Thursday, February 24, 2011

R.I.P. Dickie O 1937-2011

Most of you who take the time to read this probably already know this but I've been away from blogging, and a lot of other things, as my dad had been really sick and recently passed away. Cancer had really overwhelmed him and in the end his passing was merciful. My dad was a larger then life personality and was mourned by hundreds and hundreds of friends and family. It's hard to handle all the raw, emotional outpouring of affection that everyone had for my dad because it makes you both happy to hear and sad because maybe you never realized just how great he was because, well, he was your dad and had to dad-like at times. For those that knew him, most of what I'm writing here will come as no surprise. For those that didn't know him, I'm only scratching the surface of who he really was. If I sound like I'm bragging or going on too much about my dad, tough shit, stop reading right now as this is all about the man that was Dickie O

Dick was from North Cambridge, MA and was damned proud of that. Not Cambridge, North Cambridge. That was important to him and his people at that time and would be quick to correct people who said he was from Cambridge. What neighborhood you were from was far more important then what city. He was the youngest of 5 and so much younger then his older brother his was often mistaken for his son. He was a typical neighborhood kid of the time and on the whim of a friend enlisted in the USMC where he served for 6 years. He came home and met the love of his life; his best friend's baby sister. Boy, did that have disaster written all over it. But it all worked out as several years, and 6 children, later he moved the family from a 2 bedroom apartment in Somerville to Arlington where he lived for the rest of his life.

He basically had one employer his entire adult life which would be the entity now known as Verizon but to us was simply "The Phone Company". He started and finished his nearly 40 year career as a proud union member and the thought of ever going "management" to him was nearly blasphemous. He mentored literally hundreds of coworkers over the years and remained friends with nearly all of them and best friends with many of them. He was a typical dad of the time with a large family and sole provider in that he put in massive amounts of overtime just to make ends meet. At the same time he never, ever missed work unless it was a dire situation and took home perfect attendance awards (yes, strange they have those things for working adults) pretty much every year. With all this going on he still found time to make it to his kids various activities although not to a level that is likely acceptable to parents these days.

In his 40's he joined Fitness First in Arlington where he spent his nights doing aerobics, working out, raising a ruckus and serving as unofficial mayor of the gym. He touched the life of many young people there while never missing an opportunity to embarrass his son and daughters that also were members.

After retirement he spent a lot of time with his emerging brood of grandchildren whether it be walking cranky kids around the neighborhood, waiting at the school to walk the kids home, or volunteering as a "lunch lady" he enjoyed his time with the kids and entertaining the young parents of the other kids. When my sister adopted Willie the cat his new job was walking the cat. Don't ask. While the last few years of his life weren't easy dealing with hip replacements and the constantly recurring cancer but he typically made the best of it and while it was a little harder to draw it out, he never lost his sense of humor

Those are the facts, that's the biography but none of that is what made Dick O'Rourke who he was. Nope, it was his personality that made him such an unforgettable character. I once described him as the guy that was all your high school superlative awards rolled into one. Most popular, class clown, best dressed, best dancer, etc, etc, etc. He was an amazing dancer and was the first to dance at any event. He could whistle like a pro and his whistling always served as an early warning device for the mood he was in. If he was walking down the hill from the bus stop whistling away we knew we were in for a good night. If not... He was a masterful story teller, knew a million (mostly dirty) jokes and hundreds of (mostly inappropriate) songs all of which we heard hundreds of time but which always brought a smile to someones face. He didn't know the meaning of the words "shy" or "awkward" and was always comfortable around people whether they were his oldest friend or if they had just them. He was a major league ball buster but always took it as well as he gave it and never missed an opportunity to be the butt of his own jokes. He knew how to work a room and made it a point to interact with everyone whether a hearty handshake, hug, or, more likely, a subtle dig. He was, in his words, "a real pissa".

Now, all that said, he certainly had his faults and idiosyncrasies. He had a temper that you had to push to see but when he blew up, run. He was the life of the party for many years always being the last one to leave. He quit drinking when I was 12 so I don't remember much of those days (nor did he) but I asked him once if he got counseling or AA or anything to help quit drinking. He told me no, he just woke up one morning and quit drinking. Of course he woke up on the neighbors porch... He didn't drive, he didn't fly, he didn't really like going away as he was convinced the house would burn down. For us a vacation was a trip to wherever my uncle Bernie had for us to use within a few hours drive. He was a horrible sleeper and existed most of his life on just a few hours sleep. This was an issue as we got older and tried to "sneak in". He always told us it was impossible to lie to him as he had done everything we'd done and done it better. He was right too. He was admittedly only slightly handy yet collected enough tools that his friends who were carpenters and contractors borrowed tool from him. He obsessed with painting the house until he finally gave in and got siding. He was super paranoid about inclement weather often calling his grown children to tell them to "be careful it's going to be slippery out there". But all these peccadilloes were part of the character that was my dad

I always think of my dad as a friend. Well, I mean of course he was my friend but I mean everyone's friend. He had that type of personality and charisma that he attracted friends like metal filings to a magnet. And if he called you his friend he meant it. Words like friendship and loyalty were not throw away terms for him but words by which he lived his life. I'd say he had more, real, true friends then anyone I knew. He would quite literally give the shirt off his back to a friend in need. And they never forgot him either. As his health deteriorated he had a constant stream of visitors to make sure he knew he was loved. His best friend in particular showed the true definition of BFF by spending all day every Wednesday with him to keep him company, keep him from feeling too sorry for himself, and to give my mom a much needed break. While we all extolled his virtues for doing this he would have no part of it. He'd say "you don't get it. Being Dickie's friend has been a privilege". So say we all Bob, so say we all

Dickie died at home surrounded by loved ones after a long, difficult bout with cancer. He was very weak and couldn't speak much in the end but we did get some flashes of old Dickie in his last few days. He told Karen to control herself, told Katy she was too loud, told my mother Eileen was a PT so she has the right technique to move her, not my mom who was a "bull in the woods, smirked as Jenny sang and danced for him, and shared a tender moment with me as he called me closer and as I leaned in he flipped me the bird. Yup, true story. The smile on his face, knowing he got me good, was priceless and something I'll never forget. You'd have to know him to understand why that was a precious moment.

In the end he went out with style. Hundreds and hundreds waited hours to say farewell at his wake. There was no simple condolences as nearly everyone wanted to share a story. I joked with one of his friends that he was up there laughing at all the fools standing out in the freezing cold just to see him. At his funeral he was serenaded by bagpipes and I had the honor, no, the privilege, of giving his eulogy. It meant a lot to me. He was buried in Arlington and received the ceremony deserved of a Marine with Taps and a flag folding ritual. While it was sad the whole thing was beautiful

I won't lie, it's been hard. He was so sick you tell yourself he's better off and while that may be true I'm not sure WE'RE better off. It's hard losing someone who, as we are reminded of every day, cast such a large shadow. I know he's watching over us and is happily reunited with Mimi and all the others that went before him.

I've had a lot of people tell me he was a great man. I think he would argue with that as he'd say that was reserved for people who did great things. I will say he was a great friend, great guy, great husband, and great father and he was great at making people feel better about themselves. Hmmm, sounds like great things to me. So, yeah, I guess great man is a avid description.

So long pops, you will be missed but not forgotten

(some people have asked me to post the eulogy I wrote for him. Most of what I said is contained is this blog but if anyone would like to read it, let me know)