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Eulogy for Thad Howard Turk (March 15, 1934 – March 1, 2009)

(I’m posting this here to create a permanent memorial for my dad online. The link will get picked up by Twitter and Facebook. I want to be sure that anyone looking for information about my dad sometime down the line will find this and know who he was and what he meant to me. If you’re not inclined to read it, I don’t blame you. It’s kind of sad.)

It is very difficult to stand before you and share thoughts on the passing of my father. Losing him has been hard for me. My dad and I were always very close. He has always been there to watch me, teach me, and help me grow.

While I am sad that I won’t be seeing him again, I am thankful for the opportunity to lead the celebration of his life.

A man named Albert Pike carries the odd distinction of being the only confederate general honored with an outdoor statue in Washington, DC. He was a controversial figure who was, like my dad, a writer, a lawyer, and a freemason. Pike once wrote,

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

By that measure, dad will live forever in the hearts of everyone gathered here.

To see his friends and family gathered here is a testament to the man he was. Dad was highly regarded as a skilled lawyer. His professional life was rich and rewarding. He and my mom ran away after high school and married. He worked jobs in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas before moving to Washington, DC.

He went to school part-time at George Washington University before eventually obtaining his law degree at the University of Wyoming. He joined the Securities and Exchange Commission before going in to private practice – where he remained until his retirement.

With dad, of course, you have to use the word retirement loosely. He was retired in the same way alcoholics quit drinking – the temptation to go back was always there… And he occasionally fell off the wagon. If a friend called and needed help with a legal issue, he was often available. That was just the kind of person he was.

While he often told his children that nobody ever went to their grave sorry that they didn’t spend more time working, those words were often said under the soft glow of a computer monitor Рor to us kids while they pulled old pages from his law books and inserted new ones.

His clients over the years were as varied and unique as his hobbies. He was so sure of his ability to find “the next big thing”, that he often took stock in lieu of actual cash in payment. As a result, he is the proud shareholder of many stocks whose value is measured in fractions of a fraction of a cent. Companies that claimed to produce things like thermal packaging that would super cool soft drink cans, but who often only produced headaches and stress.

Of course, I can’t blame him for looking under every rock and kissing every frog trying to find that prince. If I had turned down a gig as a lawyer for the company that would eventually become Microsoft, I’d probably install a machine next to my bed to kick me in the butt every morning. Dad used to say he never would have imagined Gates and company amounting to anything given their poor personal hygiene and inadequate social skills.

Even so, dad was a true believer in his clients and worked tirelessly to make their visions a reality.

However, while his talents for the law were significant, it is not his work that will be remembered most. For as much as Thad loved the law, he loved his family, his children and grandchildren far more.

While divorce and remarriage can often take a significant toll on a family, I think we kids and grandkids have actually been fortunate in our lives. We have been blessed to have the love of two mothers, and two grandmothers – Annette and Betty. While the paths they walked with my dad may have been challenging, it really says something that both of these amazing women fell in love with him, and in turn shared so much of that love with all of us.

Looking around the room, I see my nieces and nephews – Heather, Shadron, Lauren, Danni, Janek, Kayleigh & Ryan; and my own kids Riley, & Madison. Everyone of them knew the love he had for his grandchildren (and great grandchildren). Whether they were around the corner, or halfway across the globe, they know Grandpa loves them, and is still thinking of them.

Grandpa also loved animals. As a young man, he saw a rabbit in a park and it inspired him to write a children’s story, “A Visit By Charlie”. He submitted the story to Jack & Jill magazine which published it in April of 1969.

That love of animals was probably never as apparent as it was when he was around his dogs and cats. Despite the large number of family members present, there are actually a couple of notable absences. Princess and Yazzi – the two Schnauzers he recently rescued from an abusive home – had to stay at the house today.

When my I was young, I wanted a dog. Dad and I went to look at a pair of schnauzers, and I fell in love with one. Dad adopted the dog, named Captain Blackbeard – or Blackie for short. The two of them became incredible friends.

After Blackie passed, dad adopted another schnauzer named Max (he joked it was short for “Maximum Dog”). He often swore that Max was Blackie reincarnated as they had many of the same tendencies.

I know wherever he is now, those two little dogs, as well his cats РBarnstable and Pumpkin – are vying for space on his lap.

The cats and dogs, may need to fight for attention, however. My guess is dad is still receiving the welcoming embrace of my grandfather Bo, my grandmother Doris, and my Aunt Lois. I feel better knowing they are there to meet him, and welcome him home.

When our time comes, we too will travel home and see him again.

And it is important for us to remember that. While dad has left us, he is not gone. He has merely joined those who have gone before us.

Thursday or Friday of last week, I called my dad. It had been a couple of weeks since we talked and I wanted to check in and see how he was. His spirits were good and, as usual for the two of us, the talk soon turned to politics.

James and I both enjoyed talking politics with dad. He was always one to pick a political argument just so he could engage in the fight. The fact that he had raised to flag waving Republicans seemed to please him to no end – simply because he had someone to debate with. My grandfather had been a devout Republican and I joked that being a Democrat in our family was kind of like male pattern baldness in other families – it skips generations.

For Riley’s sake, I hope that’s not actually true.

At one point I had told dad that I wasn’t going to debate him anymore. If he was just going to stick to the DNC’s talking points, there wasn’t much point. After that, our talks of politics turned more serious and rather than having heated debates, we’d have long talks about the ways of Washington.

Dad was an interesting dichotomy in that he abhorred the waste and foolishness of DC, yet firmly believed in the power of Washington to change people’s lives.

He often told me a story of driving with my grandfather out to the community dump during the great depression. He was permanently imprinted with the image of people beset by tough economic times rummaging through the dump looking for whatever they could find.

That sense of compassion was pervasive. That makes his loss so much more difficult. We have lost a caring and dedicated advocate for humanity.

The loss of my dad has had me feeling rather down. I keep telling myself to be happy for him because he has moved on and rejoined my grandparents. That bizarre mix of sadness for myself and happiness for my father reminded me of a song by my favorite band U2. The song is called A Day Without Me. It’s a relatively unknown and rather depressing little song, frankly. The lyrics to the song include the passage:

Look from the outside
To the world I left behind
In the world I left behind
Wipe their eyes, and then let go
To the world I left behind
Shed a tear, and then let go…

When I talk to my friends about my dad, they’re often surprised to learn that my love of rock music actually comes from him. He introduced me to bands like Van Halen, the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. When I was a kid and would visit my dad on the weekends, the one sure thing I could count on was a trip to the record store and the purchase of a new album. I really discovered music through my dad.

One of dad’s favorite bands was Supertramp. As I was driving to the airport to pick up my brother Dana Tuesday night, a song called Goodbye Stranger came on the radio. It made me laugh and cry all at once. It was a song I had heard a thousand times as a kid. Dad played the album frequently.

One lyric in that song sums up my thoughts today, and I’d like to share it as a parting thought for my dad since I know he’s watching down on us right now.

Goodbye, stranger
It’s been nice
Hope you find your paradise
Tried to see your point of view
Hope your dreams have all come true.

We love you and miss you, dad. We hope you enjoy your paradise.

Written by Michael Turk