Sunday, May 25, 2008
Eulogy for Norman
My wife's grandfather died this week -at 94 bless his heart - and these words somehow found their way to my keyboard. I gave this eulogy today at his funeral, and enough perfect strangers came up afterward to tell me how it helped them, that I think maybe it will help you, too. If not, skip it and wait for more of my acerbic storage wit later...
Recollections on a Real Corker
My first introduction to Norman Appleyard’s larger than life persona occurred back in 1986. I was visiting my dear friend Jef Cole at his parent’s house on Cape Cod. Many of you may remember Larry and Barbara Cole from this church, and the Weston Golf Club.
During the visit, I casually mentioned that I had just met a girl – and I had an odd sense that maybe…just maybe… this was THE girl. Since she was from Weston – like the Coles – I asked if they happened to know her.
“Pam Rice…Pam Rice…” Larry said…Hey, Babb’s isn’t that Norman and Lillian Appleyard’s granddaughter?
“That must be Linda’s daughter! What a small world. Linda used to babysit for Jef when he was a baby. We’ve known them forever!”
Small world, indeed.
The conversation went on for an hour – with stories of weddings, funerals, golf and card games, and various happy and scurrilous activities going back 40 years. I began to get the sense this Appleyard clan was a pretty amazing family, led by a pretty amazing man.
I asked the Coles to put in a good word for me. Which they must have done, because I was soon invited to meet the Appleyards face to face. To the best of my recollection that first live meeting happened in their kitchen down at Quail Ridge.
I was terrified.
I felt like I was going on the most important job interview of my life.
And, looking back now, I guess I was…
So there I was all spruced up in my best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ blue polyester suit, my hair cut short, shoe’s shined, white shirt, red tie, sitting up strait in one of those little yellow bamboo chairs…
Shaking like a leaf, and sweating like a cold coke bottle on a Boynton Beach summer day.
And let me tell you, Normie was a tough interview.
He wanted to know about my family (who in reality were dirt-poor Maine dairy farmers)…
My education (incomplete and embarrassingly weak at the time)…
My athletic ability (simply pitiful)…
My aspirations in business (to pay my bills at the end of the month)…
My intentions with his granddaughter (well heck, I was 29 years old, she was (and still is) SMOKIN’ hot – so I think we all know what my intentions for his granddaughter were…
Anyway - at the end of an excruciating hour of my fidgeting in the chair - and fibbing most of my answers
Norman announced, “Well Pammy, it looks like you’ve got yourself a real corker here!”
I was not quite sure what a ‘real corker’ was, but from the way he said it, I surmised I had somehow passed the test.
I never dared to ask him, but I would like to believe that twenty odd years later he was still happy with his initial assessment of me – however misguided it might have seemed at the time
Looking back, he must have seen something in me; I did not even see myself. He was like that…
Over the years, I came to know Norman on many more levels – as an astute businessman, occasionally as a grumpy old sod, sometimes, surprisingly, as a sensitive new age guy…as a community leader, and, of course, as a family patriarch.
In distilling all my experiences with him, I see a few defining traits that, to me, made Norman Appleyard who he was:
The first is Intelligence – Norman was gifted with an utterly amazing brain. He had a near photographic memory – for names, for jokes, and for cards – as anyone who has played bridge against him knows only too well.
He loved to tell stories of playing high stakes poker with some of Boston’s shadiest characters all-night down at the meat market…
And - the way he told the story anyway - always coming home with tens of thousands of dollars in winnings.
Which brings me to Competitiveness – boy, oh boy, Norman loved to win – from Tuesday morning golf, to the daily word jumble, to the season ending championship hockey game, he was driven to win. Norman had the unique qualities of a winner – focus, passion, knowledge, commitment – and he did win, often.
He was Athletic - Norman had the right stuff – Fast twitch muscle fiber, amazing hand/eye coordination, body awareness, strong heart/lung mechanics, a natural golf swing – whatever that certain DNA magic is that makes an athlete, he had it in spades.
I was once in Hawaii on a business trip and got roped into playing golf with a group of Japanese executives.
I called Norman in a panic – as you know, I do not play golf –
“What should I do so I don’t embarrass myself?” I asked.
He laughed, “Well there, I’d say you’ve got yourself in quite a pickle, kid. About the only thing I can tell you is, keep your head down when you swing – and try not to hurt anyone…”
There was that famous Bobo sense of Humor.
To be honest, my first dinner with the Appleyards, that night, sitting in those little yellow bamboo chairs in the kitchen at Royal Tern Lane, was a bit of a shocker…
I simply did not know how to react when Norman started telling his unbelievably baaad jokes….
You know what I am talking about; I mean his jokes were baaaaad.
You could not help but laugh – boy, he knew how to tell a joke, clean or not - but phew, I must have turned ten shades of red that night.
And, of course, imagine my surprise when little miss Lillian over here starts matching him with her own, even worse, little ditties…
I must have turned purple.
Well, I know this is supposed to be a somber occasion – but I hope you, and Norman, will forgive me for having a little fun at his expense – in fact, knowing how large a part humor played in his life, I am sure he already has…because he knew how to take a joke as well as how to tell one.
More seriously, when I think of Norman, the word Compassion comes to mind – Norman knew instinctively how to make people feel at ease, he drew you to him, he almost forced you to like him – just would not let go until he turned you into a friend.
Call it charisma, call it “just being a great guy,” call it whatever you want…he had it.
Norman loved people and knew how to make people love him.
Because first and foremost, Norman was a Leader. He understood he had been blessed with intelligence, talent, the willingness to work hard, and incredible good fortune.
He believed in giving back.
He was a leader in the community – as a founding member of this beautiful church, and even our own Broomstones curling club.
He was the leader of his family. To each one of us he gave his knowledge and guidance
(Ok, a LOT of guidance – especially when it came to running the water pump in Maine…)
And most importantly, he gave his love…
He taught each of us to lead, and he will expect no less of us now that his physical presence is gone.
Because in a very real sense, he really is still right here, right now.
I certainly see him in each of you – in your undeniable faces, your voices, your values, and your love for each other.
He is living and breathing right here and now in his children, your children, and mine.
I see his amazing brain in my honor roll college student.
I see his talent and competitiveness in my multi-sport varsity athlete.
I see his irascible sense of humor (and so I hear, his natural golf swing) in my budding young Arnold Palmer with the long hair over there.
I see his compassion, love of others, and ability to instantly make friends in my beautiful and amazing daughter.
Yes, He is here. He will always be here. In us.
And I am sure you all agree, he still is and always will be a real corker.
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