My dad

Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Essay | 15 comments

My dad

One of most fond memories of my dad were on my inauguration into teen-hood, my 13th birthday, in February 1969.  I don’t recall any of my gifts save for one. I opened up a card from dad, and it was a “ticket” to go out to Florida and see an Apollo launch. I had to choose one of two. The first was the May Apollo 10 mission, when dad was going back to Florida on business. He was planning on stopping by at the Cape and seeing the Apollo 10 launch while there. However, he also offered me a chance instead to go out by myself and see the next one, Apollo 11. Total no-brainer. I took the second one of course (unfortunately my pix never came out of the actual launch).

This was dad. Last Friday morning at about 7AM the Earth flickered just a bit as my father passed away, age 92.

He never came across as a particularly “deep person.” We rarely had conversations that transcended much above our current interests, events in Washington, or how school went. In the recent years I asked him for any words of wisdom from someone rapidly nearing the century mark. He had trouble coming up with anything profound enough for me to actually remember. But his life and examples were all I really needed.

Born a scant 18 years after the Wright brothers first flew, and while still an infant, he, grandpa and grandma voyaged to India as missionaries. His folks started a small clinic which decades later would be a 250-bed hospital. Dad told us of how if he or his brother had to get up in the middle of the night, grandpa would have to check for snakes before the boys were permitted to place feet on the floor. Or how grandpa personally knew Ghandi. He was 7 when they returned to the US.

This was dad

Dad ultimately would choose dentistry as a profession followed by joining the Navy because “they had nicer looking uniforms.”

That was dad.

The first girl he ever dated was the only girl he dated. (They would be married just a few weeks short of 60 years before she passed away.) In 1945 he left to join “the greatest generation” for the last 6 months of the War in the Pacific on an attack transport, shuttling fresh troops to Iwo Jima (now in US hands) and returning others back to the states.

That was dad.

When he was out of the Navy, he would still continue serving: first as dentist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Nevada (helping those who others refused to), then as the first dentist in Sunnyvale, California, where one of his patients is some kid named “Woz.”  (I wonder if he ever made good?) In his “spare” time he would found the highly regarded Foothill – De Anza Community College district. During the first week of every new school year, he’d make note to walk around the campus to watch the students register because of the “thrill” he had to see the difference the school could make. He would serve the district for 35 years. (Incidentally, it was at the Flint Center at De Anza College, where the original 128k Macintosh said its very first hello).

That was dad.

In 1981 we had special VIP passes to see the landing of STS-1, the very first space shuttle mission. The viewing site had us standing amongst Apollo astronauts, senators, actors, and even Roy Rogers. In the hotel restaurant the day before, he was yakking with our waiter about the flight, and then invited him to join us. I wonder how many people would have thought of that?

One year Maggie Thatcher came out to speak at De Anza College. After her talk, he asked her if she had any dinner plans. Since she did not, mom and dad took her out to a local Marie Callenders’ .

That was dad.

Even in retirement he had to help others by sending refurbished hospital equipment to bush clinics in Africa, or pharmaceuticals to Russian hospitals.

That was dad.

There are striding among us “great” people and great people. The former rarely are, and the latter? Well, they never think they are. Dad belonged to the second group (and mom as well).

From taking a world leader to a local chain restaurant, to inviting a random waiter to witness one of the most historic events of the 80s, that was dad.

At 92, I think he had a good run. Now it was time for him to rest. He deserves it more then many.

One of the last times I spoke to him I made him promise to give mom a message should he see her before me. The message was “The Giants did it!”

I know he will.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your dad, Mike. He saw me after my mom passed and shared such lovely words about her as a teacher. It was kind of him to take the time. (He also regaled me with a few stories of India.)

    Thinking of you and Cathye as you navigate this journey of remembering.

  2. Mike, what a lovely tribute to your father. One more thing he would have been of you for!

  3. I enjoyed the story you have written. He was clearly a special man; and not only to you, but to the church, the academy and the community. I look forward to seeing him again at the great resurrection.

  4. What a prince. So sorry to hear about this.

  5. What. a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing about your father.

  6. I was honored to have Bob as my brother-in-law and will always remember him fondly. He was truly a special person. Your father knew of Neils great admiration for Ronald Reagan and Bob arranged a meeting with him after a speech Reagan gave at Foothill. I know it was one of Neil’s greatest memories.
    My thoughts are with you and Cathye.
    And yes I know your mother is estactic to know the Giants went all the way.

  7. Bob was a outstanding brother-in-law. He was so happy to marry into the Russell Family, as he then had 2 new sisters. At that time I was a young struggling Nursing student, and he always saw that I had a few dollars to
    tuck into my pocket when I visited my sister. Over the years our extended family reunions were centered at the Smithwick home and he was a gracious host. Our family will truly miss him.

  8. mike,

    thanks for sharing more gems about your dad–i’m sorry we never had the chance to meet him. but i see in you his unassuming generosity, and now understand even better the passion for that big universe out there!

    let us know how we can help in preparations or in celebration of him.

    shanti & the guys

  9. Michael — I think you captured the essence of your dad’s personality in a unique way that only you could do. Both your parents were extraordinary people –their individual temperaments and personalities complemented each other so beautifully. They shared a genuine interest in people and were enormously generous with their time and energy. Loved them both and when I think of Dr. Bob, I always remember Ms. Aileen. Their gift of friendship will always remain very dear to my heart. May you look back with fond memories on the time spent with your Dad —he was so very proud of you both.

  10. Mike,

    There are so many things I can think of to say, but mostly right now I feel the empty space of your dad having passed on. Your parents were so good to me treating me like I was one of their own children. As you remember I stayed at your house many times when we were in school. I used to watch and listen as Bob talked to people all over the world on his Ham Radio. Sometimes he let me take a turn talking to whom ever it was he was connected to by 20, 40, or 80 meters. I remember once he had turned the antenna too far and I went with him up to the work platform at the base of the antenna to make repairs. He explained much to me about how all these elements worked together to connect him to the world.

    Bob new as a teenager I was in awe of his Opel GT Sports Car. It looked like a small Corvette. He had me take us for a drive and taught me how to change gears with out grinding them to the metal. What fun. He always took an interest in what I had learned and was willing to tell me more. He was a very patient with me to catch up to his learned mind.

    More recently Leslie and I would stop by to see him at his home when we were out on a motorcycle ride. He was always glad to see us and had many interesting things to say. He told us how he and a few others had installed radios using battery and cells to connect villages to a hospital in an emergency situation. These villages were many miles from anywhere. There were many other stories of interest too.

    Last Sabbath we stopped by to say hi and no one was home. Just found out today that Bob had passed away with your email to us. I feel so badly having missed him by a couple of days. I am glad for all the times we stopped to see him. He always said stop again anytime and don’t forget me.

    Soon your mom will know about the Giants 2 World Series Wins too. Your parents were very special people to me and I miss them terribly. I love you my dear friend Mike.

  11. Hi Mike, I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of your Dad. I first heard about it in the ARRL newsletter emailed to me today. I could always remember his old call W6JZU but not his new one. His kindness, generosity, and commitment to serving others leaves behind a trail of blessings all over the world!

  12. Mike – So sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Losing a parent is always hard. Take care, brenda

  13. Sorry for the loss of the old man

  14. A beautiful tribute. Rest in Peace

  15. Mike – I had the pleasure of trading a few emails with your dad about 10 years ago regarding the family history work we were each doing. I’m sorry to hear of his passing — he sounds like a truly amazing man.

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