It’s interesting how the dichotomy exists between words and actions. Oddly enough, this was one of the easiest things I”ve ever had to write. It was, however, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deliver.
Most eulogies seem to commonly follow the pattern of a listing of one’s life history and accomplishments. I’m not going to follow that pattern. I’m going to instead concentrate on a single conversation we had.
On May 4th, 2010, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canadian Navy, I phoned Dad early in the morning. I started the conversation with a resounding, Happy Anniversary, followed by a singing of the chorus of Heart of Oak. He joined in on the second line.
For those not familiar, Heart of Oak is the official march of the Royal Canadian Navy. The RCN was the first “real job” outside the farm that Dad ever had, and one that was part of heart for his entire life. The chorus goes like this:
Heart of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men.
We always are ready.
Steady, boys, steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.
This is about as far as we got before laughing got the better of us and we didn’t really do it much justice at all. OK, we weren’t laughing. We were giggling. It was a little, tactfully put, informal. Given the solemnity of the date, and our lack of solemnity on the occasion, it may actually have qualified as naval blasphemy.
Heart of Oak was written in 1760 to commemorate several British victories in the preceding year during the Seven Years War against France. It is an anthem to triumph under difficult circumstances, since the war did not start well. It calls for common sailors doing their best and making success out of what you are given, regardless of the odds. And, of course, it hails from the days when ships were made from wood, principally Irish oak, which any boat builder will tell is noted for its strength, even in the worst that sea and storm could throw at you.
Douglas Hugh Rutherford was the Heart of Oak. No one I have known had the character and fortitude to pitch in, solve any problem, answer any question, regardless of how difficult the dilemma or who asked. His sage advice, so tempered with plain, ordinary and implacable wisdom was available to anyone who would ask. And, his quiet resolve to just be the best person possible, a kind, loving, and gentle man, provided the example that anyone could wilfully aspire to emulate. Regardless of the worst that sea and storm could throw, his heart was Irish oak.
My last conversation with him was the Sunday before he died. It was so much like him. He had just recently learned that he had a malignant brain tumour. And, when we talked about it, he said,” You know, it’s so small that they know it’s there but it’s still too small to find. So, we’ll just make do with what we get. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to. I‘m happy. If my time comes, I’m content with that.”
I don’t know if it was prophetic, or simply just the way he was.
If you’ve ever seen a state funeral, you will hear the expression, “We lost a great man today.” But, what is “great?” There are certainly many ways to measure the worth of a man. I have a favourite: that you measure someone by what they see as their life’s accomplishments. I know what Dad saw as his, and they are sitting in the rows of this church: his family; wife, brother, children, their wives and spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and his friends… the many who loved and respected him. These are what Dad saw as his accomplishments… and he was damned proud of them. And that pride should make everyone in this church, and those who wished so hard but couldn’t make it today, equally as proud… and happier for what he brought to our lives.