I delivered the following speech at my Uncle Richard’s memorial this weekend. He passed away on January 24, 2013 at the age of 58, while skiing in Colorado.
“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” This Ralph Waldo Emerson quote encapsulates my approach towards life. Though I did not know him as well as I should have liked, I can say confidently that by this metric my uncle lived a life of success beyond measure. He demonstrated intelligence in every aspect of his life, through his stellar education, his rise through the ranks in his career, and his dry, sardonic wit. Though it could be hard won, I can still hear the sound of his laughter in tribute to a worthy joke. His appreciation of beauty was beyond question; I’m sure many of you know he was a lover of nature, especially fond of birds, as evidenced by his beautiful photography and artwork. He raised two highly intelligent, passionate, and successful children with his wife, my aunt. He grew beautiful garden patches, where ultimately a piece of him can remain forever. Though Richard has departed us, he leaves behind not one but many, many lives that have breathed easier. His passion for life and dedication to his chosen path was obvious even to those of us who, like me, made his acquaintance less than they might have liked. Even still, I can be unwavering in this certainty: Richard left this world more than a bit better than he found it, and his absence leaves it significantly more empty.
I have precious few personal remembrances of my uncle. When I was young, our families visited often, but sadly, I am not blessed with a brilliant memory of my childhood. As I grew out of youth our two families found less and less time to spend together, until a visit became a rare occurrence. Time passed and I grew to be a young adult, moving away from home, graduating college, and beginning my own career. My cousins, Erica and Evan did the same, and Richard and Eileen achieved retirement. This once again opened the window of opportunity for visits. Over the last several years I got a chance to know my uncle as an adult, and I am very grateful for that time, short as it was. I remember him as a man strong in both reason and intelligence, passion and humor. On my last visit with him, in October of last year, when he and my aunt visited my town of Santa Barbara they took me out to dinner and we had a wonderful discussion about the state of American politics. Though we certainly had our differences in that arena, we shared a passion for reasoned debate, and respect for a conclusion intelligently found, if perhaps not agreed upon. This is something I greatly admired about my uncle; though he held his opinions strongly, he was willing to consider a well-presented opposing view. Conversely, he brooked no nonsense and never missed an opportunity to apply his acerbic wit to those who rightly deserved it. This, too, is something to which I aspire.
Shortly after graduating college, my family and I had a chance to visit with the Stades and my grandmother at the lake house they owned for some time. This is one of my very fond memories of recent years. We enjoyed a few days of sun and relaxation, as well as sumptuous family feasts and mellow evenings of thoughtful conversation. During the day, Richard and Eileen took us out on the lake in their boat, patiently teaching me to waterski and even letting me drive it around a bit. I got a chance to experience my uncle’s ornithological passion first-hand, as we tried to sneak up on a nest of birds for a chance to photograph them in their habitat. In the evenings, after dinner, Richard introduced me to his aperitif of choice, a honey-whiskey blend by the name of Irish Mist, which to this day remains my favorite drink for a quiet evening at home. And when at last, it was time to go, Richard thanked me for visiting, and bade me return whenever I so desired. This, to me, was Richard Stade.
I wish that I had more frequently taken him up on his offers of hospitality. I sorely regret missing the opportunity to learn more about him, to spend more time in spirited discussion with him, to laugh with him, and learn from him. I suppose this is common to all losses, but especially those which are so sudden and unexpected as his. The night I learned of Richard’s passing, I wandered the streets of Santa Barbara in a fog, both mental and literal, trying to find a way to integrate this news into my mind. I walked past some of the locales I had shown him and Eileen on their last visit, sometimes smiling at remembered conversation, but more often numbly remote. Eventually I ate dinner and made my way home, and there I did the only think I could think of to do. I poured a glass of Irish Mist, thought of my uncle, and raised it in remembrance of him. I think that this is the best thing we can do to honor Richard: remember him. And, perhaps, to breathe a little easier because we all knew him.