Posted by: beattieblog | October 28, 2008

Celebrating Walter Franklin David, “Uncle Walt”

A man I admired greatly passed away last Monday after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. It was a tremendous honor to be the officiant at his funeral yesterday and hear so many speak so well of Walt. I don’t know if they still make them like Walt anymore. Here are my remarks that I shared yesterday at Central United Protestant Church in Richland, WA:

I’d like to share for just a bit and hopefully frame how to think about Walt and celebrate his life in the context of faith and the mystery of death.

Most of you here in this room could tell a wonderful story about how you came to know Walt – we’ve heard examples of that already. In my case, I was fortunate enough to marry into my relationship with Walt. My wife Kristi and his daughter Kathy became fast friends some 20+ years ago and even though Kristi ended up a Husky and Kathy a Cougar, they’ve managed to remain very close.

The Davids are really like family to Kristi – in fact when both Kristi and her sister were Homecoming royalty at Richland High, Kristi’s dad Phil escorted her sister Lisa during the halftime festivities and it was Walt who stood with Kristi.

I met Walt first when I was just out of high school, and as a young man, I was immediately impressed with this man “Uncle Walt” I had heard so much about. Maybe you’ve had this experience with Walt or others you’ve met in your life. There are those people you meet and recognize right away traits that you’d like to see develop within yourself. Walt was one of those men. I remember many times sitting around a dinner table or a living room or maybe a lunch counter at Jennifer’s bakery listening to Walt tell stories about his life – from leaving home at 15 and moving to Wyoming because there were just too many mouths to feed (Walt was 1 of 10 kids), or stories of his military service and time in the Korean war. Walt lived a long, full life. And the more you got to know him, the more you wanted to measure up to whatever standard it was that he held for living a good life, whatever it meant to him to live the right way. That’s just the way Walt was – he didn’t try and coax respect from people or seek their approval. Walt was one of those men you just couldn’t help but respect, and knew there was much you could learn from him. And so because Walt was a man I looked up to and admired deeply, it really is a tremendous honor for me to stand up here and share today.

As I thought this week about what to share, I thought about two distinctive physical characteristics that spoke to what kind of person Walt David was.

One of the first things you noticed about Walt was how straight he stood. He was upright with that good military posture – but I think this symbolized something significant about the man beyond appearances–he had good vision of what was going on around him and he faced things head on. He was a straight shooter who told it like it was – as Mary said to me, “With Walt, if you didn’t want to know the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.” I have a friend from California, Nate, who tells a story about fishing with his dad when he was about 12 years old on the ocean in their little outboard boat. Nate was in the back of the boat and his dad was fishing up in the bow when suddenly not very far away, a huge naval submarine surfaced. And of course as this enormous vessel pushed its way up out of the water, it created a huge surge going out in all directions. Nate was sitting in the back by the motor and his dad started yelling at him to start the motor and head straight toward the oncoming wave. Now I don’t know about you, but my impulse would have been to get as far away from that wave as possible. But Nate’s dad knew the only way to keep their boat from getting flipped was to aim the bow towards the wave and go right into it. He managed to do it and they made it in one piece over the wave.

In the bible in James chapter 1 verse 2 it says that we are to count it as joy when we face trials and difficult times because doing so creates perseverance and when we persevere, we mature and become more complete, more like God. Now this doesn’t mean that we should be happy about suffering, but it does remind us that in persevering through difficult times, there is a reward of greater maturity and divine wisdom coming. Ernest Hemingway was born about 30 years before Walt and was, I’m sure, a hero to many of Walt’s generation. A journalist once asked Hemingway “Exactly what do you mean by ‘guts’?” Hemingway replied: “By guts, I mean, grace under pressure.” Facing difficult times reveals character and creates character. Walt lived a full life and that included some difficult and painful times. But he did so with what Mary called “brave actions”, and with integrity – with grace under pressure. Walt reflected this truth of James 2, living life straight forward, directly facing whatever came his way. And this shaped Walt into a person of tremendous maturity and solid character. With Walt, his word was his bond, as good as any contract.

The second distinctive thing about Walt was his warm, penetrating eyes. Think of a time when you were sitting and talking with Walt and were struck by depth of his eyes. Even as his health was faltering, his eyes still had that same warmth and twinkle to them. It was almost like Walt could see a little more than what was on the surface. I’m sure those eyes and that posture were more than a match for the boys that rang Kathy’s doorbell over the years and ultimately even for the hulking offensive lineman from the University of Idaho that Walt gave Kathy away to on her wedding day several years ago. I’m sure those eyes saw through the, uh, shenanigans and unbelievable sense of humor of Mike over the years. And I’m certain that those eyes didn’t miss any of the many reasons he had to feel pride and love as Mike married and began raising and providing for his own family. Like all good parents, Walt had a wonderful vision of his kids and later his grandkids. Mary talked about how Walt looked at Mike as the smartest kid in the world, and Kathy was the most beautiful.

Proverbs 29:18 says that without a vision the people perish. Now in fairness to the text, it’s talking about the people of God having a vision of what it means to follow God’s ways. But there is an important spiritual truth here. Walt had a good vision of his family – a vision, I believe, reflective of how God sees all of us. Sure he had the idealized view of his kids so many parents have, but he also saw his kids’ lives fully and wanted to be a part o f their lives. Many of us men and parents don’t always have this kind of vision of our families, but Walt did. As Kathy thinks back on her time growing up, she told me she’s amazed at how many of her friends had a friendship with her dad. He was dedicated to his kids and their lives.

I asked Mary to share one way that Walt showed his love to his kids and she was really struck that in 1984, as he was starting to have heart problems, he quit smoking. There’s no way to know how many years this added on to his life but in the midst of feeling such great loss, there’s also thankfulness that Walt lived a full life. He lived longer than most thought he would – enough to hold all of his grand children – this meant a lot to him. Even in the last weeks when his strength left him, his very petite and new granddaughter Kaitlin was just the right size to sit happily on his lap.

Now, Walt was a part of what sociologists and historians refer to as the “silent generation” – this generation of Americans who were born during the era of the Great Depression, watched their parents fight World War II and served in the Korean War, some in Vietnam. He shared this generational distinction with Paul Newman the great actor who passed away a month ago today. And with all of the wonderful memorializing about Paul Newman and his acting career and charitable work, my favorite story came from Frank Deford, the famous Sports Illustrated writer who not too long ago sat behind Paul Newman and his wife Joanne at a new movie screening. Here was this aging American legend, this great actor and philanthropist sitting in the row in front of Deford. And he said, as soon as the lights went dark in the theater, Newman reached over and took his wife’s hand and held it all through the movie. This of course made such an impression on Deford that he reached over and took his wife’s hand. This is also the way Walt was. Every day in little and big ways he showed his love for Mary, and taught others to love their spouses and families in a similar manner.

Mary was telling me about looking back over pictures from her 40 years of marriage to Walt and how quickly she was reminded of why she fell in love with this caring person. And anyone who knew Walt knew he loved Mary. He had a vision of his wife and marriage that kept him falling in love with her over and over. I asked Kathy to share with me one story that typified her dad’s love for Mary. She said it’s difficult to tell one thing because it was simply the way he lived his life. It was everything he did every day, how he prioritized his family. He left early for work to be home early with his family in the afternoon; in all the years of Mike’s soccer, he missed only one game. As Kathy said, “My dad took care of so many things – he was always on the ball, taking care of everything. He showed his love in how he really cared for his family. My mom never worried about having to get things done.”

Walt had a good vision of his life and how to live it, especially in the way he loved all his kids and grandkids very much. He was a man who reflected the strength and maturity that comes from facing life head on. There are so many reasons Walt will be missed. I know that every time a tough decision presents itself – whether it’s a career decision or financial or in parenting – Walt’s family will miss his wisdom and insight. Walt had the unique ability to know not only what to do but how to do it. But I want to encourage, especially Mike and Kathy, that this same gift of wisdom and insight, a vision for how to face life with the same guts their dad displayed resides in them.

Conclusion

In conclusion I’d like to refer back to this great hymn Amazing Grace. The family picked this song because of its eternal and comforting message of divine grace. It was written by the Englishman and abolitionist John Newton. It’s based on a verse in I Chronicles 17:16-17 where King David marvels that God would bless him and his house in amazing ways. I think Walt David could relate to this feeling of King David. Though Walt did experience tough times in his life, I know both he and Mary also felt very blessed.

And I was also particularly struck by the lyrics of the third verse:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Just as Walt so often displayed grace under fire – what Hemingway called “guts”, I believe it is Grace that sustained Walt through all of his life – from being born a year before the great depression and leaving home at 15, through his military service which included the Korean war, through his work, raising his family and even his battle with Parkinson’s disease that took his life this past Monday. And as we celebrate Walt’s life and mourn his death we can rest in the assurance that though we say from dust we come and to dust we return, the earth is not Walt’s final resting place. Rather we trust that this ever-present grace which brought Walter David through a long, full life – and even now sustains all of us – has today brought Walt safely home. Amen.

And now a reading from the 23rd Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside quiet waters.

3 He restores my soul;

He guides me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Responses

  1. […] Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…or does it? added an interesting post today on Celebrating Walter Franklin David, "Uncle Walt"Here’s a small readingAnd with all of the wonderful memorializing about Paul Newman and his acting career and charitable work, my favorite story came from Frank Deford, the famous Sports I… […]

  2. […] and tragic, and sometimes they overlap. I had the honor of doing the funeral earlier this year for Walt David, an older man I admired greatly from my home town. It truly was a bitter-sweet time of honoring the […]


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