My dad passed away August 3 – he was 78, and had battled prostate cancer for several years. His funeral was a week ago, and it was an honour to deliver the eulogy:
Who was my Dad? He was the son of Mabel and Jim O’Rourke, his namesake. He was the oldest brother to Peter, Sandy and Bill. Family was very important to Dad. As a kid, I recall weekly visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Sunday after church. We were often joined by Peter’s, Sandy’s and Bill’s families, or some of Dad’s many cousins. Great debates would ensue, and the verbal sparring could be heard throughout the house. It was always a great time – Peter was the loudest, youngest brother Bill would join in, quickly followed by Sandy’s husband Bob, while Dad tried to be the voice of reason. He would listen to the arguments, weigh the evidence, and consider the options before he voiced his opinion. The siblings became great friends in later years, and not a Christmas went by that they didn’t get together to celebrate.
Mom’s family was equally important to Dad. For many years, we got together regularly with Mom’s brothers Al’s and Ken’s families. Dad got along especially well with Ken, and enjoyed teasing his daughters Kathy and Karen. Kathy commented to me that Dad had such a great laugh. Dad loved my Nana, Mom’s mom, and she adored him. He would make her special cocktails, and he always took care of her (she was widowed long before Dad met Mom). He called her Mother, and I thought that was so fitting that I call my mother-in-law Mom too. I sometimes think Dad called Nana that because she cooked much better than his own mom!
His other family was his Northcott family, where he worked for 30 years, and eventually became president. He was willing to give almost anyone a chance, and some even got a 2nd chance. He treated the staff like family, and they appreciated that and respected him for it. They would do just about anything for my dad. He offered kind words of encouragement, and handled every situation with diplomacy – he found the right way to say difficult things. He retired 13 years ago, and the staff still speaks of him with great fondness.
Dad formed fast friendships with school chums Serge, Reg and Harold – a friendship still going strong 60 years later. Together with the 4 wives, they called themselves the POPS – Pig Out Pals- because they would have weekend get-togethers also known as eat-ins. Dad so enjoyed the camaraderie of these friends, and aging gracefully with them.
Friendships were also forged on Lake of Bays. In the early years, our family rented a cottage next to the Whartons and Callbecks, and Ross Wharton was an even bigger jokester than Dad. For 3 solid weeks each summer, we played hard – waterskiing, horseshoes, BBQing, and epic water fights. When the lake water got too warm, we used ice-cold well water. During one such fight, Laurel Wharton snuck up on Dad. At the last second he stepped aside, and the bucket of well water she had thrown cascaded down Nana’s back as she sat quietly in a lawn chair minding her own business. In her email to me the other day, Laurel referred to Dad as “your beloved dad”, a sentiment that has been shared with us many times in the past week by numerous friends, colleagues and family members.
In recent years, more friendships formed in the golf communities at the lake and in Venice FL. Mom and Dad loved to entertain, and their door was always open. Dad thoroughly enjoyed golfing, and didn’t let a bad hip or failing eyesight from a couple of minor strokes deter him. His desire to golf got him back into shape after his hip replacement, and he simply found ways to get around obstacles like not being able to see the golf ball very well. When his failing eyesight prevented him from renewing his driver’s licence, he took it in stride with grace – always that positive outlook! He had a quiet determination that saw him through a range of health issues over the years. When my colleague Susanne was battling cancer, he encouraged her not to give up hope, to stay positive, as he had done.
One of his greatest pleasures was spending time with his grandsons Christopher, Alex and Dillon. In every photo with them, he is positively beaming. He enjoyed spoiling them to no end, and particularly enjoyed their visits in Florida and the cottage. At the end of each and every visit, he would say to them “Papa loves you”.
He even let them drive his boat! When my colleague Hania announced 3 years ago that she was going to be a grandma, he told her that grandchildren are life’s greatest joy.
Dad gave my brother, sister and I many things, but the best ones were intangible. He instilled in us his terrific work ethic – work hard and smart, think outside of the box, value and encourage the contribution of others, but save time for family and fun, for they come first. Debbie and I have his eyes. Brian has his hairline. He liked working in the garden, whether it was growing vegetables, or tending to the perennial flowerbeds. Every time I putter in the garden, I think of him, and wish he was there, advising me on whether the particular plant in question is a weed or a flower. When it came to decorating, he was right there beside Mom, choosing fabrics, wallpaper, style of furniture, etc. He had a great eye for colour and design. Most of all, he showed us how to be good partners, good parents and good human beings – be patient, loving and kind, and sometimes eat humble pie.
His greatest love of course was Mom, and it showed in all that he said and did for her. From the jewellery trinkets each Christmas to stylish outfits, he loved to shop for Mom and make her feel special. When he retired, he took on several household chores to lighten her load, including operating the g.d. vacuum. I don’t know what brand that is, but it doesn’t work very well. He liked dressing up in his tux for special occasions, and they made a handsome couple on the dance floor. She was his honey, his darling, and his blue eyes sparkled when he spoke of her. They made a perfect couple – he knew when to step in, and when to defer to her. They were soul mates.
Dad had an easy smile that showed his warm heart, and an infectious laugh that could spark a room full of laughter. He was a proud man – proud of his family and his friends. He was thoughtful and wise. He was kind and gentle. The past few weeks have been tough, as we watched Dad slowly slip away, but every cloud has a silver lining. We rarely get the opportunity to tell the special people in our lives how much they mean to us. I am grateful that we were given that opportunity with Dad. He is gone, and we are going to miss him, but he will live on in our cherished memories of him. They are his gift to us.