It is said that St. Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”
Here’s all you need to know about my Dad. Back when we were living in the house on Tupelo, a knock came on the door late at night. He could have cursed at the noise, ignored the knock and gone back to sleep. But he didn’t. He answered the door, and welcomed into our home … a panicked, rough looking young man. The man stood there bleeding from his arm and begging for assistance. So Dad administered first aid, gave him something to drink and gave him a ride home. After returning home, Dad called the police. Turns out, there was an attempted robbery down the street, where the man had cut his arm breaking a window. We’ll never know if Dad’s compassion and trust turned this man’s life around, but it certainly had an impact on those of us who heard the story. Dad saw God everywhere, and Jesus in everyone.
Now I ask you, if this is how he treated a criminal, imagine what he would do for his friends! Before you answer that question, you need to understand what it took to be his friend. And the answer is … nothing. He never met a stranger, as they say. I remember driving down the street with him on more than one occasion, and watching as he waved at a passerby. “Who was that?” I would ask. “I don’t have any idea” he would say. Going to church, the hardware store or anywhere else with him was a lengthy affair as he knew everyone and would spend time afterward talking, while we were anxious to get home and play.
If you’ve read his obituary, you already know the specifics, the impressive litany of a life of service. To his country, first of all, as he served honorably in Korea. To his company – at Argonne Lab where he worked for more than 30 years. To his community, wherever he went. To his church. And of course to Mom and us kids – to whom he provided the kind of idyllic upbringing and family life that seem all too rare these days, but which are certainly never easy, no matter what generation you represent. That takes work, and talent, and love – all of which he had in spades.
It dawned on me that I had not appreciated how much of a leader he was. President of this, founding member of that, on the board of something else. There were so many things he did for the community and he never asked for credit. As we looked through his papers, we found myriad letters of appreciation, several begging that he not leave some position that, typically, he had been asked to assume - as his contributions were irreplaceable.
One post he could have easily avoiding taking was in the army. He was in college, and virtually guaranteed not to be drafted. But then he did something strange. He knew if he stayed in college he wasn’t going to get drafted. And his mother wasn’t going to let him enlist. So he dropped out of school to ensure he would be drafted. He went to Korea and served with distinction. Being at war is no picnic, obviously. Yet he loved it. I think what he loved was the camaraderie. The friendships with his brothers in arms. And the knowledge that he was fulfilling his duty.
After coming home, he completed his degree, and found and married the love of his life, our dear Mom; they started a family and settled in Naperville, where they have lived ever since.
The other day, my brother found a letter of recommendation that his former boss sent to a prospective new employer. It read, in part, “John Horton was one of the finest men I ever had the pleasure of working with. I know of no man that I could recommend more highly than John. He is the clean living type of young man that would be a credit to your [company].”
Now how many referral letters like that do you see these days?
I will remember all the little things my father did. He was all of us boys’ first baseball coach. There was a baseball team photo displayed at the visitation yesterday, where Dad was dressed in the standard baseball manager’s uniform of creased slacks and wing-tipped shoes. You don’t always appreciate it when you’re a kid, but he obviously had hurried straight from work to the baseball field so he wouldn’t miss practice. He and Mom made it to every one of our games and with 6 children that took a lot of time; somehow, one thing he always had for us was the most precious commodity we possess – time.
One of his daughters-in-law told of his insistence on taking her to a medical appointment, and waiting there with her for four hours, so my brother wouldn’t have to take off work. This was the sort of thing he did all the time. Because he loved spending time with his family, and he always thought of helping others whenever he could.
I’ll remember his unique laugh that built up silently inside him until he shook with furious effort, trying to keep from exploding. And a twinkle in his eye that let you know he didn’t take himself too seriously. He was, one might say, merry.
I think the thing that brought him the most happiness was “doing life” with our Mom. He felt so much joy doing things for her and making her happy, and often bragged about her behind her back. He enjoyed her company more than anyone else’s. We find comfort today knowing that he died while they were out, enjoying life together, and that Mom and all of his children were with him in the hospital at the very end.
He leaves behind our dear mother, his loving wife of 57 years; six grown children – among you here today; four daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, and fourteen grandchildren – who are perhaps his proudest legacy. (He enjoyed nothing so much as visiting his grandkids, going to a school play, an athletic event or a graduation.) And of course all of you, a small sample of his endless circle of friends.
I know he will now get to finally meet again his beloved daughter Peggy, who preceded him in death by forty-eight years and to whom he has prayed every day since. And he will at long last be in the one place where everyone and everything is as friendly and welcoming as he has always been.
St. Peter at the pearly gates will surely not need my advice. But were I asked, I would say to him, “I know of no man that I could recommend more highly than John. He is the clean living type of young man that would be a credit to Heaven.”