Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Final Word for Our Father

My brother and I spoke at our dad's memorial service today.  While dad was in hospice we shared memories and compared notes about what we remembered about dad.  As a follow-up to my roller coaster ride here are the two speeches we gave today.

Rob's speech:

This is one of John’s lunch boxes.  Don’t worry, he’s not in there.  Though that’s not a bad idea.

John Gibb was my father and one of the finest men I've ever known.

A while ago he wrote a few pages about what he considered to be his life's accomplishments.

He was foremost a husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather.

He was an engineer, a builder, and a world traveler.

And he started as a paperboy, lifeguard, and Boy Scout.

I think the last sheds a lot of light on his life.  How can you not think of John when I say a Scout is:
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, (my favorite) thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

I'll also throw in the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared.

When he got his diagnosis two years ago, he became the Project Manager of his cancer.  He also had an amazing Project Assistant in Carol.  He took charge of his medical decisions and treatments and put up a good fight for two years.  He also chose when to stop fighting.

A week ago Saturday, my husband Dave and I went to visit him and Mom.  There were a few seconds when he and I were alone and he said "I should've died two days ago."  He was pissed.  He was behind schedule.

Because he took control, there are no regrets. And we are here today to celebrate his life!

John Gibb is the man who taught me how to camp, how to canoe, how to swim, how to travel and how to drive a stick shift.

He constructed a permanent model train layout on a platform which would retract into the basement ceiling on a pulley system.

He helped me build pinewood derby cars in the Cub Scouts. When it came time to paint the car, instead of a high-gloss paint with a racing stripe and number, I insisted on staining it Walnut.  I'm sure John just rolled his eyes. But we got second place due to his perfectly placed weights; it's good to have an engineer for a father. 

He tried to teach me sports, but mom and dad finally gave up and produced Gibb 2.0.

He also taught the entire family the card game Qualify.  He learned it from his parents and it has now been passed down four generations of Gibbs.

John, Carol, Eric and I are very different people with very different interests.  But whenever we got together we laughed.  We are officially “The Fun Family”.  Yes, it’s official because we have a wooden plaque which says, “The Fun Family”.

And today, when the extended Gibb family gets together, we laugh.  Our family Christmas dinners at Eric and Aimee’s are epic and legendary.

When dad decided to end his treatment, the family got together Labor Day weekend and went through boxes of dad's photos and mementos.  As we passed things around, dad would identify friends and family and tell us stories, many we had never heard before.  And we laughed.

Even in the last three days when Dad was in hospice the family gathered, reminisced, and laughed.  I'm sure he could hear our laughter and I know he enjoyed it.

I want to share two words of wisdom John gave me:

“There's a difference between wanting something and needing something.”


“When you pick a college, pick one that you can drive to, but you're not home every weekend.”

Here's a short story from his travels.  He and mom were in France, I think, and John was walking around on his own. He came across a guy working on the foundation of the house. He stopped, observed and the guy saw him watching.  Speaking no French, dad pointed at something that caught his eye and gestured to the other guy who spoke no English but seemed to understand and made some other gestures.  Suddenly they were having a conversation which spanned language.  I guess guys who build houses can do that.

Dad spent his last few weeks sleeping most of the time. He would wake and tell mom the most incredible, detailed dreams.  My favorite is when he was arguing with Donald Trump.  Dad was in charge of 4000 construction workers, waiting for instructions.  And Donald Trump didn't have a plan!

Finally, quite a few years ago, my friend Donna asked me to go to a psychic session with her.  Sure, why not.  During the session the psychic told me, “Your parents have sought each other out over and over, life after life. They enjoy each other’s company.  They have played with all types of relationships, currently they are husband-and-wife.”  When I told my parents, my mother said “Yeah, we're going to keep doing it until we get it right.” Well, Mom, I think you got it right.

The psychic also told me I specifically chose John and Carol to be my parents.  “You chose them because you felt you could learn something from them.”  What they taught me was how to be myself.

So Dad, we love you and miss you and I'll be looking for you again.

My speech:

When dad first decided to stop his chemo treatment I knew it was only a matter of time before he would be gone.  I wanted to write his eulogy so he could read what I was going to say about him.  Primarily how much I felt people admired and respected him.  The more I thought about it the more I realized two things.  First he probably already knew that.  Second he probably didn’t care. 

If he already knew, it was because of the type of people around him.  Quality attracts quality.  He respected those around him and they respected him. 

Secondly, if he didn’t care it was because he was at the top of Maslows Hierarchy of needs.  Physiological needs, safety and love, the first three levels, were achieved early in his adult life.  I would say once he married my mom.  The esteem and self-actualization, the top two levels, would slowly build as he became the great man that he is.  He didn’t need anything.  He was already filled with morality, creativity, lack of prejudice and acceptance.

As we look back at his youth, he delivered newspapers, was a life guard with significant responsibilities, and a scout.  Each of which took a certain amount of dedication, initiative and drive.

He was a hard worker with a 38 year career at NASA.  Ted Olsen, who was head of the Propulsion Division at the time of my dad’s hiring, commented his two greatest hires were Neil Armstrong and John Gibb.  To me one was a great man, the other was an astronaut.  Our family workcations to Cape Canaveral were a unique way to spend time together.  Dad would pile us all into the station wagon and drive down to Florida.  Even though he was working on a launch I always enjoyed our beach front accommodations.  I was even fortunate enough to witness the launch of both Voyager missions in 1977.  These trips weren’t all about work.  For some strange reason I remember one night we were driving through Atlanta when we hit a opossum trying to cross the highway.  Rob always said it was a racoon.  No Rob it was a opossum and dad agrees with me.  As part of his final ten years with NASA, dad was a member of the Senior Executive Service.  Members of the SES serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees and are links between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce. 

Dad was humble about his work and accomplishments.  Mom admits to not really know what dad was working on most of the time.  Yet she worried about his health because he would spend long hours getting the job done. 

This lunch box, to me, is a symbol of hard work.  Sturdy and solid, this was used by a man with the same qualities.  If he had still used it in retirement it would have, of course, been filled with Double Stuff Oreos...his favorite cookies.  Don’t worry…I brought enough for everyone.

At the same time he was building a highly successful career he had time to meet the needs of his family.  In fact he was the first Renaissance Man I knew before I could appreciate what that meant.  “A present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.”  That was my dad.  His involvement with scouting continued as both he (Pack Leader) and mom (Den Mother) took leadership roles for both Rob and I.   His scouting also led to our family camping trips to the Adirondacks, Canada, Florida, New Orleans and a host of other destinations that involved hiking, canoeing, exploring, learning and playing cards. 

After retirement, his hard work continued for 18 more years with Habitat for Humanity.  When he wasn’t out golfing with his friends, he was working at a Habitat house twice a week.  His work with Habitat and golfing were the primary means of getting dad away from the house, keeping him busy and out of moms hair.  It was a highlight of his retirement.  A renaissance man doesn’t stop learning.  Through Habitat he met many excellent people who shared their talents with him.

He also had a religious faith that carried him through to his death.  Wherever he was he became so involved with the church: finance committees, usher, sound system, youth groups, ground maintenance.  It seemed like he wanted to know more about the church than the guy who built it. 

All of the things I have mentioned above have one common thread.  And it is something that a person either has or does not.  Some are born with it and some it has to develop.  Leadership.  Dad had it all along.  How else do you get your office staff to call you Mr. Gibb, Sir.  That’s like a double dose of respect.  To this day one very special person still simply calls him Sir.  And that is something that is earned.  As we gather in the barn later you will see many awards that are a result of his leadership abilities.  But the unseen reward is the love and respect of his family, co-workers and peers. 

I have heard so many good things about my dad from so many people that I cannot recall them all .  Comments from the NASA community, church community, Habitat and Weslyan Village. 

I share these words from a neighbor at Weslyan Village.

Sadly, we lost one of our wonderful neighbors this week.  John seemed to live his life finding ways to help others.  Despite battling a terrible disease, he maintained his good humor and helpful nature.  One would never know that he bore this burden. His manner with everyone was unfailingly upbeat and pleasant.

I cannot recall any specific words of advice he offered me.  Instead, everything I learned is through his character and actions.  Hard work, Respect (of others / by others), compassion towards and acceptance of all people.  How else could he have handled “unique” situations presented by Rob (a gay man in the early 80’s) and I (becoming a father at age 19).  He never wavered.  He never hesitated.  He accepted the situation.  He accepted his son’s for who they were.  Rob was the first to thank our parents, and I wholeheartedly agree, for not (insert colorful language) screwing us up. 

I am still learning from my dad.  I am still learning how to be the man he is.  But I have a pretty good blueprint to follow.  

I can't say these are our final words about dad.  If you ask about him we will talk and share our memories of our lives with him.  With these memories he will always be with us.

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