Confessions of a Verbivore

November 16, 2011

Dad

Filed under: Verbivore — jargontalk @ 8:53 pm

There are golfers in this world who enjoy the game. There are others who suffer through each swing, hoping that the next will be better. Then there are some to whom golf is a true lifetime dedication, who continue to hone their skills over the years, always striving for perfection.

Golf is not, on the whole, a game for realists.  By its exactitudes of measurements it invites the attention of perfectionists.
~ Heywood Hale Broun

On the first Wednesday of November, Dad played twelve holes of golf. It’s an odd number, but living on a golf course in Florida, he John T. Williamson PGA 01played his customary nine holes, and then worked his way back home in a freeform fashion. Not bad for a man of 89 years, but he’s always been an athlete.

Dad passed away in the morning on Thursday, November 3rd. He was not in pain nor did he suffer.

He tried to get up in the morning but was having a tough time, from what my stepmother Carol related to me when we talked that night. An emergency team came with their ambulance, but it was too late. It’s probably better that way, as in his living will he didn’t want to be hooked up to any devices to prolong his life.  Carol was right there by his side.

In our family tradition, he will be cremated, and his ashes will be spread both on the golf course that he loved and at sea, which was also one of his loves. He would have been 90 on his next birthday in February.

Dad was born on Long Island, New York, February 6, 1922, and raised in Brooklyn. A Lincoln High SchoolHis mother had been an opera singer, and had her own show in the early days of radio. He was an only child, and grew to be an all around athlete at Abraham Lincoln High School in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn.

Built in 1929, Lincoln graduated a number of Nobel Prize winners, famous doctors, scientists, engineers, politicians, and other celebrities, such as international financier Bernard Cornfeld, film and television actor John Forsythe, basketball player & Academy Award winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., Nobel Prize winner (Chemistry) Jerome Karle, jazz drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich, real-estate businesswoman (and “Queen of Mean”) Leona Helmsley, jazz flautist Herbie Mann, author and playwright Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible), renowned federal district court judge Jack B. Weinstein, and author Joseph Heller (Catch-22), to name a few. During those days, Dad earned his early spending money as a guide at the 1939 Worlds Fair.

Columbia-columnsDad continued with sports while a student at Columbia University, playing football and baseball, when his education was interrupted by World War II. He had wanted to volunteer for the Marines, but his mother had objected most highly, as he was her only son and the reports that were coming in from the Pacific theater had a high number of casualties. He persisted with a number of arguments, and they settled on what she considered to be a safer military role for him; he served with distinction in the U.S. Navy as a “hardhat” salvage diver. In the course of his diver training at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he participated in the salvage of the SS Normandie. After the war was over, he completed his education and worked as a petroleum geologist for Creole Petroleum Corporation in Venezuela.

Dad was actually my stepfather. He married my mother in the ’50s, and never batted an eye when it came to accepting my two younger brothers and me as his own kids. He moved us all to Venezuela, where he was employed, and it was the adventure of a lifetime. While in Venezuela, Dad participated in the revitalization of the Quiriquire Golf Course in Estado Monagas, where we lived. This proved to be prophetic.

In 1955 we relocated back to the States, whereupon he had a chance to live a true dream: par3 daytonaDad built a golf course, carving it out of Florida pine trees in an undeveloped area west of Daytona Beach. He had foreseen that many would want to play a shorter golf course, and he was right. It was his design, and he did some of the manual labor himself to bring his dream to fruition, building the Daytona Par 3 Golf Club on US 92. Later he became a Class A golf professional, and he was a lifetime member of the PGA since 1960.

Dad taught my brothers and me to play golf, but it was probably a big disappointment to him that none of us ever shared the love of the sport to the degree that he did. Each of us pursued out own directions when it came to sports, but none of us are golfers except in a casual fashion. But Dad was a well-rounded man with a solid education, and from that we benefited. He was an avid reader of books, magazines, periodicals of many types, and of course newspapers.

NBC’s Victory At Sea | Target Suribachi, Episode 23

Television was generally a family affair, usually starting with the inevitable evening news program, often NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report, anchored by Chet Huntley in New York City, and David Brinkley in Washington. My father would sometimes throw in his own editorial comments during the commercials. There were shows such as Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Have Gun–Will Travel, Leave It To Beaver, 77 Sunset Strip, Peter Gunn, The Twilight Zone, Shock Theater, Walter Cronkite’s The Twentieth Century and more than I can mention here. But perhaps the most memorable television experiences that I shared with Dad were when he introduced me to the reruns of Victory at Sea, the documentary television series about naval warfare during World War II that was originally broadcast by NBC in 1952–1953. Richard Rodgers composed the musical score, and it was narrated by Leonard Graves, and we watched all 26 episodes together.

He had a quiet sense of humor… and sometimes it showed itself when we least expected it.

Among his accomplishments, Dad was a recruiter for the athletic teams of Columbia University. He was also the golf coach for Daytona Beach Junior College (now Daytona State College). He was a member of the Sugar Mill Country Club in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. An avid golfer for much of his life, he was able to shoot his age or below on several of his birthdays. He had been a long time member of the Quarterback Club.

Dad loved the water. He was an active boater and fisherman, and was a member and past Commodore of the Halifax River Yacht Club in Daytona Beach. During his tenure as Commodore in 1969, he oversaw major construction projects. He was a member of the United States Power Squadron, having completed all of their instructional programs, and also served as an instructor.

There was a period of time where Dad became a car nut of sorts. He went through a phase that ranged from a Thunderbird to a Buick Riviera and then onto a Corvette Stingray. Then came a larger Mercedes and a now-classic Ferrari_330gt_2 2Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, a truly unique automobile of which only 1088 were produced. It had a metallic silver Pininfarina-designed body and a V-12 engine that delivered 300 bhp, along with Koni adjustable shock absorbers for superb handling. It could do +152 mph (245 km/h) as my brothers and I could attest to, but we never told him. That car suffered the indignity of being the victim of a rear-end collision, and that ended it all for Dad’s expensive car toys. Everything after that was more sedate.

My father loved to travel, and later in life that interest prompted him to own and run Holiday Travel in Daytona Beach, along with my mother. They had a great time with their treks to various places around the globe, but it was to be short lived, as my mother was a victim of cancer. Without getting into the details, it was bad but went into remission, allowing us all a collective sigh of relief… for awhile. When it returned is was with a vengeance, and Mom passed on in the ‘70s, leaving all of us devastated, and especially Dad, who had stuck with her through thick and thin. He seemed to pull back a bit, then buried himself into his work at the travel agency that he and my mother had founded.

A couple of years later while I was living in South Florida, he called on the phone and seemed a bit nervous, saying that there was something he needed to tell me. He seemed to be skirting the issue, but finally he blurted it out: he had “found someone” while on one of the cruises that were offered to travel agents. Little did he know then that I had already been alerted by one of my brothers, but I played along.

Dad and Carol 01A few weeks later I met Carol, the woman who was to become my stepmother, and it didn’t take long to see that they were perfectly suited for each other. They married, and all of us “kids” were there at their wedding, and it was a truly memorable celebration for all of us. Carol became family, and was a joy to be around.

Dad and Carol shared a common love of travel, and later owned and were active with Coronado Travel in New Smyrna Beach. They traveled the globe together, extensively, allowing him to visit and play golf on every continent except Antarctica. As a result, Dad was a founding member of the Cariari Country Club, in San Jose, Costa Rica. In addition, he combined these trips with his lifetime love of the sea and became a member of Club Amateur De Pesca and the Costa Rica Yacht Club in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

I have attributed my love of books and words to my mother and a bit to my maternal grandmother, but it was Dad who taught me to really explore the classics when I was in junior high. I enjoyed reading and often escaped in a book, often as not some contemporary trashy novel that I had picked up in the local library. One day he came into my room when I was reading some contemporary best-seller, such as Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, as I recall. He looked at it, and then asked me if I was getting anything out of it. I blushed as I recall, as I had been looking for the juicy parts, and he just walked out of the room. About an hour later he came back and asked me to take a ride with him. Without saying a word, he took me down the street to the local library, a cool stucco building that I regularly frequented, and there he introduced me to a better level of writing, first with Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, then with Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki. From those two books my reading expanded to Jules Verne, H.H. Wells, William Faulkner and many others. One author who was destined to become a lifetime favorite was Mark Twain… and I owe my Dad so much for that simple introduction.

As much as he loved golf and visiting new places, Dad enjoyed the challenge of crossword puzzles. As a lover of words, he was a truly voracious reader, and we had opportunities to share viewpoints and recommendations on new reads… but he always seemed to be one small step ahead of me. For example, when The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy’s first published novel came out in 1984, I had received a pre-publication copy, and called him after reading it to recommend it to him. He quietly listened to me, and then informed me that he had also received a pre-publication copy from the U.S. Naval Institute, and had already finished it before I had done so.

JTW with Hardhat 01

There were times that our relationship was strained, and other times that it was extremely close. That happens in any family… and he should be credited highly for never doling out advice when I was older and had left home on what I should do unless I asked him directly.  There’s one other thing that I have to give him credit for, and it’s an important one: during a conversation that we were having some years ago about work and a potential job that I was considering, he asked me if I would be truly happy in that line of work. When I told him that I wasn’t sure, he advised me to continue looking, as it was important to be happy with ones work. And he was right, as I never took a job that I didn’t like… I did it my way. There have been ups and downs at times, but his sage advice made me a happier person than so many that I’ve known in this world.

On the morning of November 3rd, 2011, Dad passed away at his home in New Smyrna Beach, at the age of 89. In his honor, a Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday, November 20th, 2011. I’ll be there… wondering when he will tee off next.

The most important shot in golf is the next one.
~ Ben Hogan

12 Comments »

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your dad. Bravo!

    Comment by sunnyinhtown — November 16, 2011 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

  2. Many thanks, my friend… he is missed by many of us.

    Comment by jargontalk — November 17, 2011 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  3. God Bless John! You’ll always be the best! And you’re a good friend!

    Comment by Lourens Du Preez — November 18, 2011 @ 2:36 am | Reply

    • Lourens, many thanks for reading my tribute to my Dad… it’s greatly appreciated.

      Comment by jargontalk — November 18, 2011 @ 3:00 am | Reply

  4. Enjoyed reading this John. Well written. I’m sure he’s very proud of you.
    Stuart

    Comment by Stuart Sarjeant — November 29, 2011 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

    • Many thanks, Stuart. It wasn’t easy to review my Dad’s life and edit it down this way, as it could have taken an entire book to cover his full and fruitful life. Thanks again for your kind words…

      Comment by jargontalk — December 8, 2011 @ 7:01 am | Reply

  5. Nice article John…….wonderful tribute and remembrance.

    Comment by Yvonne Fong Yee — December 8, 2011 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

    • Thank you so much, Yvonne. You do know how much he meant to his many friends, to my family, and to me. He is and will be missed by, but one cannot help but think that he’s out there playing the back nine on some golf course somewhere. That’s the way he always was.

      Thank you again…

      Comment by jargontalk — December 8, 2011 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  6. With lump in throat and welled tears spilling …. Blessed be any who has such a son as thee.John Williamson

    Comment by Ruth — December 8, 2011 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Ruth. It’s good to see that this is being read by folks such as you from down under. He played golf on every continent except Antarctica, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he played on a course in New Zealand as well. Thank you again!

      Comment by jargontalk — December 8, 2011 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  7. Wow what a great tribute to a great man…thanks for the opportunity to share it

    Comment by Darrell Wyont — December 8, 2011 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

    • Many thanks for your comments, Darrell. He was indeed a great man, and I was quite fortunate to have him as a stepfather, one who was more of a real parent to me and my brothers than I can express here. Thanks again…

      Comment by jargontalk — December 8, 2011 @ 4:09 pm | Reply


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