Eulogy for My Father

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Frank P. Dougherty (1926-2011)

I gave this eulogy for my father at his funeral on October 1, 2011 in Louisville, KY.  

Frank Dougherty, 85.   Did my Father ever break 85 on the golf course?   I don’t think so but he is deserving of his best score on this, his final round.  

Frank Dougherty was a good man, a very good man.

I want to pause and recall him now as he was once was, full of life and full of laughter and full of warmth.

At our home in Hunting Creek, my Mom and Dad liked to entertain.   They often had friends over for drinks and dinner on a Saturday evening.  Many of them had played golf during the day and in my mind all them are tan wearing bright colors. I see him in the living room, standing taller than most people, wearing a tie and sport coat, looking both casual and formal. Nothing out of the ordinary is happening, and these are people just like us with problems and worries, but here they are at ease and having a good time.  Dad made sure everyone had drinks and Mom had everything under control in the kitchen. He is talking with friends in a group and there are multiple groups in the room but you’d pay attention to his group.   You’d see his smile light up that group.   He wasn’t the center of attention.  Yet people were attracted to him because of his humor and his warmth.   He loved to laugh but I don’t recall him telling any jokes.    He had that kind of outlook on life where things that people said and did seemed funny.   And he was just pointing it out, exercising his Irish wit, sometimes sharply. There’s a warm glow in that room, that’s what I want to remember, and it would not have been there if Dad was not there.

Frank and Eileen did their special magic together for the benefit of others their whole life.   They did it wherever they lived and with whomever they met. They made it happen effortlessly.   Today is just another example of them bringing all kinds of people together and making us feel really good.    

These are true for the memories they created for their friends, but even more so for the family.

I see him making hot chocolate on a Saturday morning for all us kids, taking a break from cartoons.  We are covering a piece of white bread with oleo for dipping into the hot chocolate – a messy wonderful delight.   

I see him driving a green station wagon filled with us kids climbing freely from seat to seat, all elbows and knees.    What laws we would violate today.    We were all packed in the car.   I don’t know where we had room for suitcases.   We were so excited to be heading to a vacation at the beach at Carpenteria.

I see him at any number of Christmas mornings when all the kids were lined up, bouncing up and down, waiting to be let into the living room to attack a roomful of toys, games, and other goodies that he and Mom had organized. He was holding a Brownie camera ready to record the action.  We were all in plaid robes, I think, Coleen, tallest and first in line and Kathy with her characteristically cute, sleepy eyes trying to figure out what to do.  Really, we always got what we wanted at Christmas and I don’t know how they managed to do it for six kids.

I see him leading me in awe into Dodger Stadium, with the green field and clay under the lights, as though we just entered another dimension.  I see him trying to teach the strike zone to Danny, who would swing hard at every pitch no matter where it was.  As a Little League coach, he cared as much about the awkward kid playing right field as he did the talented shortstop.  I understand that one of those rightfielders is now the Mayor of Louisville.  I know that in sports and society, he always pulled for the underdog.

He was the son of a coal miner, growing up in the Depression era in Pennsylvania in a town called Carbondale.   I never heard him tell stories about any hardships growing up.   He focused on what he had and didn’t mention what he didn’t have. His mother met his father in a music store, where she was selling sheet music.   She called him, Bud, in a very soft voice with great affection.    He was tall and very thin growing up, playing basketball in high school.    During the war, he was in the Navy but he spent the time in college in Rochester, NY.    After the war, he married Eileen who was from a nearby town.   Together they began a pretty amazing journey. 

In 1950, they moved across the country to southern California.   It was a big risk but it paid off in new opportunities. Mom and Dad lived in California for 17 years, and I know they enjoyed the sunshine and the optimism, which seemed a reflection of them as well as California. He had a good business sense but he was such a people person, even in his career.   A new job brought him and our family to Louisville in 1967.

Dad knew hard work.  He knew stress.  He knew disappointment, too, as well as success.  Dad always knew that he was fortunate and blessed, and he never took it for granted.  He seldom focused on what he had done but rather what others had done for him.   He felt an obligation to do what he could to make life better for others.

I feel certain Dad would think that his greatest accomplishment in life was his family.   All of us of six kids, each of us different but all a lot like him, too.   He was delighted by each of his 19 grandchildren and now great-grandchildren, four and growing.  This is what came from a long, loving marriage of 62 years.  He loved us all but no one more than Eileen. 

Towards the end of his life, there he was, stripped down to almost nothing of his former self, lying helpless in bed, and even then the extraordinary people who cared for him, who fed him and changed his bedding, they loved seeing him –  and he had that warm smile for them.   Even his nurses thought he was special, just as his family does.     

Frank had such a good heart.   That’s what made him special.  

On this beautiful morning, may his warmth and kindness live on in our hearts and may his good humor ease our minds.  Let’s celebrate the fullness of his happy life and the love and joy he shared with us.