Friday, December 28, 2007

In Memoriam 

My father died early this morning. We got the phone call that had been coming for several days. Such calls come, it seems, at times like 12:30am, and one knows what it is before answering.

He lived a long life. Born in 1912, just six years after the first public plane flights, he was barely old enough to remember the end of World War I. He lived near Racine, Wisconsin until he was 11 and enjoyed the cold winters there. His father was bitten by the California bug that promised riches in the West, and the family moved to the Bay Area when Dad was 12.

Life was hardscrabble in California. There was no gold on the ground nor available jobs. His father bounced from one menial occupation to the next, scratching out a living for a growing family. When the Depression hit, life got worse. There wasn't much to eat or wear. My grandmother barely kept the family together. Dad won a football scholarship to college, the first of his family to go. He attended the University of Santa Clara, a Jesuit school, then in a rural location surrounded by orchards near San Jose. Today, it is in the heart of Silicon Valley. He gave up his football scholarship to take on another as the editor of the school paper. That came to an abrupt end when he wrote editorials in support of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Key Jesuits at the time where opposed to Roosevelt. Dad was dismissed from school and finished his education at University of California Berkeley. He worked at a steel mill shoveling scrap at night to pay his way through. He was rail-thin and strong then and unrecognizable from what he became decades later -- a portly fellow who greatly enjoyed eating. When Dad graduated in 1939, there will still no jobs in California. The state of California offered to hire these new university graduates into the bureaucratic corp. It was work. Dad took it and moved to Sacramento with my mother. He would stay with the state until 1970. My mother recalled their first house was a converted chicken coop. Dad went to work as a bookkeeper in the basement of a house in downtown Sacramento.

No one today would believe his stories about the California State bureaucracy in those days. The state was small and rural, and business was personal. If Dad had to deal with an Assemblyman, he walked from his office to the floor of the Capitol, transacted business and walked back. He told of Gov. Earl Warren playing with us children in the Capitol building. Sacramento was a sleepy town of canneries, railroads and state buildings.

When World War II came, Dad and Mom witnessed the internment of their Japanese friends in relocation camps away from the West Coast. He was angry and vocally opposed to this miscarriage of justice, and he never lost touch with victims of this episode. Dad was drafted into the Army and was scheduled to be sent to the Pacific theater when in training, a rifle blew up in his face. He never could see well, but he insisted this event, which earned him a discharge, actually improved his vision. That might have been one of his "taller stories." So, he stayed at home during the war and watched his family grow. Eventually, there would be 11 ragamuffins scurrying about and causing my mother no end of headaches. There were so many of us that the usual question in California back then was, "Catholic or Mormon?" For the record, we are Catholic.

Dad lived through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, the Iraq wars One and Two, the Afghanistan conflict. He saw the beginnings of air travel, the nuclear age, the Space Age, the computer age, the internet age. For the most part, he kept up with it all. He never did master e-mail, but he was quite old at the time. On the other hand, he enjoyed getting it, and he tried for awhile to respond until his hands would no longer work. He was a dedicated newspaper reader and wise about the ways of the world. Generally his predictions were accurate about what government would do. He was well-versed in the Constitutional documents and history of the United States. As a professor in later years (post-retirement from the state), he co-authored a book on government accounting. About all I remember from it is the definition of the term "Encumbrance."

Little that we do is remembered in the end. The broom of history sweeps memory clean in time but for a few stray facts that end up in textbooks to bedevil students.

Let this be my remembrance of him.

I am with you.
My father was born in 1913 and lived a long life as well.
My heartfelt condolences.
Jim: God be with you and your family as you remember your father. Your description of his life was well worth reading. Best of all, it sounds like he was a man worth knowing. However, I'm just glad I did not have to read his book on governmental accounting, especially the chapter on "Encumbrances"!! Ha!
Enjoy your memories of a good man and a wonderful human being. And be thankful to him (and your mother!) for your own life.

In reading your moving tribute to your father, one can see some of the threads of his work and talents that connect to your own. Not just the obvious links where the source of your own insight on government and corporate leadership is revealed, but more impressive still is the fortitude through adversity and the ability to seize opportunity while remaining innovative which shows up in many of your observations on the future of PR.

Jeff Clark

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