When I was in college I desperately wanted to study at Loyola of Rome my Junior year. I was the eldest of six children studying at John Carroll University where my father had also studied.
The summer before he called me down to the sunroom to tell me I couldn’t go. He could not afford it. I know I was devastated but I did not realize until I had my own children that he probably was as well. There were just too many other competing priorities.
He died this past December. I hadn’t thought about living in Italy for over 37 years. But suddenly obstacles were moved and within months of his passing, I was on my way. It was not lost on me that he finally found a way to help me achieve my dream. That’s the measure of the man he was. Below I share a synopsis of the eulogy I wrote and delivered to honor him.
Friendship, Faith and Family, Love and Leadership and my Father.
We never truly know anyone, but only what they reveal when their lives intersect with our own—through our own lens. Here is my perspective.
He was born in 1930. Men and women of this generation had their values shaped by this decade —a childhood bracketed by the depression and WW2. It was a time that forged resiliency, self-sacrifice, faith, and the importance of family.
He lived part of his childhood in Miami—with his formative years in Wilmette– he loved his parents and grandparents and was proud of their legacies. Although Martin and Smith don’t sound very Irish—there were McHales, Gleasons, Morgans and Corcorans and more— He was so proud of his Irish heritage he was known to pull out a calculator to determine how Irish his grandchildren might be!
He also took pride in his father’s role as precinct captain on the Gold Coast of Chicago, and his political connections which led to the founding of Shoreline Sightseeing company still run by his cousin Chuck Collopy today.
His early years informed the meaning of family to him. Family shared homes and lives and finances during his childhood. Families often merged together during, his aunt Jeanne and grandfather Smith lived with them in Florida and his cousins the Hartneys later in Wilmette — cementing his love of his cousins as brothers, and the importance of taking care of family. Something he attributed learning from his grandfather and father, and something he strived to do his entire life.
He had two sisters, Jamee and Ginny– his twin sister. They were very close growing up. Lifelong friendships were formed at St. Francis and later at Loyola Academy. From his stories, the house on Lake Street was always full of friends, singing, and dancing. These were also the years that formed his love of music and singing. One story he loved to share was since so many of his friends were always coming over all the time he really thought he was quite popular only to have one say—are you kidding, we come to see your sisters!
Children take note. He started working in 8th grade for his father’s business, hitchhiking to the el in Wilmette and to the lakefront, when Shoreline Sightseeing was simply speedboats and he had to jump in the water and scrub them down, give rides all day, and start home with his pockets full of change. .50 a ride means a lot of change in your pockets on the way home. As he grew older this was an advantage and the stories are that he that his pockets were lighter when he finally got home. He never really liked being on the water after those years…. but it formed his work ethic.
Men of his generation did not ask themselves if they were fulfilled or happy, they grew the middle class by working hard on behalf of their families, they made sacrifices, so their children could have a comfortable life, have a good education and a start to create their own families and homes. My father was no different in this respect.
After graduating from JCU, he entered the Marine Corps as an officer—after boot camp and 9 months of officer’s training in California, he was stationed in Okinawa Japan for two years as a second lieutenant and later captain of machine gun artillery.
Today many of us think about leadership as a course we take, a book we read or something we do at work. What he learned in the Marine Corps was how to integrate leadership into daily life, and that leadership and sacrifice within the family is the most important form of leadership. Many of his stories from those years were focused on the enlisted men who served with him, who had recently come back from Korea and how he strove to support them—knowing he was younger and that they had seen battle in Korea—he had a duty to honor them and their experiences.
After the Marine Corps, he came back home and eventually met and fell in love with our beautiful mother. He started his career in sales and roofing and our family of six children began.
They went from Evanston to Northbrook to 500 Drexel where most of our childhood memories were formed. Our vacations to the North Woods and Land O Lakes grounded us and our summers at Old Willow shaped us. He and my mother took up a mutual love of tennis which he played until he was 85 years old!
Like all of us, he wasn’t perfect or always easy. You may have known him as gruff or you may have known him as gregarious. He was a lifelong student of history and of politics…he defined politics as the art of compromise and then he’d proceed to tell you of the three great compromises in history.
He was a storyteller. His stories were so detailed you felt you were there— I was never sure if it was 100% truth or he was elaborating for the audience. He would have made a wonderful history teacher.
Some will remember my father for the twinkle in his eye, his great sense of humor, his love of music and his ability to stay in touch through phone and letters. I know of many who would open a letter from him to find an old photograph and a note, or a comic strip and a joke. He was a master at telling jokes.
What most of you don’t know, and what we are all learning is the full extent of is how he cared for everyone in the family, children, and grandchildren. Unlike most men, he did not stop parenting when his children became adults as he also stepped in to become a father figure to many of his grandchildren. Whether taking them us in to live in his home or helping my nieces navigate life with the loss of their own father at such a young age. From the day Jeff died my father made it clear that he would step into this role, as a support system, disciplinarian or whatever was needed.
When writing his grandchildren he would address cards to his “son” or tell them that he was their father now and they could count on him, and they could. He actively watched over all the grandchildren, providing strength, leadership, tough love, history lessons, financial lessons, and the importance of education—especially a Jesuit one–and advice that included “Stay away from the bars”. As a result, my children, nieces, and nephews are mourning his loss as deeply as my siblings.
By the same token, he could not stand to see those he loved suffer.
For those in our family who experienced significant illness, a place he had no control, he gave the control to you by telling you that you were strong enough, this was bolstered by his faith in the Blessed Virgin. He would tell you that she was always watching over you—even at the foot of your bed as if he alone could see her watching. He prayed using the famous family rosary—to cure disease, cut short our suffering and provide him with the strength to keep taking care of us—until the very end, he fought cancer to have more time with us.
If our problems were less significant but still overwhelming he might tell you there were other fish in the sea, you had taken a chance on that one anyway…get over it, or call someone else—My personal favorite when times were tough he’d remind me that Martin Women “chew barbed wire” telling me stories of the first Elizabeth Martin collecting rent from the property on Michigan Avenue to put her siblings through Catholic schools.
Later he might look for what you needed and quietly provide it. He wouldn’t ask you what you needed, but simply show up with it, and there was to be no argument. And he never spoke of it again, nor shared it with anyone. He quietly sacrificed for us. He always had our back and loved us unconditionally.
It was a letter he sent to my mother that we found among his papers that summed up the inner man. He was endeavoring to commit the paper how much he loved her and the family and closed with this statement. I thank God for you and the children “I would go on the cross for all of you.”
That provides the truest measure of this man, a loving husband and father, and grandfather. In the end isn’t that how we all should be measured—by our ability to sacrifice and provide for those we love the most. By how we lead, and more importantly, how we love.
Thank you, Dad. Italy was worth waiting for and I appreciate more now than I would have then.