I had a writing assignment last week that flummoxed me. It was not for a client or a magazine, however – my cousin asked me to say a few words at my uncle’s memorial service. Uncle Jerry passed away Sunday before last at age 86 of multiple myeloma, eight years after doctors had given seven years to live.
The problem I had in crafting something for a eulogy: if you looked up flashy in the dictionary, you wouldn’t have found Jerry’s picture there. He brought his family to California at my father’s urging in 1960 and bought a house in Palo Alto. He and my aunt stayed there for 50 years, until they moved to a nearby retirement community.
Over the years in that one house, Jerry had all of two jobs. He sold real estate for a while, and then he switched over to being a door-to-door salesman for the Fuller Brush Company. He worked his way up to a division manager there, until a company reorganization eliminated that level, and he went back to being a salesman. I never heard him complain.
In fact, just the opposite. Until his illness got the better of him, I’d never heard an unkind word out of his mouth. He never said anything bad to anyone, or about anyone. He was a devoted husband, a dutiful father, and most of all, a loyal son. My grandmother spent her last 30 years in California, and the last of those in a rest home. It was Jerry who visited her there every day, even though she was not the warmest person I’d ever met (just the opposite, in fact). After he retired, he volunteered at the local senior citizens’ center, teaching other seniors how to use computers.
Speaking of computers, in the 50 years he lived there, Palo Alto was the epicenter of an amazing technological revolution. I know he worshipped with some of the men who made Silicon Valley what it is today, but you’d never hear that from Jerry. He did not bask in reflected light. He just carried his own around, always smiling, always sharing his wicked sense of humor. He commented on one of my blogs once, saying, “You’re a pretty good writer. Have you ever thought of doing it professionally?”
Nor did he stray far from Palo Alto. If memory serves, he and my aunt were scheduled to fly out of San Francisco on September 11, 2001, and they never rebooked the trip. I never heard any regrets about that, either.
In a middle of a flashy city in a flashy state, he was not a flashy man. All he did for 50 years was raise a family, put food on the table, minister to his elderly mother, and volunteer in the community. He was, simply put, what they call a mensch.
He was the most remarkable unremarkable man I ever met.