Editors Note: The italics are an intro, the eulogy itself is below the photos.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
In the early hours of Saturday, March 22, my father passed away, at home, in his own bed, from natural causes. He was not struggling. He didn't cry out or look scared. We didn't know it would be his last day.
He had looked a little more lackluster earlier that evening as my sister was visiting him at our house. Yet his vitals were normal, so he was put to bed. By 3:00 AM his caregivers said he was breathing heavily, so they propped him up on his pillows hoping to create some relief. His pulse was good at 69... And yet, he took one big breath and then, no more.
Don't we all wish to go under our own roof, free of wires and tubes! For that much, and that he is no longer in the state that he had been in, I'm very grateful.
Photo by Joannah Merriman
For the previous five years he'd suffered from a multitude of conditions that happen to the body when it gets old. In the final year, he could not speak, gesture or even open his eyes due to various small strokes and the attendant neurological problems. It was difficult to the extreme to see a man who had been such a powerful, articulate, even intimidating person imprisoned like that. No matter what happens after you make your transition, it's got to be better for him now.
Found when my sister cleaned out his wallet.
Dad was a huge smoker, a great white hunter, a philanthropist and philosopher, a public speaker, a writer, publisher and an ad man in the Mad Men days. He worked hard, became successful and was remarkably generous. He was also quite controlling, critical, ego-driven, and a curmudgeon, but he did a lot of good in his long life.
He was the last living founder of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (in Memphis, TN), and a long-time board member of that great institution, a defining role in his life that I suspect was the source of his greatest sense of meaning.
Dad standing at the base of the statue of St. Jude on the right, with dear pal, actor and comedienne Danny Thomas, Founder of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Photo Credit: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
The greatest honor of my life has been to serve on the board of St. Jude Hospital, following in those formidable footsteps.
In 2016, standing on the same side of the base of the statue.
Al Joseph was a first generation American whose parents came to this country through Ellis Island when they were still teenagers. He started out dirt poor and made his way to notable success, regardless of the added obstacle of prejudice due to being Middle Eastern. It was a thrill to be with him when, late in life, he received the Ellis Island Award under the glow of the Statue of Liberty.
Dad and I with sister Janelle Joseph at gala.
I'll say again that Dad was magnanimous, and legendary for it. People thought he had more than he did because of it. For all of the gestures that were apparent, there were many that no one saw. Dad was the kind of person who wrote checks for night school tuition for someone who was serving his coffee, or paid for everything in the cart of the mom with three kids behind him in line at Target. He supplied books to struggling libraries and gave the church anything they needed. There are too many examples to list. But maybe that will help the words below mean more to someone who didn't know him.
At his funeral Friday, I was the first to speak of my 3 siblings, 2 nephews and niece.
EULOGY FOR ALBERT JOSEPH
On behalf of our family, its my privilege to thank you for coming today to honor our father, Albert Joseph.
You know Dad was a man of great intelligence, ambition and vision.
He had immense generosity and a truly diverse array of interests fueled by deep curiosity. Those qualities led him to all corners of the earth, to achieve much, and to touch the lives of an enormous cross section of people.
As I look out, I see a part of him in each of your faces.
Today we’ll hear many examples of how our world -- and yours and mine -- was affected because he lived among us.
It’s nearly impossible to speak about him with brevity. What stands out first for me is that he loved his country, and he taught me to love it too. He passed on to me a sense of responsibility, that those who’ve been as lucky as we have owe a debt of gratitude for all we’ve enjoyed as citizens of this land.
To never forget that we are ALL a generation-- or two or three --away from immigrant forefathers who were free or became free and able to pursue their American dream.…
And that we must always lend a hand to others who have yet to accomplish those dreams, have had their dreams dashed, or have not yet developed a dream at all.
He was always thinking of who might be in need - of what HE could give - and in doing so, set an example that, from a very early age came alive, and lives on, in me.
He was such a powerful and eloquent speaker. Those of you who have heard him know how he could speak off the top of his head and have the house spellbound… or quaking with emotion.... moved to tears - or action. I grew up watching him, listening, saucer-eyed, and was inspired.
Dad told me if I wanted to write well I had to read a lot and write a lot. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s advice I’ve used every day since. I remember him staying up late, till 2 or 3 most nights, reading. In the morning I’d find him asleep in his reclining chair, with a book about Kennedy or Rome or a war open on his chest.
He had his opinion (!) but he taught me to live without prejudice, to be fair, to judge no one based on race, religious beliefs, culture, income or educational level, or outside appearances.
Big Al taught me to shoot a gun... and signed me up as a member of the NRA, I think before I was even of legal age. He had me reloading his 12 gauge shotgun shells in the dark, dank basement when I was 11, 12, 13 years old… when other little girls were playing with Barbies and make up.
He took me hunting and he’d get SO mad at me when I didn’t want to actually KILL anything! I’d shoot in the direction of the birds but purposely miss and he’d say. “Don’t give me that Bambi sh*t…!" Yet, he’d pull off the road to point out the beauty of migrating ducks forming a vee across the autumn sky... or wake me up at 5 AM to tip toe to the window to see deer feeding on our lawn in the snow.
When I asked him once if he thought there was life on other planets, or what was out there besides us, he said, ”Honey, do you think the ants know we’re here?”
Dad was a survivalist and I’m a chip off the old block there. We loved it when snow made the electricity go out. He and I would build a fire in his den and cook over it with great glee. Remember, this was just a few days of snow in a residential neighborhood but we’d go around wearing bright orange down vests, eating bison jerky, checking all the flashlights and sleeping bags and canned goods together.
In fact, Dad really was a man born in the wrong time. A huge fan of Lewis and Clark. I’m quite sure he’d have rather been living outdoors, forging paths across the Rocky Mountains, trading with and learning from the Indians.
I don’t know if many know this, but whenever he wasn’t required to wear a suit, he’d be back in his government issued boots, tied really tight up his ankles with prickly wool camouflage pants tucked inside them and a big black sweater that somehow always had twigs and leaves stuck in it. He’d spend all day -- or all WEEK -- in that ONE outfit. Slept in it too!! Really! If he could have ridden a horse to the office I’m certain he would have.
Growing up, I felt my Dad could make anything happen - fix anything.
When that time in life came along, where things come full circle, when the child becomes the parent, I struggled with how I could not fix it for him.
Dad went through many transitions in the last 5 years -- emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He grappled with these humanly, but he did so in a way that grew our respect for him.
For all his awe-inspiring achievements, the dignity with which he navigated the trying waters of the last few years, to me, crowns his legacy with a towering example of courage and grace.
And now, he’s free.
I’d like to read a this by his favorite poet, Kahlil Gibran, from the book The Prophet, that speaks to that.
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top,
then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then you shall truly dance….
For what is it to die, but to stand naked in the wind
and to melt into the sun…
And what is it to cease breathing,
But to free the breath, from it’s restless tides,
that it may rise,
and seek God