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Remembering Dad: A reporter recalls father's legacy of laughter, love

POSTED: August 10, 2008 5:01 a.m.
For The Times/

Everett Roy Gill served in Japan as a member of the Army Air Corps after World War II. He later served in Korea.

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No Father's Day cards this year. All I can offer now is this tribute.

It's hard to believe I'm even writing the words.

At this time last year, Dad was taking his daily walks in the neighborhood, working on his computer and sharing leisurely afternoons at the dream home he and Mom built just a couple of years ago.

In March, he was struck with severe headaches and other sickness. More painful for him, it seemed to me, was his short-term memory loss. The last straw: Dad forgot how to send an e-mail.

Within weeks, the family learned that Dad had brain cancer. The prognosis, based on the location and aggressiveness of the tumor, was grim.

But doctors offered the slim hope that, after 30 days of radiation and oral chemotherapy, his life could go on maybe two to three years.

Everett Roy Gill died May 13 at 79, eight days shy of completing the treatments.

I knew that Dad had been struggling terribly. I saw that in the two trips I made to my hometown of Bristol, Tenn. - once to my parents' house before the treatments began and once while he was in hospital and getting the treatments.

I took the first trip during spring break, or the first week of April. Dad was suffering from hip bursitis and was in excruciating pain, but he was upright and moving gingerly around in the house. At one point, we sat on his deck and chatted like old times.

When I returned for a week in late April, Dad had grown much sicker. The tumor was affecting the language part of his brain, so much of what he said made little or no sense. Sometimes, he was aware of the jumbled expressions, shaking his head and grinning after he had said them.

And sometimes not.

The most indelible memory for me, though, was throughout his illness, Dad would cry often. When my family said our goodbyes after spring break was over and we had to return to Georgia, Dad hugged my children and began to sob.

It would be the last time they saw each other.

After our departure, Dad's condition took a nosedive. Two of my siblings and I had moved far from home (my kid sister lives in Seattle, for goodness sake), but we took trips home to help at the hospital and my parents' house as needed.

A third sibling, my older sister and the eldest of us four, lives in a nearby city. She and her husband provided constant care throughout Dad's sickness - God bless them both.

I'll never forget that last week I spent with Dad, even though the news was often bad and he didn't seem convinced by our constant encouraging.

In that week, he gave me flashes of the smile that, I later learned at his funeral, had earned him the childhood nickname of "Sunshine." His blue eyes, even with tears in the way, still shone brightly.

He also held my hand tighter than he ever had before. Maybe that was because he didn't want to let go of life.

Maybe it was something else. Dad had always taught me a person's character could be found in a firm handshake. His grip was tight until I left that week and said what I know now to be my final goodbye.

Dad taught me many other things life, too many to mention, but mainly the need for joy and laughter to sustain in this world that brings so much hardship.

I learned the value of hard work. Even after his retirement as a telephone company engineer in the late 1980s, he kept up busy pursuits.

One of his particular passions was genealogy. He traced our family back to the England and the 1500s and ended up writing a book about us - what a treasure that is in my home library.

Even though I often coveted the tools in his workshop, I didn't inherit the gene to fix things or build things out of wood and stuff. But that was OK - Dad always was a helpful guide to my home repairs over the years.

He also loved telling stories of his youth, how he met Mom, his military service in occupied Japan after World War II, and times spent with family and friends.

And we loved telling funny stories about him, particularly the one about Dad using a rake to try to hurl a snake from our yard into a ditch across the road that passed in front of our house. The snake didn't quite make it, landing instead on the windshield of a passing car.

Dad would laugh at the story too. A funny story was a funny story, regardless of whom was the embarrassed party.

But most of all, Dad was extremely nostalgic. Thanks, Dad, for giving me that gene - it's a big reason why I had to write this column.

Before he got sick, we were talking about my parents visiting us in Georgia for our daughter's high school graduation.
Dad wouldn't have missed it for the world.

On May 24, my family filled a row at Free Chapel Worship Center for Megan's big day. Still, in our minds, there was an empty chair.

At one point, Mom leaned over to me and said what we are all feeling, "I wish your Dad was here."

My faith tells me Dad was watching over us and no doubt flashing that "Sunshine" smile as Megan walked across the stage for her diploma.

As I'm sure he's watching today.

Here's to you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.




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