On July 15th, 2011 my father passed away after a long and difficult battle with cancer. One of his last requests (and one of my mother’s requests) was for me to write and deliver the eulogy for his funeral services, which were held on July 20th, 2011. This was, perhaps, the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Though he was my best friend and the greatest influence on my life, I had a tough time writing something that would honor his memory properly.
I started writing this over half a dozen times, got anywhere from 300 to 900 words into the piece, and had to start over because it just wasn’t going where I wanted it to. Finally, on July 19th, after several days of banging my head against my iPad, it finally flowed forth the way I wanted it to be, it finally said what I wanted it to say (though the spoken length was somewhere between 16 and 17 minutes, a little long for a traditional eulogy).
This piece, of course, is very personal to me and my family, but it honors the single greatest man I have ever known: my father, Stanley Edward Pond.
The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Known
Stan Pond, the man I have had the privilege of calling my father for the last 39 years, died on July 15th. He was only 58 years old. I have heard that the loss of a parent is one of life’s most traumatic events. I now know all too well the devastating truth of that statement. While I’ve also been told that, in time, the hurt will fade, to be replaced by memories that soothe the soul and fill the heart with peace, for now the pain is too immediate, tinging my favorite recollections with a sadness that brings tears to my eyes even as I smile.
Stan was a patient, kind hearted man, with a steel resolve that guided him through the most difficult times in life. He was a good man, a man of unbridled integrity and trust, a man who would make solid decisions for all the right reasons and stand by them; and yet he was also the first to admit he was wrong if those decisions turned out to be erroneous or misguided.
My father was a man unafraid of a hard day’s work; he never hesitated to get his hands dirty, to break a sweat, or to dig right in and bust his butt. In fact, it seems that much of his life was spent doing a hard day’s work, whether it was on the farms as a youth, as a technician, laborer, or manager at the IR, Valley Cities Gas, Twin Tiers Casting, or Iroquois Foundry, or over the last 20 years as he ran his own very successful plumbing, heating, and electrical business.
And yet, despite the long hours spent working, he always managed to find time for a kiss, a playful touch, or a gentle word with mom, whether they were in the house or on the porch watching the wildlife, be they birds, cats, squirrels, or grandchildren. He made time to go fishing with the boys, his sons and grandchildren, which they all enjoyed, no matter how poor the catches may have been for Eddie and Mike. If his beloved Dallas Cowboys were on, or a NASCAR race was being broadcast, you’d often find him glued to his chair, his eyes on the action, no matter how often you may have fruitlessly tried to get his attention. And of course, he spent a good portion of his free time with his beloved hot rod, washing and waxing her with the familiarity of an old lover, though mom never got jealous over these automotove affections… or at least she claims she never did.
Stan is and was many things to many people. To my mother, Jan, he is her husband, filling the role of her savior, her best friend, her lover, and her confidante, while at the same time she was the same to him. To my brothers–Scott, Mike, Christopher, and Eddie–and my sisters–Cindy and Crystal–he was a father, a friend, a positive role model, and a huge influence on our lives. To my aunt Sandy, aunt Reva, and aunt Connie, he was their little brother, the one they tried to protect. To his 20 grandchildren and his handful of great grandchildren, he was grandpa, papa, poppy, and pop-pop, the one who always had time for a smile, a hug, a tickle, a laugh, and the occasional vacuum cleaner ride. To his many friends, he was the one they trusted, the friend who always had their back. To his customers, he was the one who went above and beyond the minimum required for the job at hand, the one they could rely upon at all hours of the day and night (unless of course it conflicted with a Cowboys game or a NASCAR race).
To all of us gathered here today to honor and pay tribute to his life and impressive legacy, Stan Pond was all of these things; to some of us, he was much, much more. I’d like to take a few moments share a couple different perspectives on the special place Stan holds in some of our lives.
To me, he was more than my father, more than my best friend. To me, he represents everything I’ve always wanted to be. He is my greatest hero, my true inspiration, and he is the single person in my life who has molded, guided, and shaped me into the person I am today. Though I wasn’t consciously aware of it until recently, he is the template that I modeled myself after. Without even being aware of it, his stories, words, and lead-by-example actions have been my personal how-to guide, my own “how to live life for dummies.”
I remember one particular story of his. As a youth, my father worked long, hard hours on the farm with his father, Leland Pond. In this particular story, he and grandpa were bailing hay. As is common with farm equipment, the bailer got jammed, stopping their work. In the course of trying to clear chute, my grandpa reached into the guts of the machine to try and dislodge the blockage… without turning off the equipment. Just like Murphey’s Law dictates, the equipment chose this moment to clear itself, ejecting the bail… and removing four of grandpa’s fingers on one hand. My father, only 12 or 13 at the time, took charge of the situation, gathered up my grandpa and his fingers, and drove him 20 miles to the nearest hospital. Though my grandpa’s fingers were not able to be saved, my father’s actions probably saved his father’s life.
At the time he told me this story, my father meant it as an example of why equipment should be safely locked and tagged when working on it. Despite his intent, I gained so much more from his story. From it, I learned that in life, when you least expect it, you will be faced with unfair, difficult, and challenging situations. In these situations, you can either stand in shock, doing nothing, or you can take charge and actually do something, potentially making a difference in the process.
My father had dozens, possibly hundreds, of these stories from his life that he told me over the years, stories which, though seemingly simple on the surface, held vast pools of wisdom. These stories, combined with his quiet words of advice and my many personal observations of his tireless work ethics and personal interactions, provided me with step by step instructions on how to conduct myself professionally and personally, shaping me into the man I am today.
But I’m not the only one he influenced in this manner. To my brother, Scott, he was also a man to look up to, an inspiration to emulate. When Scott first started working at the Foundry, he finally realized just how intelligent and intuitive our Dad was. Though it often seemed that the weight of the plant rested on Dad’s shoulders, no matter how tough things were, no matter how impossible the situation seemed, Dad always managed to keep the machines operational and running to their rated capacity. Watching his actions and cool demeanor in these situations inspired Scott, so much that for the first time he thought, “I want to be just like Dad.” On a more personal level, when Scott’s biological father passed away, Scott says that Stan, “was there for us kids, giving us a shoulder to cry on, along with words of sympathy and comfort. That is what truly showed me just how much he cared for all of his kids, that we were truly his kids.”
On the night after Stan’s death, Mike, one of my other brothers, posted the following on FaceBook. He said, “A man that I am proud to call Dad has left us for a better place today. He showed me and my brothers and my sisters the true meaning of family.” Yesterday, when I asked him to explain further, he went on to say that Stan was the father that anyone could ever wish they had. It didn’t matter that some of us were Jan’s and some were his own, he treated all of us equally and considered us all to be his. He was always there for us to the full extent and when he knew you were in trouble, he was there to bail you out, to help you, no questions asked. And if you thanked him, Dad would just shake his head and say, “I’m just here to keep you guys going. If I know you are safe, then I’m happy.” That, combined with the fact that Dad took an interest in the things that we were interested in, such as football, fishing, and NASCAR racing, things that he eventually became nuts about as well, just to give us more to talk about, a way for us to bond more, made him a true father.
Finally, for my mother, Stan was her everything. When they met back in 1984, they we both adrift, floating from one moment to the next, moving through life with no clear focus, no clear goal. Their chance meeting set their feet back on the path of hope, of love, providing each with the anchor and stability that ultimately pulled them from a path of darkness, of despair. He added hope, love, and humor back into her life, taking the burden from her shoulders, and providing her with a reason to live and laugh again. She confided in me that he was everything that anyone could ask for in a spouse, a friend, a companion. He showed her a side of love and friendship that she had only dreamed about before. This love was not a one way street, either. I remember Dad saying a few years ago that mom was his reason for getting up in the morning, the reason why he worked so hard to provide for their lives. “She is my life, my entire reason for being, for doing what I do,” he had said. Most people spend their entire lives looking for their soul mates; mom and Dad were the lucky ones in that they knew, almost from the beginning, that they were each other’s perfect match.
The loss of my father has been difficult for us all. It is the single most difficult experience I have ever been through, though I am comforted by the thought that because of the last few months I have never been closer to him and that I have regained the family that I hadn’t realized that I had lost. Though right now my pain and sorrow is almost unbearable, I do know that in time, the pain will fade, leaving me with the cherished memories of the greatest man I have ever known. Even though I don’t want to, I know that eventually we all must say goodbye, we all must go to a better place, just as he has.
We all have our fond memories of Stan, memories that we can cherish for the rest of our lives, even though he is no longer with us. I’m sure many of us can recall our times with Stan as vividly as our favorite songs that we’ve all heard countless times. You know the songs I’m talking about, the ones where you know every word, every note, every solo taken by every member of the band. In fact, that should be our goal in this time of morning, in this time of remembrance. We should take our memories and breathe life into them, make them fresh, until our memories are just like these classic tunes, until they become part of us, until they become us, never to leave, never to diminish, never to fade, living on even as we say goodbye to this great man.
Out of all of my father’s oldtime country favorites that we listened to over the last few weeks, one tune struck with me as being appropriate to this moment, one that I’d like to read a few of it’s lines to you now. The song is “The Cowboy Rides Away” by George Strait, one of his favorite artists.
And now we play the final show-down scene
And as the credits roll a sad song starts to play
And this is where the cowboy rides away
And my heart is sinking like the setting sun
Setting on the things I wish I’d done
Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say
And this is where the cowboy rides away
Oh the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say
And this is where the cowboy rides away
Goodbye, Dad. I love you.