Posted by Pattie on 6/16/2002 11:45:00 AM

I wrote the following as a eulogy to my father. He died shortly before his 70th birthday in 1999. I miss him on Mother's Day because that his birthday was May 12 and was always near or on mother's day. I miss him on father's day because he was my Dad.

A Tribute to My Dad, Ray
Given at Skycrest Baptist Church
April 10,1999
by Pattie Thomas

There are many ways to remember a life.

Obituaries reveal our place in world, where we were born, who survives us, where our memberships lie. The pastor read the obituary earlier of my Dad. I could add that his father was a coal miner in the mountains of West Virginia. He had 8 brothers and 4 sisters. He loved his son-in-law and daughter-in-law like his own children.

We are often remembered by our accomplishments. Near the end, my Dad spoke of being a failure. He had few material rewards most of his life and by the standards of a world obsessed by money and possessions, he may have been a failure. But in my eyes and in the eyes of all of you here who testify to his life by your presence today, he was a great success. He was a loving father, a hard working and caring husband, a generous friend and an honest business man. His riches were his right living, his friends and his dry sense of humor. Children and animals were drawn to him and as he told someone who visited him after he got sick, he liked people, he needed people.

We are often remembered by the markers in our lives such as marriage, children, spiritual commitment and life-changing decisions. My Dad married at the age of 25, had his first child at the age of 28 (me) and became a Christian at the age of 52. He was a very successful Volkswagen mechanic for 37 years, most notably at the old Sunoco on Drew Street. His decisions were not always successful, but they came from an honest attempt to live a decent life.

We are often remembered by the advice that we gave. The most memorable advice my Dad gave me was what I came to regard as “the college and the ditch” speech. From my earliest memory my Dad told me to go to college because “some day you will need a college degree to be able to dig a ditch.” I took this heart, maybe a little more than he wanted. There are some who believe I am a professional student. I will finish my Ph.D. next year. I wish he could have waited here to see me graduate, but I know he was proud. Of course, I think he worried that after all this schooling I’d only be able to get a job digging a ditch.

We are often remembered by stories that we told or that other’s told about us. There were many of these that I will hold dear about my Dad. Last night I heard many stories from those of you who stopped by Moss-Feaster and I’m sure we will all share more together. One of my favorites will explain a picture in the montage you may have wondered about. About 4 am one morning my Dad went down to the Sunoco station to open up and found an alligator sitting at the pump like it wanted a fill-up. A little shook up, he went across the street to call the police.
When he came back to wait for the wild life people to show up, he found the alligator was gone. He said he was afraid that they were going to accuse him of drinking or seeing hallucinations given the hour of the day. Frantically he searched for the alligator and found it about a half a block away. He waited for the authorities, watching both alligator and the road from the safety of his car.

Some newspaper reporters who knew my Dad and heard his name on the police scanner came to cover the story. The alligator made the Clearwater Sun. You don’t see him in the paper or in the picture that we have put with the montage because as he put “I was smart enough to hide behind the police car.” He also concluded that it was a good thing that he found the alligator again because the newspaper might have reported his commitment to a mental hospital for seeing things.

We are often remembered by our philosophy. My Dad’s philosophy centered around front porches. He believed that America went down hill when people stopped building front porches because they never got to know their neighbors anymore. He didn’t just gripe, of course. He was quite kind to his neighbors, putting newspapers up on the porches of people who had trouble walking while he took his morning constitutional. I remember that when we were cooped up at JFK Middle School waiting for Hurricane Elena to pass, he was restless. To pass the time and deal with the boredom most people there played games or sat and talked. Not my Dad. He became a Red Cross Volunteer and started sweeping in the cafeteria. He was a good neighbor no matter where his neighborhood happened to be at the moment. Perhaps this is why I chose to be a sociology researcher. I don’t know, but I do think we need more front porches and more friends like my Dad.

Finally, we are often remembered by our character. My Dad loved to tell the story of how an attorney told him that he would never have money because he was too honest. He concluded that this was a flaw in his character. I think it was his highest honor. The best word to describe my father was the word “decent.” My Dad was a humble man who tried to do the right thing by everyone he met. Perhaps this cost him dearly at times, but it is the highest character which I can only hope to achieve.

I almost missed getting to know my Dad. He worked a lot when I was a kid and I didn’t really know him well. When I was sixteen, I decided that it was important for me to have a relationship with the lump on the sofa that appeared every Sunday afternoon to sleep with football on the television and yell if anyone tried to change the channel. The way I got to know my Dad was to learn football. I succeeded in establishing a relationship with my Dad as well and over the years it only got better. I’m happy to say that at the end of my Dad’s life we talked and laughed together and I felt close to him. I was indeed fortunate.

I wanted to tell you these things today because I need to remember and I want you to remember that Ray Thomas walked among us and touched us in ways that even he didn’t fully understand. I want to honor this humble man who I was privileged to have for my Dad.

The Apostle Paul said the “we only see through a glass darkly” in this life, so I don’t pretend to know exactly what the next life is like. But in my imagination, my Dad is in heaven with an acre of land, a great big garden in the backyard and a big old wrap-around porch on the front. He’s got a Cubs game on the radio, sitting on the porch, calling every animal he sees “Pluto” and waving at everyone with a little twinkle in his pretty blue eyes.