He looked like a man Rembrandt or Van Dyck would have painted, a distinguished Dutch face with a neatly trimmed beard and commanding presence. He was a good-looking man, one that seemed to exude success and who inspired confidence. I didn't know him well, at first just by sight and to speak to at church, and I didn't know when I met him that he would be a catalyst for a change for me, one I'd been looking for and didn't totally realize. I did know, though, that here was somebody special, a true cut above the ordinary.
It began when I was recommended to him to help him put together an autobiography for his children and grandchildren. I didn't have a huge amount of work to do, just formatting and then scanning and inserting photos, putting in chapters and getting it ready for printing. He did the hard part of writing, and his story captivated me. I won't tell it here; it's his story, not mine, but it was a remarkable life and, like so many, with its ups and downs. It's those ups and downs that make lives interesting to others, me included. And those ups and downs are also what build or tear down a character. With Dick, like all of us, the ups and downs made him who he was and taught him lessons he learned and passed on to others headed down the same path. He overcame and that was part of his greatness.
One of his achievements was that he had once been a mentor for something called Education for Ministry (EfM). For those who don't know, EfM is a program sponsored and run by the University of the South (Sewanee), aka "Holy Hill" by its intimates. It is a four-year program of study designed for lay people but also used by a number of dioceses as part of their diaconal training program. There is one year each of Old Testament, New Testament, Church History and Theology. It's not a Bible study but rather a look at what the Bible is, where it came from, how it presents the story of the relationship between God and humankind and how that story still resonates and impacts readers today. Church history encompasses how the church grew from a handful of disciples of a Galilean teacher who happened to be the Son of God to the diversity of denominations we have today. Theology teaches us how our beliefs came to be with regard to philosophy, culture and schools of thought. When he first told me about it it sounded precisely like something I would love to do. I love studying anyway, and this sounded just fine. The catch was that there was no local group closer than downtown Phoenix, at least 20 miles away. So I thanked him and filed it away in what I could now call a Bucket list, a term which hadn't been invented at that time.
It took a little while but I found an EfM venue I could join. I loved it. It made me think, it made me study, it made me learn and it gave me a place to talk about a subject about which I was passionate with people who had similar interests and passions yet with a diversity that kept us all from being cookie-cutter models. I loved the experience, and I remembered where I had first heard of it. Every time I saw Dick, I don't think I ever forgot to thank him for planting the seed. I wish I could thank him one more time, but I won't have that chance. I have a feeling he knows, though.
He leaves a hole in a lot of hearts. His adored wife, his kids, his grandkids, his friends and associates, the folks who went to church with him, his golf buddies -- I imagine the church will be pretty full at his memorial service. I know it will be planned with a lot of reference to faith because that was something Dick seemed to care about very much. His faith grew out of his Reformed background and came with him when he became an Episcopalian. He was calm and steady, the kind of person you felt you could go to and be heard even if he couldn't solve the problem or suggest a solution. That's how he showed his faith to the world, not so much by words as by listening and by doing. He knew well what failure was like, but he also knew how to use those failures to build something better, stronger than it was before and succeed at what had once not even been an option. He was a remarkable man.
There's an empty place in the pews now, but there's one new addition to the communion of saints around the throne. I think God's going to enjoy having him close by. Meanwhile, we will miss him and think of him often until one day we can all meet again. And I hope I remember to say "Thank you" one last time. He gave me a great gift with just a few words.
Dick, may you rest in peace as assuredly as you will rise in glory. May God comfort Kayleen and the family and friends who loved you and love you still. May each of us follow your example of seed planting and fostering new growth in others even if it is just a few kind words. That's how the Kingdom is built here and now, and I think you'd love knowing you were part of it.