join MCI for their long distance. The more people you convinced the more money you and your friends and family saved. It revolutionized marketing.

Work was really Ed’s religion. He believed in hard work and spent most of his time doing it. He would leave our house in Connecticut around five in the morning to catch the earliest train into NYC and would usually not get home until 8 or nine at night. This left Mom to deal with us three girls during the week. He did give her a break on weekends when he would take over girl- supervision. Life was different for kids in the sixties. We didn’t play soccer or basketball, instead we were my father’s weekend-workforce.

Saturdays usually started the same, with errands without my Mom, which always included a trip to the liquor store, so my Dad could cash a check and perhaps do some shopping. Then a visit to the chain saw & lawn mower store and/or the hardware store, a stop at the car wash and finishing up with a trip to the grocery store so he could buy food to cook. Then it was home to start the outdoor chores, for which children were born to do.

My father loved a beautiful lawn. Growing, mowing, fertilizing, raking and mulching were the preeminent chores. The best day we ever had was the day we got our first riding lawn mower as my father had been having us clean our Connecticut forest and make more and more lawn. For anyone who has even been to Hom-a-gen farm you could see his love of grass. It was the one thing I found so sad at his passing, because his lawn had not grown at his new house and he died right before the grass came in.

As daughters working in the yard, when we were doing chain-gang labor, like picking up apples or raking leaves in the orchard, we would beg my father to tells us stories from his childhood. He would often take that opportunity to train us to do things he thought were important for us to know or things he felt were lacking in our educations. One of his favorites was doing math word problems, but with that Ed twist. He would say something like this. “A train box-car can hold 56 pallets, there are 112 cases of beer on a pallet, and 24 beers in a case. I started drinking beer when I was 14 and if I drank six beers a day on average and I am 32 now, how many box cars of beer have I drunk?” We never questioned him about drinking six beers a day since he was 14.

For those of you who have worked for Ed, you know this as calculation-dictation. He started working at a time when men had secretaries, so he never knew how to type and spread sheets were math done by hand. When computers came about he just had minions to do the work for him. As one of the minions myself for a few years I quickly recognized work calculation-dictation as the same as raking-leaves-math. He was so much smarter than computers that we often got mad at him when he asked us to do calculation-dictation.

He would give me all the data and the question he wanted the answer to. I would input all this in an excel spread sheet and press the button on the computer to get the answer and I would tell him “$55.6 million dollars,” was the answer to his question. He would look at me like I had two heads and say, “No, you are wrong. It is $54.3 Million.” He had done all the complicated calculations in his head. I would scour the formula on the computer and find a parentheses in the wrong place and push the button again and sure enough the answer was $54.3 Million. Why did he make us always do the work if he could figure out the answer in his head? He was always training people. He believed in education and he wanted everyone to get smarter. We just never would get to be as smart as he was.

As the oldest child I was often used as a sales guinea pig. When he worked at Avon one of his jobs had every Avon lady in America ultimately reporting to him. Sometimes he would want to test out a new sales technique or product but didn’t want to spend months and months doing test marketing, so he just used me.

The worst idea ever was sending a 12 year old out to test sell a new prototype Avon Hair color line. Who wants to take at-home hair color advice from a twelve-year old? I think it was my father’s way of dooming the product because he knew in his heart that if Avon ruined women’s hair they would lose all their customers forever. He knew, you leave hair coloring up to professionals, despite his own lack of hair.

My middle sister Margaret was allowed to design and produce her own products to sell. As a teenager she had a big business in the painted barrette field, but the sales training was the same. My youngest sister Janet got to sell fire wood at age nine. We all played to our strengths, but it was selling none the less.

I remember a cartoon from the New Yorker that someone gave my dad. It was a drawing of a big bald man, who looked exactly like him with a bull horn, walking inside a hen house with hens on nests, all around him. The caption on the cartoon of the man speaking through the bull horn was, “I believe in eggs and I believe you believe in eggs too.” That was my Dad through and through, telling you what to believe.

The one thing that everyone who worked for him got was, “If he believed in you, you could do anything. And if he didn’t believe in you, you were doomed.”

A big thing he really believed in is my mother’s talent as an artist. He was always telling me about her latest and greatest works. As award-winning as she is in the painting world, it is her free-hand needlepoint that he loved the most. He used to say to me that they should be in a museum because there is nothing painted on the canvas and she is just creating it as she stitched. He was always in awe of her art.

In retirement, when he no longer had a secretary, he had to learn to use a computer himself. I am very proud that both my parents learned to type after age fifty-five, but actually learning how to use the computer was a different thing. I am certain, that this past month the call volume to the Apple Customer Service Genius Bar is down so far due to my father not calling, they are wondering if they have somehow lost thousands of customers.

My Dad did not have any patience with phone customer service reps, but if you were the L.L. Bean sales rep on the three AM shift, you adored my Dad. He loved to call LL Bean and discuss the difference between blutchers and loafers. Proof that he was not planning on going anywhere when he died was the large box of LL Bean clothes and shoes that arrived for him the day he died.

His love was not only for LL Bean, but for also Cars. He leased a new Volkswagen two weeks before he died. When he called me and told me I said, “What in the world do you need another new car for?” There was hardly a day he did not think he needed a new car.

Every August, when we were kids, my Parents would drive us the two-day trip from cool-in-the- summer Connecticut to hotter-than-Hades Pawley’s Island for our vacation with our cousins. My father had been going to Pawley’s island with his cousins all his life and thought it was the only way to vacation with young children. To entertain us for the 20 hour car ride, he would have us learn the make, model and year of every car on the road. To this day I can still identify most makes from 1967-1975 from the rear, as that is the only way I saw them on the trip.

Once we got older, my father started taking the family on trips around the world. He figured that was the best way to get to spend time with us and we did not argue. No matter what country you were in, when you got in a taxi cab with my father he always asked the driver the same two questions, “Where are you from and how long have you been doing this?” Despite his high rank in business he always was interested in all kinds of people, at every level.

He was beloved by waiters because he asked them how they were doing and was genuinely interested in them as people. He was the worlds biggest tipper and got great joy in that. This always came in handy when I was working with him in London because we often had big work fights at restaurants. Despite the screaming and bad language, we were welcomed back at our favorite spots thanks to my dad’s kindness to the staff. I am certain the owners of the restaurants secretly hoped we would be too embarrassed to come back, but that never was the case.

I think retirement was the worst thing to happen to my father. He went from traveling the world and being important to trying to shape the land at Hom-a-gen farm to his liking and spending too much time alone. He had loved living and working in England, which was the last big job he did. While there when I was pregnant with my daughter Carter, I asked him what he wanted his grandfather name to be and he said, “Your Grace,” as a nod to the royalty he loved. My mother thought that was a ridiculous grandfather name, but as soon as Carter began to talk she shortened it to “Gracie.”

There was nothing funnier that hearing a little granddaughter call ”Gracie” to this big man while they were at the Kubota dealership.

He was a good Gracie, teaching Carter to drive at eight-years old and not losing it when she almost ran his truck into a tree with him in the passenger seat. When Carter worried that she might get arrested for driving on the farm, Gracie told her to make herself a Hom-a-gen drivers license and he signed it as the “constable.” Then he encouraged Carter to bring her friends to the farm so they could learn to drive too. He was excellent at turning the farm into “Camp Gracie” and teaching kids to fish and shoot skeet and swim in the pool.

My Dad was generous to a fault. He paid for people’s tuitions and gave away big things, like four wheelers and boats he thought someone might like. He always lived big and took care of the people he loved.

He did not like being taken care of himself. Getting old and frail was not for him. He spent a lot of time in retirement cooking, making meals much too big for he and my mother and leaving my mother with thousands of pots and pans to wash. In the last few months he was no longer able to cook, which meant my mother had to do the cooking, as well as wash the pans. Life wasn’t worth living if he couldn’t cook.

He outlived all his closest male relatives and friends, which he never imagined doing. He never wanted to linger in a hospital or have any extraordinary measures to keep him around. So he left us on his terms, in his own bed. Like the teenager who was done with braces, he went when he no longer could make himself a cocktail. The stories about Ed will live on with his friends and family. Next time you go to a restaurant tip double what you normally would do, in memory of him. For a moment, you will know what it felt like to be him.


7 Comments on “Dad’s Eulogy”

  1. Stuart Wright says:

    Well done Dana. I shall share this with my Jeffrey and Jennifer now that you have set the standard for them to follow (not too soon I hope). With great affection – Stuart

  2. Sally says:

    What a thoughtful , beautiful eulogy. Your father was an amazing man. You captured his spirit.

  3. beth says:

    ❤ beautiful, dana

  4. Jack Graham says:

    Dana- This was terrific! He was obviously a guy either at rest or going 100 mph, no in between.

    Jack

  5. jlmvann says:

    Beautiful eulogy.

  6. Suzanne Worden says:

    TUAR — Tearing up after reading. Your generous words captured Ed’s generous spirit. He lived a REAL life, full challenges faced and solved, and never would have been happy living in the Metaverse. I am grateful to Ed for all the delightful qualities he instilled in you, my dear, dear friend. Well done! 💕 S

  7. Douglas C. Robinson says:

    Ed was 24 months older than me. I spent lots of time with my cousins Ed and Will in the summers and your eulogy had my mind in high speed remembering our adventures together. When I read the stories of the driving lessons on the farm, I recalled him at age 13, driving their family car up Shady Grove Road and getting caught by the Patrolman. Our adventures in Winston Salem riding all over the city on city busses and buying broken up cookies from the Royal Cake factory are things that would drive parents crazy in today’s world. Ed was a role model for me in the 1950s and I know that helped my successes in life. If someone wrote a book about our escapades Ed would be the instigator, Will was our conscience, and I was a willing participant.


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