Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Eulogy For My Father Ernest E. Hughes

I've had the sad experience for the past few weeks of my father's dying and death. He finally died on March 20, 2014. (see obituary here) I had the honor of leading his memorial service, which included testimonials by several other people and the playing of taps and the presentation of the United States flag to my mother by the United States Marine Corps. I'd like to share with you and the world my address at his service.

My father was a rugged individualist who did things his way and, for the most part, did them himself.

Born in rural, depression-era Jamestown, North Carolina, he had a rocky relationship with his father, running away from home more than once.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, my father wanted to fight, and enlisted at age seventeen, with his parents' consent, even though he had two brothers already enlisted and fighting.

After the war, with an 8th grade, and no doubt, being from the deep south, deficient education, he set about supporting a family, raising two children, and putting them both through college.

After educating his children, he earned his GED and was a member of the first graduating class at the University of North Florida.

His achievements are considerable, especially based on from where he came. He was a warrior for his country, a hard worker for his family, who managed to retire early and obtain his college degree and to use his know-how to buy, sell, and lease real estate.

My father was the bravest man I've ever known. He was absolutely fearless. No one pushed him around. Yet, at the same time, he was a most considerate person. He would help anyone in any way he could. Few know it, but he was a blood donor all his life, giving a pint of blood every opportunity that he could. He once told me, "Most people don't donate blood, but they expect it to be there when they need it." He wasn't that kind of a person. He was a giver, not a taker.

In his final years, he did not, as Dylan Thomas wrote, "Go gentle into that good night" but he "Raged, raged against the dying of the light."

A victim over the years of several types of cancer and heart problems, he never gave up on life, recovering over and over again, until his body finally gave out. And when it did, he died at 3:40 in the morning with my mother, his wife of 68 years, holding one hand, and the nurse, a complete stranger, holding his other hand. And that's as it should be. At his moment of death, he was comforted by his wife, who knew him best, and by a stranger, who didn't know him at all, but who may have benefited from his generosity at some point in her life.

Having a meaningful life means different things to different people. But, if living up to your own beliefs has anything to do with it, his life was meaningful in the most meaningful way.

Everyone who benefited from his life, friends, family, and strangers alike, will miss him, more than he'll ever know.
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