Sunday, October 06, 2013

Eulogy for my Father - John L. Day

Eulogy for my Father
John L. Day[1]
August 14, 1926 - September 30, 2013
By Richard Elliott Day
5 October 2013 

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise…

Dad’s favorite hymn, "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," came from American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whitter and reflected a simple faith in a life of service, trust in a brighter tomorrow, and listening to that still, small voice of calm.

On behalf of those who loved him, especially my mother Eilene, big brother Jack, and my little sister Kim Carter, Aunt Vira, and the stalwart brothers Frank and Clyde, and all of the spouses willing to marry us - thank you for joining us for this celebration and remembrance of the life of John L Day. In preparation for today’s remarks, I spent some time looking through Dad’s old papers; so consequently, most of my comments today will focus on his earlier years. Maybe I’ll be able to share some things you did not know.

If you are lucky enough to have your father into your 60s, then you will inevitably witness some decline in the end. I mean, I’m 62. Jack’s 65. But how fortunate we have been to enjoy the love of both parents until now!

Dad’s decline was related to vascular dementia. But he maintained a sense of humor pretty much throughout his time in assisted living.[2] During his last year or so, he took a walk in the woods, embraced his inner curmudgeon, fantasized about running off to Hawaii with the young girl who bathed him, and gave some thought to overthrowing the administration at one local healthcare facility. 

Born in Knoxville August 14th, 1926 – the day after Fidel Castro; the day Henry Ford announced the 40-hour work week; the same age as Hugh Hefner and Marilyn Monroe - his was a life that stretched from Calvin Coolidge to Barack Obama.

Somewhere around 1914 Dad’s father (Pop) left Tazewell, TN and found work as a painter for the Southern Railway in Knoxville. He also found a “city girl” named Reba. Mom, as we knew her, raised five children including Vira and Frank - and later Clyde and Kyle, who were born after the family moved to Kentucky. The Family Tree before that leads back through …Tennessee…N Carolina…Maryland…and Wales in Great Britain.

Dad was a child of the Great Depression. He was just 10 ½ when the ’37 flood left its indelible impression, and soon after he lost his 9-year-old brother, Kyle (Clyde’s twin) to illness.

From a young age Dad let it be known that he would not be taken advantage of. He kept records on the money his siblings borrowed and when he could expect repayment, with interest. And he was tenacious. Big sister Vira would beat him up with some regularity. One day she held him down so long that he declared “When I get free I’m gonna hit you in the head with a rock.” She wrestled him until dinner-time when she had to let him go. But Dad was good to his word, and she still sports a scar on the back of her head.

Following his graduation from Dixie Heights High School at 18, standing 5’ 11” and weighing 154 lbs, “John’s Most Excellent Adventure” began as he traveled to Pearl Harbor, in the Territory of Hawaii, to work for the Navy four years after the attack. He progressed from a Temporary Worker at $1.40 per hour to Packer at $3.88 an hour. His supervisor praised him as “outstanding” and “a fine influence among his fellow workers.” But for Dad, that wasn’t good enough and the spunky young man protested up the chain of command and won a higher rating.

He celebrated his 19th birthday with news of Japan’s surrender. Dad completed his contract with the Navy in December, 1946, but stayed on until April. He left Hawaii at the same time the Kon Tiki left Peru. Dad’s journey - on a better boat - was much less eventful.

He must have felt like a young man on-the-rise, in a new age of possibilities following a great World War. When Tom Brokow described the greatest generation, I always thought of our family - the brothers, Vira – each reflected the values of the generation whose productivity in the military and on the war's home front made a decisive contribution to the effort, and spurred America to greatness. 

And there was this feisty Ludlow girl from Republican stock who caught his eye. Following their secret elopement to Atlanta on February 6, 1948, Mom & Dad returned to live in a 3rd floor Walk-up - a single room with a shared bath on Roha Street in Clifton while Dad did a year at the University of Cincinnati.

After that year they returned to Bromley and Dad began work as a Machinist with the American Tool Works Company in Cincinnati. Jack was born in 1949. I followed in 1951. The next year Governor Wetherby appointed Dad Kentucky Police Judge for Bromley where he once had a very close call with disgruntled gun-toting union official who took a pot shot in the courtroom.

In May of 1954, 1,200 steel workers at American Tool Works walked out in a dispute over wages.  As a Union Steward Dad helped lead the successful strike – and got himself fired in the process. 

So, he switched to a career in real estate – first in sales and estate management, but later he became a broker and specialized in appraisal. In 1957, while working for Clint Snyder, Dad did his first business as Trustee of the Ludlow Estate when he sold 6 ½ acres of land at the bottom of Post Place – adjacent to our family home on Highway Avenue. He lobbied the city to create a Waterfront Development Zone, an economic idea that was later realized in Newport and Covington.

While Mom worked in the schools – Dad entered the world of Kentucky politics. He served two terms as a Democratic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1954 & 1956. In the history of Kentucky public education the Minimum Foundation Program passed by the 1954 legislature stands as Kentucky’s crowning achievement of the post-World War II years.

The bills Dad sponsored helped police and firefighters, raised unemployment compensation benefits, and allowed each family one unlicensed dog, unless the mother of that family was called “Queenie” - then, no dog.

His bills required the licensing of real estate brokers, that Kentucky drivers must pass a written and road test, and called for a demerit system for controlling repeated traffic violations. Speedy Kentuckians can thank his House Joint Resolution 14 for the “points” they get on their driver’s licenses. In fact, one year following her Christmas prayer our daughter Catherine did just that – first thanking God for the food, and then thanking Dad for the points she had just gotten.

Dad’s legislative work drew praise from the Kentucky Post which wrote,
“The political independence and courage of John L. Day…make[s] up one of the more refreshing developments in the current session...
This is the Ludlow legislator’s second term in the House, and he is fast winning attention as a man who says what he thinks and fights for what he believes is right…
Mr. Day has refused to bend a knee to the all-powerful Chandler machine [and while that] rebellious spirit may have cost him a place on the House Rules Committee…we would not be surprised if his fan mail increases.”

In 1961 our family expanded with the birth of our sister Kim, and it was a big year in town with the opening of the Ludlow Swim Club. We earned colored duck patches, which Mom stitched on our swim trunks indicating our swimming prowess – but the real swimmers in our family would come much later. We walked the railroad bridge to Crosley Field to watch, the Redlegs win the National League pennant.  With the apparent encouragement of his father-in-law, Dad would pick up the occasional Playboy magazine – and hide them in the bottom right hand drawer of his desk, as I recall – because he liked the interviews.

Did you know that Dad was an inventor?  “John Day’s Magic Mirror Word-of-the-Day Vocabulary Builder” was a little clear-plastic cassette that stuck to the bathroom mirror and held business-card-sized flash cards with words and definitions. Why waste precious time staring at yourself in the mirror while you brush your teeth, when you could use those two minutes to learn a new vocabulary word and impress your friends?

Ludlow’s Centennial in 1964 was a who’s who of city leaders, Reeves, Lowe, Walsh and many more. Shorty and Grace Bullock co-chaired the Participation Division. Georgia Day chaired the Ladies Sunbonnet and Dresses Committee. Mom’s little brother, Joe Clore handled advertising. 
There were parades, dances, fireworks, style shows, displays, and of course “The Brothers of the Brush Whisker Growing Competition” – which I seem to recall Pop and Clyde entered. During the celebration, good citizens could be hauled into a Kangaroo Court on charges like “insufficient beard growth,” where Judge Harold Caple would reliably sentence them to be dunked in a tank of water they had erected. Dad had been arrested at his office on Elm Street, was wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase when Clyde encouraged the judge to toss him in. The judge obliged. Not knowing it was a set up, the audience was aghast.[3]

Mom and Dad Co-chaired the Spectacle Division with help from a Construction Crew headed by Pop and Clyde. They produced “The Ludlow Story” - described as a mammoth historical spectacle presented on a 200-foot stage by a cast of 300. Jack marched across the stage representing WWII. Pop and Clyde also performed twice.

By this time Dad was on his own as John L. Day Realty. As a high schooler, I found myself on “the dumb end” of a tape measure more than once as Dad taught me the grunt work of real estate appraisal. But the truth is - it was in the court room where Dad came alive. There was nothing he enjoyed so much as going head-to-head with an opposing attorney in some real estate case, and he was always well-prepared. 

For as long as I can remember Dad was always trying to see the value in something - whether it was four landlocked acres on the side of a hill overlooking Cincinnati, a long stretch of river bank, a small parcel at the end of a runway, or on the edge of a highway. Dad served as President of the Kenton-Boone Board of Realtors and did appraisals for public agencies like the Kentucky Highway Department, Greater Cincinnati Airport and East Kentucky Power, as well as individual home owners.  He was named Realtor of the Year in 1968 and again in 1972. He assessed hundreds of parcels, wrote about and taught real estate appraisal over his long and distinguished career. He retired at age 70 and was awarded Emeritus status by the National Association of Realtors for more than 40 years of service to the industry.

Over the years, Dad and Mom supported us, while teaching us that we get the lives we build for ourselves. Dad punished us when we were bad, and celebrated our victories. He taught us that we live in a great country with many possibilities, but it was up to us to find our own way in life. With a solid foundation, hard work, a little luck, and the gift of good health, Mom and Dad ended up with an attorney, a professor, and a fashion executive. There were marriages, grandkids, and great grandkids – pretty much everything one can hope for in life, certainly everything Dad needed. 

My wife Rita has known Dad well, but only since 1995. So I asked her to give me four adjectives that describe him from her perspective. She chose friendly, accepting, bright, and a bit contrary. I could not have chosen better myself.

Over the past couple of years this proud man
Suffered the indignities of his body's betrayal.
A slow decline, of this faculty, and the next,
until Dad was gone.

But our father's body remained.

Before the zipper closed
- that last glimpse -
As we sat counting the interval between breaths,
Checking his color, his hands, and feet,
His chin uplifted in some plaintiff avian expression,
I remember thinking,
So, this is how the world ends.

But I look at my hands and see his age spots.
I touch my cheek and feel his whiskers.
I have a sardonic thought,
and think...Dad.


Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

[1] Despite the fact that Dad claimed that the “L” stood for LaFitte (in honor of Jean LaFitte the pirate), Jack and I think it much more likely stood for LaFayette, but Dad’s father (Pop) just went with an L on the birth certificate.

[2] When Bob Baker wrote Dad’s diagnosis on his medical chart - despite having been retired 17 years - Dad became concerned that he wouldn’t be called to testify in court anymore, because opposing attorneys could claim he was crazy. I was driving him to the doctor’s one day to get an anti-anxiety prescription renewed when Dad protested, that if Dr. Baker hadn’t written “vascular dementia” on his chart, he wouldn’t need the anti-anxiety medicine.

[3] This bit was added after Dad’s Memorial Service based on conversations with his siblings.


Anonymous said...

An excellent tribute to your father!

Anonymous said...

What a marvelous tribute to an extraordinary man! So sorry for your loss.

Richard Day said...

Thanks y'all. I really appreciate it.