Always There

Always There

Eulogy given at the funeral of Russell Sammons, March 27, 2021.

I’ll try to keep this short, as I know two things dad really didn’t like are long-winded speeches and people talking about him.

When preparing for this eulogy, I was trying to think of stories about dad. I have a few, but I realized that I don’t have a lot of flashy stories, because that’s not who dad was. Instead, as I thought back over the years, I realize that my memories of dad aren’t specific stories, but instead the fact that he was always “just there.” Now that might sound like a criticism, or damning with faint praise, but it’s not. It’s a high compliment.

For example, one of my strongest memories of dad was as the scorekeeper of my baseball team. He sat on the bench quietly taking score, not cheering or yelling, but he was always there. Likewise, I can’t remember having dinner at home when he wasn’t there, even though as superintendent, he had many responsibilities and requests to be away from the home.

Dad was steady. I knew that I could always count on him. In a way, he was always part of the background. He let me grow and develop, and of course he guided that development, but he did it in the background, never putting himself before me.

Consider one of the stones that support this building. In all the years Groesbeck United Methodist Church has been here, perhaps no one has noticed it. Yet if it was removed, the building would fall down. Dad understood that to be a good dad he always had to be there, even if he didn’t push himself forward.

Here’s another, biblical comparison. Consider Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus. Scripture doesn’t record one word of his, yet his impact on Jesus was profound. He is called a “just man”, and when Jesus was ministering in his home town, the people were astonished and said, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Jesus was identified with Joseph, even though Joseph clearly didn’t put himself forward.

I know something about being identified with one’s dad. All during high school I was mostly known as the superintendent’s son. Two of my nicknames growing up were “Sup” – short for superintendent – and “Russ” – for obvious reasons. Although some sons might not want to be too closely identified with their dad, I never minded, because I knew my dad was a good man, and to be identified with him was a great compliment.

I’ve also found over the years that whenever I’m given a compliment about some good character trait of mine, I realize it came from my dad. He was excellent in passing on human virtues, like being frugal with money (some would say cheap). He definitely passed that on to me.

The primary virtue he modeled was decency and respect for others. Of course he didn’t pass these virtues on by talking about them. As most of you know, my dad wouldn’t be considered “expressive” by any definition of the term. He came from a different time, when people didn’t put their every thought and complaint on the internet for everyone to see. Like Joseph, my dad was usually silent, at least in his words. But his actions spoke volumes. Dad didn’t talk, he acted. He was faithful to my mom. He was focused on his kids. He excelled at his job. He didn’t self-promote, but let his actions speak for him. And those actions practically screamed what a good man he was.

But that didn’t mean he didn’t correct me when I failed to exercise those virtues he modeled. I remember once when I was in high school I said something derogatory about a classmate at the dinner table. My dad, however, as superintendent knew that my classmate had a difficult home life. Without raising his voice, or violating the boy’s privacy, he simply told me my classmate had some difficulties at home and that I should be more understanding. His quiet words—backed by his own example—spoke louder than if he had been yelling at me. And as an aside: that classmate ended up becoming one of my best friends in high school, thanks to my dad.

One thing I’d be remiss not to mention is my dad’s marriage, because it exemplifies what kind of man he was. My mom and dad were married for 65 years. 65 years. Perhaps nothing was more foundational to my own development than the sign of this faithfulness.

Even the idea of my parents not being together has always been unthinkable to me. It would be like trying to convince me that the sun is cold or that the Bengals are a good football team. It’s unfathomable.

Finally, I want to speak briefly about the last few years of dad’s life. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease which ravages not only the person, but also all those around him. In many cases, it transforms the person into someone else entirely. Yet although dad suffered from this disease for years, we always could see him in spite of it. Little things, like how he wouldn’t want mom to walk behind him even when she needed to help him with his walker. He would be unfailingly polite when a nurse or caregiver would come to visit.

And although I’m supposed to talk about dad, I can’t help but mention the tremendous witness of love my mom gave to us by her devoted care to my dad in his final years. And of course dad would rather I talk about mom than him anyway. When I would leave the house after a visit I would say to dad, “I’m leaving now, dad, but of course mom is still here.” Of course she is still here. There is no where on earth she would want to be than at his side, and I’m sure dad would say the same thing.

Fathers are supposed to model God the Father, and as a father myself, I know the tremendous burden that can be. Yet my dad did that the best he could. Because of my dad, I came to see God as Someone dependable who would always be there no matter what. I can’t think of a greater gift he could have given me.