Rule # 27: “D” is for Done
At my Dad’s funeral this week I was overwhelmed by the quality and insight-fulness of the Eulogies done for him by the Pastor, Friends and my Sons. In each of them I have found an important lesson.
So I am sharing these with you as important part of the life lessons I have learned.
The first is from an amazing Pastor, Andreas Wagner of St Peters Lutheran Church in North Wales. I may be bias, but this was one of the best I’ve ever heard – he really tried to capture the essence of my father. I am particularly touched by his explanation of “Grace” at the end, a very important lesson in itself.
“D” is for Done!
Eulogy for Don Hill, May 28, 2014
“D is for Done!” That’s a true statement from a long time North Penn School District Board Member. His name was, you guessed it, Donald Hill. It’s a statement that we don’t necessarily want to leak out into the student body. But this man, so deeply engaged in his community, so formidable a citizen, with a keen interest in education, would have readily admitted that in his own time he wasn’t always the most motivated student, which of course can never be confused with intelligence. In his own time in high school he could be brutally efficient: “D is for done!” When you think about it, it’s an endearing statement. It makes him very human.
Today, as we gather to remember and honor the life of a one-of a kind person in our community, this statement takes on new meaning. “Done” is his life and many are the deeds accumulated over the course of 82 years. We would certainly not give him a “D” for his life accomplishments, but then we are not in the business of grading someone’s life. There is not going to be a diploma handed out today for Don Hill or some red ink sprinkled over the essay which he wrote between 1932 and 2014 with his own life blood. Yet, I cannot entirely resist the temptation to look at Don Hill through the eyes of an educator. Strictly by common human standards there would be plenty of justification to nominate him for the Distinguished Honor Roll of civic life. Agree with him or not, like him or not, vote with him or not, the man was a tireless presence in our community and a leader in North Penn, and on top of that, he enjoyed himself tremendously in that role. And that’s a lot to say for a mid-western Lutheran who would have truly understood Garrison Keillor jokes! He enjoyed his life even as he fulfilled his duties! Today, we can only thank him once more posthumously and praise God for a life well lived.
It was a life that began under rather harsh and humble circumstances. Donald Hill was born on March 3, 1932 in Decatur, Illinois. A few decades earlier, his grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Prussia, a part of Germany in which the individual was frequently subordinated to serving the greater good of society. His grandparents may be to blame for his life-long enjoyment of civic responsibility, as well as his exceedingly affectionate nature, which made a tap on the shoulder seem like an eruption of intimacy. On top of his German mid-western cultural heritage, which gave him a strong core, he also had to overcome some challenging experiences soon after he saw the light of this world. All too soon! His mother suffered from TB and was hospitalized for a long time. Don spent his early childhood years separated from his parents, living with an uncle and aunt, and hardly saw his dad, let alone his mom. How could it not have created in him a sense that this world is not altogether safe, that one has to be tough to survive? Later on, the family moved to Sewerton, Nebraska, and when, a few years later, they decided to move yet again, they left their teenage son in town with friends to finish high school – by himself. So, this young man learned to rely on his own judgment, to be self sufficient, to fend for himself. For better or worse, it marked him. For better or worse, it defined him. And it made him tough. Then God threw in a nice little detour into the Eastern part of the United States, one that would bring him to our community.
The draft for the Korean war landed him in the city of Camden. It was there where, by the grace of God and the great intuition of some good friends, this emotionally challenged mid-western German met his perfect counterpart in the form of an affectionate, hugging Irish woman. Her name was Margaret Mulligan. And needless to say, he was marrying not just the woman he loved. He married into a clan of Irish people. And he loved it! They really were a good match, the Irish and this German. Having been raised as an orphan by an uncle and an aunt herself, Margaret or “Peggy” could relate to Don’s more serious and poignant side, but she also brought some fresh air into his emotional life. They got married in 1959 and lived in Camden for a while, as he finished his Electrical Engineering Degree from Drexel University. After that, Don accepted a job at a company that brought many good people to this town but unfortunately closed its doors in 1996: Leeds and Northrup, which is where Don spent his entire career. Predictably, after a while he got tired of the long commute from Camden and, together with Peggy and a very young Bob, they moved into their new home on Franklin Street in Lansdale. A few years later a second child was born. I have a feeling she was called after her father: Donna.
It is probably impossible to list all the involvements and achievements of this industrious man who famously could never sit still and had very little patience. He probably got initially involved in the community when his children entered school, through the PTA and quickly made many friends. One thing led to another and soon he was head over heels in love – with public life. He served in the Rotary Club, found a niche in the boy scouts organization, making himself very useful without actually having to “camp”. Before long he was voted onto the board of the North Penn School District and it seems like he never looked back. Except, he did look back every once in a while, or should I say, he looked West when it came to one of two things: Chicago Cubs baseball or Bears football. If sports are the defining measure of adopting a new state – and some people say it is – Don Hill never qualified as a true Pennsylvanian. He loved his cubbies.
An outgoing person who always loved a little drama and attention, who enjoyed having friends around, who loved to travel, there was another very genuine, very private side to him. He was a very caring and loyal family man. When Peggy got ill, he took great care of her and stood by her side, keepings his deep emotions under wraps, spending every day with her and walking with her to the end of the journey. She died in 2000. When his son Bobby decided to have an Irish size family, Don took great interest in all his grandchildren and enjoyed being there for them, attending their important events, taking them to lunch or dinner and showing his proud grandpa side.
Don was crushed when Peggy died and he became a widower. It was a truly difficult and burdensome time for him and, according to his children, the first two years after the death of mom were simply bad. Gracefully, Don found a wonderful companion during the last dozen years of his life in Carol Baker, who became his partner and travel companion and date and friend. And she too took good care of him, especially during this last horrible year with that sudden and wicked decline in health and that ever worsening outlook on his ability to recover. She stood there with him, as did his children, right through the day that he took his final breath a week ago.
There is a lot to say still about Don Hill, a lot more, which I will leave to others who knew him much better. As a pastor it is important to me to mention that Don Hill believed in something greater than himself and lived his life accordingly. As a Lutheran pastor I am not sure he ever fully grasped the core concept of grace. Could it be that there is something at the spiritual foundation of life that is not earned, not learned, not achieved, not engineered by human dedication, but a simple and free gift?
I imagine that in heaven, God will have to teach Don first and foremost to relax, and I think for the first part of eternity that will drive him crazy, until God finally gets through to him. I can see God looking at Don, shaking his head at this notorious busybody, telling him, “Don, remember, D is for done!” “You don’t have to prove yourself up here. Just be yourself!” “And by the way, Don, thank you for all that you have done down on earth, the people you touched, the work you accomplished. But now relax, and for Christ’s sake, just be!” “Peace be to you!” And with that, I wish peace and comfort for all of you who have come here today to pay him your last respects. May God bless you all!