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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In memoriam: Bary Edward Eagleson (11/20/56 to 7/15/08)

Two weeks ago, my family lost a very good friend. I've been searching sadly for words since then to write about him, and I'm not satisfied with these, but I don't want to delay making this post any longer, and they'll have to do.

Odds are, you didn't know him. If you and your family are lucky, though, you've known someone like him.

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I'll start with these dry words from the Houston Chronicle, which I'll reprint here in full:

BARY EDWARD EAGLESON, age 51, passed away suddenly on July 15, 2008. He was a beloved husband, father, brother, son, and friend, and he will be sorely missed. He is survived by his wife, Guinn Blackwell-Eagleson; his sons, Jonathan and Christopher Eagleson; his siblings, Angela Nash, Amy Adkins, Gary, Hodge, and Alexander Eagleson and William Moult; his nieces and nephews, Nicole Adkins, Kyle, Erica, and Erin Eagleson, Benjamin and Daniel Nelson; and his mother, Lilly Eagleson. Bary was an active member of St. Philip Presbyterian Church, 4807 San Felipe, where a memorial service will be held at 10:00 AM on Saturday, July 19. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to United Campus Ministry of Greater Houston, 208 A.D. Bruce Religion Center, The University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204, or to your preferred charity.

Published in the Houston Chronicle from 7/18/2008 - 7/19/2008

It's not that there's anything wrong with what's said here. It's just that there was so much more to the man and his life than a standard obituary can reveal.

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My family has known the Eaglesons since their oldest son, Christopher (who'll be a junior at Rice University this fall), and my oldest son, Kevin (who'll be a junior at the University of Houston this fall), were kindergarten classmates. Chris and Kevin were debate partners at Bellaire High School, and they've stayed close even though they're now attending cross-town rival universities. I know Bary was proud to see Chris at Rice, whence Bary obtained his civil engineering degree in 1978. Like his dad was, Chris is a member of Lovett College there.

Bary EaglesonIn February of this year, I posted about my younger son Adam's accomplishment at a high school wrestling competition, and my post included photos of the Eaglesons' younger son, Jonathan. He and his parents joined my family that night for a celebratory dinner. Jonathan's teammates and their parents recognize Jonathan as a true star on the wrestling team, an inspiration for the rest of them — certainly including both Adam and my older daughter, Sarah (who are, respectively, a class behind and ahead of Jonathan). Watching Jonathan wrestle, it came as no surprise to learn that Bary and his brothers had wrestled back in their high school days too, and Bary obviously retained his enthusiasm for the sport. Indeed, Bary was not only the Bellaire wrestling team's No. 1 Fan and videographer, but essentially an uncredited and unpaid extra coach. I was looking forward to sharing some of the driving and cheering duties with him in the coming school year, during which I had hoped some of his knowledge of the sport might rub off on me.

Even my youngest daughter, Molly, has hung around with one or both of the Eagleson boys at my ex's house so often that Molly looks up to them as de facto big brothers. And I know my ex and I both embrace them as if they were our sons, just as our four kids have always been embraced by Bary and Guinn. They are all such fine kids, such good friends to one another.

Sarah said to me last week, after the funeral, that if she'd ever been in any sort of crisis or emergency in which for some reason, she couldn't reach me or her mom, she'd have called Bary. I'm pretty sure there are several other kids whose last names aren't Eagleson or Dyer, but who also had him at the top of the "parental backup" column in their mental lists of emergency contacts. Bary was a positive, vital role-model for them all. In short, his very untimely passing will affect many more families than just his own.

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I was entirely unsurprised to see that St. Philip Presbyterian Church — where the Eaglesons worship, Bary was an Elder, and Jonathan is a Youth Elder — was filled to capacity for Bary's funeral service. It was standing-room only, even after additional folding chairs had been brought in alongside every row of pews.

Just before the funeral service got under way, I watched Bary's brother Hodge set up a video camera and tripod. My first reaction was, "Oh, drat, he ought not have to be doing that, someone else should take care of that." But then it occurred to me that Hodge is probably a lot like Bary, and if Bary had been there alive and in person, nobody could possibly have talked him out of shooting the video; he'd rather have been doing that than sitting on his hands, watching someone else do it. And if someone else had to do it, I'm sure Bary would have wanted it to be one of his brothers.

Pastor Bill Poe spoke warmly and familiarly of Bary, his family, and their faith and role in the church. One anecdote he told involved Bary's entirely tranquil reaction when someone who knew Guinn — or, more precisely, who knew her as the Rev. Dr. Guinn Blackwell-Eagleson, the Executive Director of the United Campus Ministry of Greater Houston, who has served as a Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Houston area for more than 20 years — managed to refer to Bary as "the Pastor's wife."

Bary's twin brother Gary then told — with humor and joy that I know to be characteristic of the Eaglesons — tales of Bary's youth, and of his relationship to his family both as a boy and a man. Bary was not only a beloved brother and son, but a favorite uncle to his nieces and nephews. And Gary proved not only that there is a segment of the human genome which transmits an affinity for painfully bad (which is to say, deliciously bad) puns, but also that it is a dominant gene, one that afflicted not only Bary but most likely his entire family.

Then Bill Canney, a co-worker from Aspen Technology, used words like "patient," "exuberant," and "upbeat" while describing Bary's professional life and his close relationships with both colleagues and clients. On at least one occasion when Bary had made a house-call to help a client revamp some software, the client's personnel later confessed to having secretly switched Bary's coffee to decaf, just so the rest of them could keep up with his energy level.

So far there are over three dozen tributes to Bary posted on AspenTech's Advanced Control & Optimization User Group Forum: "A geek's geek and a fine friend," reads one, and I know he'd have laughed and embraced that description. "The ultimate 'Can Do' guy," says another post. A client's post is titled "A Brilliant Engineer, Loyal Colleague & Dear Friend." Yet another: "Rare combination of Brilliant Worker & Great Teacher." It seems, in short, that I'm far from the only person who has felt compelled, despite the shock, to try to write something to mark Bary's passing in some personal way. That we may feel ourselves inadequate scribes does not detract from how remarkable his inspiration was, such that it's provoked us all to try.

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This portrait drawn by others fits together neatly with what we knew, but my family and I didn't know Bary Eagleson through exactly their same contexts. Instead, we knew him, through our kids, as the beloved and ever-involved father to his own kids. So, just as those who spoke at his funeral testified how Bary was a worthy and invaluable brother and son and colleague and friend, I add my own testimony. It comes both from first-hand observation over a very long time, and from the compelling inferential proof provided by his two fine sons, whom I have been privileged to observe grow into spectacular young men. And it is simply this:

Bary Eagleson was one heck of a dad. Ultimately, that is about as high praise as any man can hope for.

I very much wish now that I had known Bary even better — that I had made more effort to do that. It always seemed like there would surely be more time for that.

But there aren't any such guarantees, at least not in this world. My assumption was wrong, and that opportunity is gone.

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I know the Eagleson family is much comforted by their faith. That is altogether fitting and proper. Their knowledge that they will be reunited with him in the next world certainly must be a greater and more lasting balm than any words that I or anyone else could write or say. Yet they surely cannot help but feel, as a gaping and unexpected hole in the fabric of their lives as lived in this world, the sudden absence of a husband and father whose youthful, dynamic presence we all took for granted.

Bary's sudden death was just a gob-smacker, the kind of stunning blow that you can't ever be prepared for. His life, lived very well but not long enough, is an inspiration, but his sudden death has knocked a whole bunch of people for a loop.

Two weeks later, I'm gradually concluding that yet another way in which Bary's life was valuable was displayed, paradoxically, by his sudden death: We're each one of us, and each one of our cherished friends and loved ones, never more than an unexpectedly burst blood vessel away from death. That's part of the package deal we know and experience as "life." And if we let that important fact slip our minds, we'll likely fail to make the most of what we have of it.

Thank you, Bary, for your sacrifice to help remind me, and so many others who your life touched, of that rough, unpleasant, and invaluable lesson.

*******

We miss him. We mourn him. Guinn, Christopher, and Jonathan — when you read this, use it as a reminder that Jeanne, Kevin, Sarah, Adam, Molly, and I all love you, and we cherish your presence in our lives. May God bless you and keep you. You'll always be in my prayers.

Posted by Beldar at 07:24 PM in Family | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Joanna made the following comment | Jul 30, 2008 11:17:17 PM | Permalink

Beautiful post.

(2) DRJ made the following comment | Jul 31, 2008 9:27:41 PM | Permalink

He was too young and I think that makes the void he leaves here on earth that much bigger.

(3) Rhonda made the following comment | Aug 2, 2008 2:44:07 AM | Permalink

I was a classmate of Bary's at Rice, part of a group of friends that spent much time together in our early days at Rice. I remember how smitten he was with Guinn - there was never anyone else. One of our friends (who was in Lithuania at the item) forwarded an email that he had received regarding Bary's death. It was such a shock when I opened that email on Friday morning at 9 am; I felt compelled to attend his funeral to pay my respects. Three hours later, I was on a plane from California to Houston, and managed to become part of that standing room only crowd. As you note in your post, Bary and Gary share the genome for bad puns (and humor). I had not seen Bary in many years, but I had thought of him and Gary often. I can see from your blog that Bary was still the same Bary that we all knew in those days at Rice. His death has had a great impact on me and all of his old Rice friends - We all miss him and mourn his death. As I read about his life after Rice, I can see (as I would expect) that it was a life well lived.

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