Farewell To A Dear Friend

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I first met John Hampton in 1974. At least, that’s the first time I remember meeting him. He and Shirley had just moved into their new home in the Lake Country neighborhood of Fort Worth. Treva and I had driven my grandparents from our home in Southwest Fort Worth to their home. My grandparents were spending the weekend with them. Shirley is my grandmother’s niece. That makes her technically my second cousin. However Shirley was as close in age to me as she was to my father. So across the years, we’ve settled for the concept that we’re cousins.

I remember that both John and Shirley couldn’t have been more gracious. They were personable, likeable folks who obviously held my grandparents in highest regards. Perhaps that was the common denominator that we intuitively shared. We both loved my grandparents. My grandparents felt the same way about John and Shirley. Isn’t it true that birds of a feather flock together? One of the discoveries I’ve made since that time is that Shirley and my grandmother were cut from the same cloth. They are very much alike.

My grandmother and I were extremely close. She died 29 years ago. I had the honor of conducting her funeral service. While Granddad was fully supportive of my fulfilling that role, the thought also made him a little anxious. He knew that Granny and I were close. He wasn’t sure I could do it. Shortly before the service he said to me: ‘Don, It wouldn’t be good if you broke down during the service.’ Understandingly, I agreed with him and assured him that I’d be fine. Thankfully, the service went well.

Following the service, my cousin Shirley paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. After sharing praise about the service, she asked if I’d conduct her funeral service when the time came. It was the first time I’d been asked that kind of question. Wow! That had to be the highest of compliments. I assured her that I’d probably precede her in death, but that if I survived her, it would be my honor.  Across the years, she’s periodically asked if I remembered the question she asked at my grandmother’s funeral. She wanted to affirm for me that it was still her intent.

When I learned this past Sunday morning that John had died, the news literally knocked the breath out of me. To say that it hurt my heart is an understatement.   I subsequently found myself hoping that Shirley would provide me the opportunity to speak at John’s service. Across the decades I’ve come to think as highly of both John and Shirley as my grandparents did. They are lovely, gracious people.

[‘John Hampton was a Texas Aggie and a USAF Veteran retiring as a Lt Colonel. He was a command pilot with 4900 hours in T-37, T-33, B-47, B-52 and T-39 aircraft. He was a veteran of combat flying in the Vietnam conflict, being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and numerous other medals and citations. After the Air Force, John worked at General Dynamics and the Fort Worth Boat Club. He was a brilliant, kind and giving man who was loved by many’.]

The following is the eulogy I shared regarding John at his funeral. It includes contributions from a son-in-law, his son and one of his daughters. The word pictures they paint are filled with both emotion and love:

“It is a privilege and honor for me to participate in the celebration of John’s life. Everything about him was deserving of my respect and admiration. In fact, he was at the top of the leader board in almost any category I can think of. If there were labels for adults like the ones we had in school when I was a kid, John clearly would fall into the ‘gifted and talented’ category. Seriously, can you think of anything he couldn’t do?

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving from Austin to Fort Worth, my thoughts were on John and his family. In the quietness of the car, I kept attempting to process: ‘What was it about John Hampton that made him stand out?’ Literally, his presence in any room brought energy into that space. He carried himself with dignity and poise, yet he wasn’t at all pretentious. He didn’t seek, need or even want to be in the limelight. Half of my family are Texas Aggies, so maybe I can get by with saying this: ‘John was the most humble Texas Aggie I’ve ever known’. So what made John different?

Yesterday afternoon, I think I figured it out. John lived with a sense of confidence and satisfaction that few people ever discover. He was content with who he was, focused on what he could do for others, and simply chose to enjoy family, friends, the solitude of his garden and opportunities for interaction or connection with others when they presented themselves. He loved his family. He loved his life.

Last week, the nation was focused on the death of Nancy Reagan. Regardless of your political affiliation, who could deny that she was a classy lady? Simply having media coverage surrounding her death reminded folks of the love story she and President Reagan shared. They were known for their devotion and steadfast love for one another.

I’ve heard it said that the greatest gift a father can give his children is the gift of loving their mother. Where I’m going with this thought is probably obvious, but few couples, few couples share the kind of relationship of love and devotion that John and Shirley Hampton shared together. Talk about a class act! Marriage is hard work, but they made it look easy. What incredible role models they proved to be.

You didn’t have to know John well to know that he was sharp as a tack. His sense of humor and his ability to orchestrate laughter was enough for folks to gravitate in his direction. John Hampton made life fun!

John could do stand-up comedy and he could do it well. All it took was for Shirley to fall down and that set the stage for his next performance. In fact Shirley did fall down. She was some distance from John. A lady walking through the parking lot was a lot like the Priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. She definitely didn’t stop to render aid. She passed by on the other side. John seeing Shirley getting up from her fall, ascertained that she was okay. As the lady approached John, she asked, “What’s wrong with her, nodding in the direction of Shirley?” John replied: “There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just drunk”. Of course, to make matters worse, it was only 9:20 a.m.

John was an only child. He obviously always wanted a big family. He may have overcompensated when he married into Shirley’s clan. Although I’m sure he never asked, I can promise you, it would take a lot for him to get an excused absence from the annual Lander’s reunion. It was pretty well etched in stone that he was going to be there. In contrast, I seldom attended. If it helps, I feel guilty about it, but my experience at the reunion hasn’t always been stellar.

Of course, I share this all tongue-in-cheek. We attended the reunion the year my daughter was 4 years old. That made me 38. Someone told me I had a cute granddaughter. The next time I found the courage to attend (about 10 years later), someone asked if my aunt was my wife. The last time I attended was 3 years ago…what can I say? It was awkward.

It really is my own fault. I don’t go often enough to know my kin. The place was packed when I arrived. I walked in and didn’t see one person I knew. There was a group of ladies clustered in the kitchen. One asked: “Who are you?” One of the ladies in the group recognized me and answered, “That’s Wayne’s son. He’s one of the twins.”

My best guess is that the lady who had asked my identity was my dad’s oldest living cousin. She walked toward me, saying, ‘Let me get a look at you’. You’ve heard the expression: ‘Too close for comfort?’ For the first time in my life, I knew what that meant. She walked right up to me, put a hand on either side of my face…. I think of myself as a touchy-feely kind of guy. However, alarms were going off in my head. This lady had no boundaries. At any rate, as I made my great escape, I saw John and Shirley in my peripheral vision. I headed their direction.

John had a word for me: “Don, that adds a whole new dimension to the concept of “kissing cousins”. Both John and Shirley maintain that she kissed me on the lips. I’m obviously still in denial, but I don’t think that really happened.

John made an indelible positive impact on others. I like the way that Don, his son-in-law, expressed it: ‘Not many son-in-laws have the luxury of calling their wife’s father a close friend, but I did. I genuinely enjoyed his company (and his martinis). I always felt welcome in his and Shirley’s home, to the point where I sometimes claimed his granddaughter needed to visit them as an excuse to show up and hang out with him. Duke was an endless source of knowledge about many things and was always willing to share it’.

Steve said of his dad: ‘Duke was an awesome mentor, he had the patience of Job…which me being his son, he really needed.  He rose to the task like it was easiest thing…which I know it wasn’t.  He could do just about anything, and he was a perfectionist.  I took him flying one time, and it had been about 13 years since he had last flown a plane, but I told him it was his show.  He flew the plane like he had been doing it on a regular basis.  He was cool calm, and collect, and his landings were perfect.  He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge from A-Z.  I would regularly call him if I had questions about something, and I know others did too.  He was a human Google, so to speak.  He had the best and kindest soul of anyone I’ve ever known.  I love him, and I miss him’.

I particularly like the word picture that Shari expresses when she mentions her dad’s harmonica. She shared these thoughts:

‘Daddy.  That’s what I’ve always called him, Daddy.  Most people called him Duke, but to me he will always be Daddy.  When I was a kid we would go “bumming” on weekends.  Just me and him.  We’d go to junk yards, thrift stores and other places where he’d pick up parts and gadgets for the many things he built and repaired.

He taught me how to drive when I was 14.  He drove his T-Bird to a remote country road, pulled over and switched seats with me.  He sat in the passenger seat and played his harmonica as if having a rookie behind the wheel was no big deal.

Daddy was a hard working, busy man.  But he always carved out one-on-one time with me.  We’d go to softball games at Carswell and cheer for his squadron.  He would send me to the snack bar to fetch him a beer.  I’d order a beer and a Dr Pepper.  When I came back with our drinks, he grinned, shook his head and said “they served my 16 year old daughter a beer.”  He was the squadron commander, they knew who the beer was for!

Daddy taught us all so many things.  He was the perfect combination of tough, loving, mentoring, instructing and nurturing.  To say he was a do-it-yourself guy is an understatement.  Neighbors, friends and family often came to Daddy for help with various projects.  He would tinker at his garage workbench for hours.  He could fix anything.

Daddy had a way with words. He was funny and often used nicknames.  He called Susie, Beanie or Bean-Bean (presumably because it rhymed with her middle name, Jean).

Daddy was an avid gardener.  He grew more vegetables than he and mom could eat.  He gave away tomatoes, green beans, peppers, squash, garlic, okra and everything else in abundance to his friends and neighbors.

Daddy mellowed in his old age.  He still tinkered some but he spent more and more time playing cards and games and listening to music with mom.  He corresponded via email and Facebook with his many friends.  He was frugal and he loved a bargain.

Daddy gave the best hugs.  He always ended our visits or phone calls with “I love you more.”

I love you more.  That pretty much says it all.  Daddy was so loved and he gave his love back in droves’.

No doubt, each of you, if given an opportunity could share equally heartfelt experiences with John that made his friendship significant and special”.

I don’t have the words to adequately express my gratitude for the privilege of officiating at John’s funeral. I am honored to know him as friend.

All My Best!

Don

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