Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dad's Service and Eulogy

Dad's service was at the Legion today, and everyone did a great job. The Minister of St. David's United, the church of my childhood, prepared a wonderful service, the Legion produced a colour guard that nearly unmanned me when they began depositing their poppies next to Dad's ashes and saluting his picture. Fenya sang Bonny Wood Green, and our own minister's husband, Glen, sang Danny Boy, both of which prompted no small amount of eye sweat.

I took the eulogy, and I have to tell you, as someone who likes to write, this was the greatest struggle with words I have ever faced. How much is too much? How how much is enough? How long is a piece of rope?

And even after it was written, the delivery was murderous; so many of Dad's friends, family and colleagues in attendance, many of them still obviously bereft, and the man was a gifted public speaker and elected official to boot. To say nothing of the fact that I can't even watch Spock's funeral at the end of Wrath of Khan without welling up...

In the end, it seems to have gone pretty well, and I got quite a few compliments on it, which made me very grateful. It was pretty hard sledding for the last two paragraphs or so, and my quavering delivery elicited a couple of tears from surprising quarters, but I made it through to the end, and I think Dad would have been happy. Here is the text, apologies for the formatting.

We are here today to commemorate the life of my father, Maurice Arthur Fitzpatrick. Dad’s life took him to a lot of places, from the family farm in Piney,Manitoba where he grew up, to the ports and cities of the world he visited while in the military; from the control towers of airports all across the nation, to the mayor’s seat of this very city; but when it came time for that life to end, it did so here in Leduc, in the place that he called home longer than any other.

Mum and Dad came back from BC early this year because Mum had finally reached a point where it was just not practical for her to look after Dad any more, and we had to make other arrangements. The hospital where he passed was just supposed to be a waystation on the way to something better, which, who knows, maybe it was in the end. Now that the shocking suddenness has had a chance to ebb, it’s a bit easier to strip away the selfishness of wanting him to never leave, and to recognize his peaceful passing as a blessing.

In many ways, Dad’s sudden passing is the culmination to a series of goodbyes some of us have been saying for several years. I’ve had to sadly explain to my daughters that the Poppy they knew, still a warm and loving and pleasant man, was not the father that their Auntie Tara and I grew up with. I’ve sometimes felt angry that they never got to personally experience his tremendous vocabulary, his incisive and decisive thinking, or his brilliant wit. I’ve sometimes wondered if it isn’t crueler to make a family say a number of smaller goodbyes, a lukewarm farewell done on some inhuman installment plan.

But then I think, better a long goodbye than none. Dad’s condition took a lot of him away from us, but it left us his company, it left us his laugh and it left us his smile. His debilitation never got to the point where he couldn’t recognize his family, never progressed to where he spent his days angry or frustrated. At the time of his passing, he was being treated with dignity and care, and when I asked Mum how he was doing, she said, “He’ll be fine, all the nurses are falling in love with him. Well, how could you not?”

How indeed.

The truth is though, that the details of his passing are of very little importance compared to the manner in which he lived his life, and that is what we are here tocelebrate today.

Dad joined the armed forces at age 17, spending 5 years in the Air Force and another 5 in the Navy. It’s sometimes hard to reconcile the peaceful man Dad waswith the hard charging young fellow who revelled in a Saturday night donnybrook. Maybe he did it because he was not permitted to fight in the Korean conflict due to his status as a trainer, but he turned those roughhouse adventures with ‘Torchy’ Smith into a warning for me, fully aware of how lucky he was that none of those scrapes ended tragically.

After his time in the Navy, Dad entered Air Traffic Services, where he spent the next 27 years working in a variety of places, as well as meeting his wife, Helen. I’ve known for years that they met at a bowling alley in St. John’s, and I’ve heard Dad talk about Mum bowling in the nude, but didn’t find out what that meant until yesterday, when she explained that since the blouse she wore that day wasn’ttucked in, it left quite a bit exposed on her follow through, which she didn’t notice. Apparently Dad did.

They were married in 1966, and I followed in 1967. More moves followed and Tara was born in 1970 in St. John, New Brunswick.  We moved from Moncton toRiverglade and eventually Leduc in 1974, where apparently Dad heard me asking some of my new friends in first grade what a home town was, because I didn’t know. True to form, he stopped accepting transfers after that.

Once the roots were placed down, they didn’t take long to set. Before too long he was Treasurer of Leduc Minor Baseball, which led him into the town Parks and Recreation committee, and eventually onto town and city council. His focus remained on municipal politics despite numerous invitations by various political parties to run for provincial or federal seats, but the machinations and gamesmanship of party politics left him cold. After several terms on council, he began looking at the mayor’s seat, and on his second attempt in 1989, he won it, and sat two terms as mayor. Not bad for a Manitoba farmboy who got a D in Civics class.

Dad retired from Air Traffic Control earlier than he’d anticipated after a notable canine-bicycle altercation laid him up with fairly significant injuries. He enjoyed being able to dedicate more time to serving as Mayor, but after failing to gain a third term, he drifted reluctantly into retirement, which is a pretty difficult prospect for a man with no hobbies. He remained active with other groups like the Legion though.

Eventually he and Mum sold their town house, bought a motor home in 2004 and took to the road, spending two years in Newfoundland, the province where they had met, before returning to the west, and dividing the year between summers in Leduc and winters in BC near Oliver and Osoyoos.

When you look at all the groups Dad was affiliated with over the course of his life, it’s quite a list: Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Association, Toastmasters, Rotary, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Royal Canadian Legion and more. Many of these he served in an executive or leadership position, and with some, he was just happy to be a member and to help in any way he could. Because of this, when I think of my Dad, not just as my father, but as a man, the first thing I think of is service.

Dad was committed to making things better than when he found them, whether you are talking about an organization or the community he lived in. He was a great believer in compromise, and an unparalleled consensus builder. Because he was interested in practically everything, he could talk to practically everyone: welders, police officers, school teachers, administrators, and that’s just in the block we lived on in Willow Park! Lawyers, farmers, MLA’s, contractors, laborers, engineers,these are all people you need to bridge gaps to in civic politics on a day to day basis, and he excelled at it, because he believed in talking across to people, not down or up to them.

My good friend Mike recalled how while in high school, his long hair and denim jacket and general demeanour often prompted a certain response from the parentsof his friends, but never from Dad. He said, he always asked sincere questions and, it seemed to me, treated me fairly based on those responses.”

In terms of bridging gaps, Dad did some of his best work at home, often straddling the chasm between his teenaged offspring and his wife. Tara recalls how he would opt out of the livelier discussions she might have with Mum, like a human Switzerland, right up until she crossed a certain line, and he would then step in with a firm, “That’s enough.” Likewise, he could also advocate for Tara and I if things started to get disproportionate. No recriminations, just the sincere assurance that things would not be allowed to go any farther. While everyone else might be running around responding to slights real or imagined, Dad was the rock that we all rested on, never letting us forget that we all loved one another.

In terms of building communities, he worked hard to build one at home, despite the demands on his time between doing shift work and serving on multiple boards and committees. Even when he was at his busiest, and I once asked to make an appointment to see him, there was always time for family. The loving home he was the head of, his relationship with Mum, the lessons he imparted to Tara and I, these examples have set the pattern as to how I want to raise my own family: inrespect, laughter, and love.

Some of my fondest memories as a child, and Tara’s too, are of visiting Dad’s family in Manitoba during the summer. His siblings were always a loving and funny bunch, who enjoyed taking the mickey out of each other, and any opportunity to see our cousins was always great. These little reunions helped us to define what a family is, and what it should be. I know they all wish they could behere today, but I look forward to seeing them this summer, for what would have been Dad’s 80th birthday.

Like most people, Dad was full of contradictions, the best example of which would probably be his love of music. Dad loved listening to music, whether it was a country ballad or the jigs and reels of the East coast, and the fact that he could not carry a tune in a basket and had no discernible sense of rhythm could not stop him from belting out some of his favorite lyrics (or at least what he believed them to be) while driving or working in the kitchen, no matter how much Tara and I asked him not to. We used to joke about hooking magnets up to his right leg and putting on a Don Messer fiddle record in order to generate copious amounts of electricity.

Watching a big, strong, man like Dad cringe when Mum pulled out the Nu-Skin to treat a cut was another contradictory treat. How could a man who gave so much blood over the years be intimidated by the sting of a liquid bandage? He’d still face up to it though; he just made his displeasure a matter of public record.

This is not to say he wasn’t brave; he displayed courage in ways both big and small, like when two men cut into the movie line we had been waiting in for over two hours. He marched up to the box office, told them in no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable, and sent them to the end of the line, to the sound of applause, all while I was thinking, “I don’t want to be Batman, I don’t want to be Batman.”

Dad displayed tremendous strength over the years, both physical and moral, but it is his compassion that most endeared him to me. When visiting a kennel with Tara and Mum, he was given a little dog to hold which had been terribly abused, andwas due to be put down the next day. The moment he held her against his chest, she stopped shaking, and he asked, “How much would it cost to give this little one a second chance?” $10 later, this tiny mutt had a home and lived with Mum and Dad for 14 more years, a pretty good second chance.

Another contradiction was the way he used language. As a public speaker, Dad was always doing the vocabulary quiz in Reader’s Digest magazine, and reading Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to look for the best way of getting his point across, and he was not averse to using the occasional “five-dollar word”. That said, he was also a sailor, and could curse like one if the situation demanded it. I remember the swear jar we had in the kitchen, and how Tara and I would chide him to pay up when he let loose with a vulgar expression. One day he had the blackest expression on his face as he related a tale of his workday to mum, and referred to oneindividual as having canine ancestry on his mother’s side. We overheard him, Tara and I, and needled him to pay up the required dime. He looked darkly at us, removed a $5 bill from his billfold, and quietly but firmly told us, “Leave the room. “But Dad…” we whined. “LEAVE THE ROOM!” he roared. So we did.

But even after all that, Tara and I never heard him use a certain carnal verb beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet until well into our teens, and it was not directed at us in either instance. Mind you, our response was exactly the same: we left the room in a swift and orderly fashion.

No one who knew Dad can remember him without recalling his sense of humour. Even in his later years, he could surprise you with an unexpected zinger, or a clever wordplay. And just as he held nothing back in his life, he held nothing back in his laughter, whether a sly snort, gleeful titter, or the belly laugh that couldinfect a room of almost any size, his laugh carried a joie de vivre like no other I have ever known.

His playful nature extended to games like cribbage and pool, and as recently as a year ago, he won eight games in succession, but he enjoyed the playing just as much as the winning, and the camaraderie as much as the playing. Dad delighted in simple pleasures; keep your Dom Perignon and your Tiramisu, a glass of lagerand Peanut Buster Parfait would be his preference. One of my favourite memories of Dad was watching him clean out the dregs of a blueberry pie plate that he and I had demolished due to our inability to get the ice cream to pie ratio correct, then picking it up and licking it clean, because hey, waste not, want not.

Despite his great qualities and litany of accomplishments, Dad was never arrogant, never displayed pride or hubris, and was always willing to take off his suit jacket and pick up a shovel when it was required. He cared far more for getting the job done, and done right, than for receiving credit for it. When one of my employers listed their desired leadership qualities as Honestly, Courage, and Humility, it took me a while to realize that my father not only embodied those values, but that he possessed them in abundance.

As a Christian, I don’t believe death is necessarily the end, but like my father, myunease with simple, comforting answers means that I have a hard time picturing him sitting on a cloud somewhere, strumming a harp and eating cream cheese. While I have faith I will someday, somehow, encounter his spirit again, I don’t think I will have to wait until that “great gettin’ up mornin’” to do so. A friend of mine, when he heard the news, told me, “even though I don't know much aboutyour dad, I know he raised a loving family who have gone on to raise their own loving family, and like ripples in a pond, the effect of his life will touch people for generations to come.”

Dad’s spirit touched a lot of people over the course of his life, and you only need to look around this room to see that this is true. Here are people from all different walks of life, various origins, ages, creeds and affiliations. Maurice Fitzpatrick has affected all of us, some discretely and others profoundly, but he’s taught us all the value of service, of loyalty, of principle, of friendship, of laughter, and mostimportantly, of love. I see his spirit reflected in the faces of my family, and those of his friends and associates, and in the eyes of everyone assembled here today, and I want to thank you for that.

Thank you for remembering a man whose principal motivation was looking after other people, beginning with his family but including his community and his country, and just about anyone fortunate enough to have crossed his path. The spirit of my father lives on in everyone who takes the time to think beyond themselves.


  1. Steve,

    You've been in my thoughts and prayers these last few days since I first read of your father's passing.

    My sorrow is tempered by the long and full life your father led. Most men struggle to accomplish half of what your father did. Many would never have left the town they grew up in, let alone set out into the world to find adventure and their great love.

    At our age, rarely does a year pass without some reminder of our innate frailty or how our final adventure cannot be avoided or postponed.

    In the last decade I've lost 3 of my 4 grandparents, including the grandfather who raised me. All three saw an end marked by slow decline, a descent into a fog of dementia and a change in personality that made moments with someone we love a struggle of patience and infinite sadness.

    The next week or so will be filled with moments of mourning and of loss. Things long forgotten will come easily to mind and sleep will come in fits and finally with ease.

    Word's often fail us at times like times like these. It was with great delight that I read that your father had been in Toastmasters. I'm certain that your father couldn't have been prouder of the words you chose or your delivery of them.

    You survive your father with a rich and full life of your own Steve. A life that your father, for the most part, got to see. The last few years might have been a bit cloudy but all of us know at heart he was proud of both you and your sister.

    When you want to chat or talk about your dad, vent about some bothersome but well meaning nitwit or just complain about how much food you're stuck with just let any of us know.

    My best to you, your sister, your mum and your whole family. All of us care for you terribly Fitz and we stand ready to help however we can.

    Take care,


  2. Yet another thought-filled and heart-filled piece of writing... and so much more! I was inspired, entertained and enthralled with how your father has had a hand in shaping you! His legacy lives on as you demonstrate your own clear priorities and convictions; so ably raising your daughters, fostering family and touching the lives of those around you. Thank for sharing!