It was the summer of 1939, when Eugene W and Regina L were married. They had met in West Virginia through work, because they were both employed by NACA, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics - this was the predecessor of NASA, before the space age.
They had five children, of which Paul was the second. He was also the only boy, with 4 sisters. Paul’s older sister Frances, or “Fran”, was born in 1940, in Virginia.
Paul was born next, on October 21, 1941, in Bay Shore, Long Island. His parents moved around a lot during his childhood - his sister Ellen was born in Westbury Long Island in 1943.
The small family next headed to Milwaukee, where his father had many relatives. This is where Rita was born in 1946. Four years later they moved to South Euclid, Ohio, where the last child, Paul’s youngest sister Laura, was born in 1950.
Next was Rocky River Ohio, one of Paul and his sisters’ favorite homes. They lived there for several years, until Paul was a freshman in high school. It was in Rocky River that his youngest sister Laura became extremely sick. She experienced a very high fever, and this unfortunately left her severely brain damaged. Despite her disability, Laura was always Paul’s biggest fan.
During Paul’s first year of high school, the family moved to Teaneck New Jersey. He attended Fordham Prep High School, in New York City. Getting there meant taking a public bus for an hour’s ride each way, into the city, as a young teen. He did this every day for 3 years of high school. This is where he met one of his closest friends, Jim Fay.
After graduating from high school, both he and Jim went to Georgetown University. They shared a dorm room for the first couple of years.
While he was at Georgetown, his family moved again, this time to Bethesda Maryland. Dad moved back in with the family at this point, while still attending school. This allowed him help his sister Ellen get an A in college math, and to beat his sister Rita at Ping-Pong while pointing out the flaws in any boys she dated – because they weren’t good enough for her.
Paul’s cousin Stephanie was also attending Georgetown at this time, and since she didn’t know many people in the dorms, she spent time visiting Paul’s family. One night Paul brought her along to a party at Jim’s house. In the weeks that followed, folks noticed that Jim was hanging around the house more and more often, and it gradually became clear that he had a thing for Stephanie. They eventually married, and they are both here today.
After he finished Georgetown in 1963, Paul won the Adenaur scholarship, which allowed him to do post-graduate work in Germany for a year, living with a German family. In order to qualify for it, he had to take an oral physics test, completely in German.
After his year in Germany, Paul went to Yale to pursue a doctorate in Physics. At the beginning of the 1966 school year, he happened to attend a “get to know you” social event hosted by a campus residence hall for women. At that event, he met a young grad student named Margaret. My grandmother told me once that Margaret was the only woman her son had ever brought home to meet her. From the start, she saw that they were perfect for one another.
Less than a year later, Paul and Margaret were married, the first of his siblings to do so. They had a small ceremony in a church chapel in Connecticut. He was 25, and she was 22. This began a love story, which would span the next five decades.
Paul’s youngest sister, as I have said, is mentally disabled. She loved her brother so much that, in the middle of the wedding ceremony, she burst into loud disruptive sobbing. Nobody could proceed with anything until she was calmed down and comforted.
My parents had a 2-part honeymoon, first in Cape Cad, and then they visited Montreal for the 1967 World’s Fair. They both still had to complete their degrees, so after their honeymoon they returned to Yale and got a tiny apartment together.
Margaret graduated first, and taught high school for a year while Paul finished his doctorate. When he graduated in 1969, he got a job as a Research Scientist from General Motors, so the two of them moved to the Detroit area. They began in an apartment, but quickly fell in love with a condo in Fox Chase Michigan.
Two years later, in 1971, my parents had their first child, Karen. My sister Lynn followed in 1973, and then my brother Carl in 1977. By the time baby #3 was in the picture, it was time to move to a slightly larger home, so they bought our family home in Huntington Woods later that year.
Paul was a physicist for General Motors for 35 years, doing all sorts of crazy research projects, until he retired in 2004. Also during those 35 years, when not working, he:
• Helped raise three children,
• learned to play the piano,
• taught himself several languages,
• refinished his entire house,
• took the family camping in most of the national parks,
• bicycled all over town,
• enjoyed the opera and symphony with his wife,
• took his kids to the YMCA Indian Princesses and Indian Guides programs,
• cheered at countless ice shows, orchestra concerts, and piano recitals,
• made sure all of his children got a chance to visit Europe,
• and paid for all three kids to go to college.
His youngest son Carl was married in 2002, and his first grandchild, Will, was born in 2003. His second grandchild, Mathilda, “Tilly”, was born in 2005.
A year or so after Will was born, my parents decided to retire. Paul had always fantasized about retiring to a big city, like Paris. However neither of them wanted to move too far from their family, and since their grandson lived in a big city (here in Chicago), they decided to retire to Chicago.
They got an apartment in Old Town, just a mile North of here, in the heart of the city. They could walk, bike, or take public transportation wherever they wanted to go, and they loved it. They had season tickets to both the opera and the symphony. They spent time with their grandchildren. Mom joined this church, and they both joined the Chicago Cycling Club. Dad developed a fondness and fascination for genealogy. They explored the finest Chicago eateries. They loved living here.
Even before they moved to Chicago, after their children left the house, my parents discovered a fondness for European cycling vacations. They tried other types of vacations too – hiking, kayaking, touring, that sort of thing, but they kept returning to their beloved bicycling trips. They have traveled all over the world on bikes, trains, boats, planes, and foot. I have lost count of how many places they’ve been, and how many bicycling tours they’ve enjoyed. They also biked a lot here in Chicago, as part of the senior cycling club.
Many of you probably know that my father passed away as a result of injuries sustained while on a bicycling vacation in Belgium. He was only 73. While it was much too early, and I will miss him very much -- it is fitting, in a way, that my father’s life ended doing something he loved so very much, bicycling with his wife, who he loved even more.
Well. The story of his life took awhile, and I only covered a fraction of it… but my father lived a rich and busy life. However if you will indulge me for a few minutes more, I’d like to share just a few personal memories.
My father loved classical music his whole life. His father was a talented piano player. However for some reason, Dad never learned to play the piano as a boy. I thought at first that perhaps it was because piano lessons weren’t “cool” enough for him?
But my father was never (ever) interested in being cool. Even when he was in high school in the late 50’s, when everyone his age was obsessed with Rock ‘n’ Roll, he would listen to classical music. His sisters told me that they were embarrassed to ride in the car with him.
I talked to his sister Ellen about this, and we think that he didn’t learn to play the piano as a boy because his father tried to teach the children to play. It’s complicated to learn things from your father. On top of that, his sister’s illness came right around the time when he would likely have been learning.
Whatever the reason, Dad didn’t learn to play the piano until he was an adult. His father passed away in 1972, and not too long after that Dad started taking piano lessons. I remember him practicing throughout my childhood. At first he was so shy about his playing that he would stop, whenever my mom entered the room. But over time his comfort increased, and it became one of his favorite hobbies.
He also made sure that each of his children had as many music lessons as we would tolerate. I played both piano and cello. I remember that when I was learning the cello, he brought home piano/cello sheet music, for us to play together.
Of course I’ve already touched on his love of bicycling. During his prime, he frequently rode his bike to work during the warmer months. My dad was bicycling to work long before it was trendy. It was a 10-mile trip one way, but he would wear dress pants, and a short-sleeved dress shirt. In his shirt pocket would be an eyeglasses case, and he had this circular metal clip he would wear on his right ankle to keep his pant leg out of the chain.
My siblings and I were SO embarrassed. Come to think of it, that was actually the outfit he wore nearly every day of his life, minus the ankle clip. I remember as a tweener trying to buy Dad clothes for Christmas that I thought were “cool”. Somehow they never looked cool, once he wore them. But he would always pretend to be pleased, no matter what outrageous outfits I found for him.
My father had a dry and subtle sense of humor, that not everybody would get -- but he was a funny guy.
I was a very angsty teenager. My father and I did not get along well during those years – there was a lot of tension between us. My siblings claim that is because we are too much alike, and I don’t know – perhaps it’s true. Regardless, a lot of my high school years were spent warring with him, for no particularly good reason that I can recall now.
It wasn’t until I went away to college that I was able to see past all of that and return to enjoying his company. In fact, I didn’t even notice that he had a sense of humor until later in life. When I was younger, I was too busy being OUTRAGED by everything he said to notice that he didn’t mean exactly all the things he said, and often he was just being funny. Once I figured out his sense of humor, he made me laugh all the time.
He was not always very good at showing emotions, and it took me awhile to recognize the ways he showed me he cared. Here is my favorite example:
When I decided to sell my house, and move in with my then-boyfriend, he told me, “You know Karen: you will never sell that house without installing shoe molding on the first floor.” Now --- this might sound a little judgmental to you, but this was Dad’s way of saying, “I support your decision, and I want you to succeed.”
Dad was kind of a renaissance man, and did tons of work on his house, his car, and his finances, by himself. He enjoyed helping his children with their projects, but he always insisted on teaching us to do the work ourselves. “If you give a man a fish,” he would say, time and time again, “he’ll eat for a day…” etc. Sometimes it drove me crazy, but I learned a ton about how to take care of my house and my life, from the lessons he taught me.
When that same boyfriend, Mike, later proposed to me, he did it here in Chicago. When my father found out, his first desire was to go out and buy champagne in celebration. This was the way he communicated his love - with actions, more than with words.
It took me a long time to get comfortable with how to express my love back to him. But I’ve learned… I love you Dad. Thanks for all the opportunities you gave me, and everything you’ve done to make me into the strong and independent woman I am today. I’ll miss you.
Epitaph on William Muir
An HONEST man here lies at rest,
As e’er God with his image blest;
the friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so informed;
If there is another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
Robert Burns, celebrated Scottish poet and lyricist (1759 – 1796)