“He was a good man.”

Those 4 words don’t even come close to describing my Grandpa, but if I had to sum it up, those would be it. But how do you truly describe someone who lived so colorful a life, with a lighthearted disposition and dedication to serving those around him?

Maybe I could start by talking about what he did.

  • He joined the Merchant Marines at 17 and then spent some time serving in the United States Army so he could help protect a country that he loved, because he believed that the freedom of every person here was worth protecting.
  • He became a firefighter and then a Battallion Chief in the St. Louis Fire Department, serving for 32 years. He willingly ran into flames to look for perfect strangers because he believed that life had value.
  • He spent his final years dedicated to taking care of his ailing wife, because he made a promise to her and to God that he would be there for her, for better or worse.
  • He became a ventriloquist and a clown, visiting schools and nursing homes with his jokes and magic tricks because he believed that life was more enjoyable when you didn’t take everything so seriously.

“You couldn’t not like him.”

But it wasn’t just what he did that defines him. It was the way he did it.

He loved you the moment he met you, because he believed in serving a God bigger than himself. He believed that people were worth saving. Worth protecting. Worth loving….with a humble love, considering everyone else before himself.

“He was a phenomenal man.”

There will never be the right words to justify a loss like him. There will never be a time when any of feel like we had our fill of him. There will be wishes that we could have seen him one last time; had one good conversation with him; one last hug so you could look him straight in the eye to make sure he knew. Because you knew it was coming sooner than you wanted. You knew you would never be ready for that. You could see caring for his wife was taxing his own body. The last few years, his arms felt smaller in size when he hugged you, but not smaller in love.

“He was so genuine….you don’t meet many people like that anymore….”

How do you say goodbye to someone like that?

Maybe you don’t.

I see it in the impish grin of his great-grandson. I see it in an open invitation to gather together as a family to simply spend time together. It’s in the stories and photos of those left behind and the warm embraces of my uncles, aunts, and cousins as we’ve all realized how easy it is to get involved with our own lives and forget to visit as much as we know we want to. It’s hiding in the sense that we are here for a bigger purpose….to lay down our life even for complete strangers the way Jesus laid down His life for each and every person on this earth. It’s most obvious when I stop criticizing myself and look at my heart the way God does, and I see a heart that longs to serve people and truly listen to them the way his did. Whether that’s “nurture” or “nature” or a mix of both, I don’t know. But it’s there.

It’s his legacy.

“Something transmitted or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past….leaving behind a sense of family history, belonging, and purpose, generation after generation.”

Everything he was – a man of utmost character and love – is being carried on to our own children. I see it in the way his sons have taught his grandkids, and how his grandkids are teaching his great-grandkids. When I help my cousins carry his casket tomorrow, beside my husband dressed in his service uniform that my Grandpa would have loved to see, it will mean so much more than moving his body from the funeral service to its final resting place. We are carrying on his legacy…with all the love and character and color that he lived every single day.


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