My grandfather passed away last week. I had been caring for him and enjoying lots of time with him for the past six years. I will miss him dearly, but the struggles he and I faced together are over and a whole new chapter in my life has begun.
My sister and I sat down together to write a eulogy but I’ll give her most of the credit since she’s the professional speech writer. She delivered it flawlessly to many laughs and tears. I felt strongly that more people need to hear it, to understand the kind of man he was, because we can all learn so much from his life. So please read on.
In preparing for this difficult moment, my sister Sarah and I have had the privilege to read some correspondence between our grandfather and grandmother Stan and Gladys. One Valentine’s Day card stuck out in particular: It was as you would expect, from a person who has known his wife since he was 5 years old and who has faithfully given his life for her. “To my loving wife” and it went on and on. But the best part was that just below his signature was the word “over.” So we turned the card over. And then in his handwriting, it read “If you doubt my sincerity, just look at the price of the card.”
This one simple card sums up so much about our grandfather and the man you all knew and loved. It so beautifully encapsulates his tremendous wit. Stan Marple delivered great one liners that everyone enjoyed. In particular, as he had some health struggles in these last years, the medical staffs at various hospitals and rehabs would fall in love with him because he kept them laughing.
Another reason this card struck a chord with us was that in a small way it speaks to the legacy he left of personal responsibility and fiscal stewardship. As the son of a minister, a child among 5 siblings and someone who experienced the depression era, Stanley understood the value of hard work. He was willing to do what it took to invest in things that matter, like working his way though both undergrad and the obtainment of his PhD. You’ve heard it said that some people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
On the contrary, Stan Marple understood exactly what had value in this life. He invested in a few key areas and the dividends paid off during his lifetime, the lifetimes of the two boys he loved so deeply and will continue throughout the lives of his grandchildren and even great grandchildren.
Stan’s top investment was in his family. He leaves behind a legacy of faithful marriage. In a world where marriage has become more about feelings and emotions than lifetime commitment and “till death do us part,” Stan modeled the role of loving and dutiful husband so well, my sister and I watched it replicated in our father and we chose exactly those qualities in our spouses. And on that day, when I married my husband, Stan wasn’t just there on the sidelines as a model of marriage, he stood in my dad’s stead and walked me down the aisle. While we all felt the missing piece from my dad’s death, granddad was the glue that held the whole family together.
In a time where “mother in-law jokes run rampant,” as little girls we watched Stan care for Gladys’s mother even when Elin Farren no longer knew who he was or where she was. In recent days, we watched this patient devotion repeat as he cared for his wife while she struggled with her memory. Finally, at the spry age of 80, we watched Stan embrace new members of his family with joy when our Uncle Mel married Joan Moore and added her three children Jina, Beau and Buck. In some of his last moments the day before he died, he held his newest great grandson with such a smile and listened to Daniel’s laughter with delight.
While already mentioned, Stan invested in education. Not just his own and not just in the usual way. Yes, anyone who undergoes the academic rigor of a PhD at MIT clearly values education but there’s so much more to it. Stan wanted everyone to understand the value of education and share his joy of learning. I loved the twinkle in his eyes as my son Timothy would work through the math problems his great-grandfather presented. He also funded the education of others, gave generously to the institutions that contributed to his education and taught Plant Design, Thermodynamics and Physics at University of Houston. But his love for learning wasn’t just books and classroom. It was taking a job assignment in the Netherlands, being a member of Rotary, traveling the world, patroning the Ballet, Opera and Symphony and doing the daily crossword puzzle.
He also took great pride in the education of the ones he loved. His smile was ear to ear when he learned his granddaughter Sarah was going to be an engineer and that she could go to any of the top programs in the country. To top it off, she married an engineer and all of this gave him great pride that he expressed by showing her off to his Rotary Club.
The last significant investment Stan made that I want to mention is in the people around him. Everyone has a story. Stan was the guy who wanted to hear that story. He believed in the value and dignity of every human being regardless of their station in life. Whether the trashman or the waitress, Stan learned their name and asked them their story. More than that, if your story had a need and he could help your need, he would. He had a generosity that generated from the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. He worked to get to know each person at his beloved church Riverside UMC and the church where his father had been a minister, First Church of Weymouth. To each of you, he loved being apart of your lives.
Stan gave a wonderful autobiographical talk to his Rotary Club where he included everything from Shakespheare to how Shell’s research labs worked on making better wax coatings for ice cream. He summed it up by listing several things they don’t teach in college (and here I thought MIT taught it all!). A short list in his own words,
1) God is real, He will help you when you need Him.
2) Try to be positive. Negative pep talks are absolutely worthless.
3) Help the other guy. It will make you feel good and your own work will also benefit.
4) If you have some important knowledge or ability, be eager to teach it to others.
In conclusion, I wanted to share some words to comfort us on this difficult day. Granddad struggled, just like all of us, to understand pain in this life. Quite possibly the most meaningful conversation I ever had with him was about this 2 summers ago in Boston when I had flown up to be with him because he had fallen and had severe head trauma. Prior to heading into a scary surgery, he asked me the question of the ages. Why does God allow suffering?
I reminded him of the story of Jesus and how it was in fact the death of God’s only son and the suffering on the cross that allows those who surrender control of our lives to God to have eternity with a perfectly holy and loving God—that suffering is in fact a path to our salvation and that our trials are a path to more fully taking on the character of Jesus in our lives. I shared with him many of the promises in Scripture such as, “In this world, there will be troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” It was a precious memory but today, I want to conclude by reading Stan’s own words regarding the suffering we feel today.
Earlier this week, I found a Sunday School lesson Stan wrote entitled, “When All Seems Hopeless.” It begins by discussing 9/11 and cites scriptures out of Job, so you know it was heavy. But in it, he writes this message I would suggest we all take to heart on this day when our souls are sad and we are searching for understanding.
“But God is good, not evil. He loves us. Why? I don’t know. But I am convinced of it. God gave us his own son to tell us, ‘I love you, my children.’ And in the big picture, not restricted by earth’s bounds, everything will be all right. I believe this.”