Friday, December 14, 2018

Charles Theodore Jennings, Sr. (1931-2018): Eulogy for My Father

We held the memorial service for my father on 17 November 2018 at the church Mom and Dad attended for nearly 40 years. We laughed and cried as we expressed our love and gratitude for the greatest man I have ever known.

Mom and Dad's long-time paster and good friend delivered the eulogy, which I would like to share here so those who did not have a chance to know my father may get a glimpse of the character of a wonderful man.

"Dear family and friends we have come together today to remember Charles Theodore Jennings, who was born on 14 December 1931 and who died just after Veterans' Day, early in the morning of 12 November 2018. We are here to honor a dearly loved husband, father, grandfather, brother in Christ, and friend; and I know of no one who deserves more the praise and love than we give him today. To you, the family he loved so dearly, we give our sincere condolences and love. We know these last years of his life were not only difficult for him, but very difficult for you. It is so very hard to see your hero, your mentor, your father and instructor in life become as fragile and weak as he became. He, along with your wonderful mother, was in so many ways the strength of your lives and in these last years you became that for him. I know he was so very grateful for your love and care and we commend you for it.

While he was known by his clients in his work as Charles, he was better known to all of us as Ted. I have heard each of his children say in his or her own way, "he was the smartest or greatest man I knew." That was also my impression of Ted from the very first time I met him. He, of course, was an engineer and you expect engineers to be very smart, but Ted was smart not only in technical things but in practical things as well. I did not think that there was anything he could not do, from giving good advice on how to handle some difficult issue, to building a race car -- something he loved to do -- to helping me make a BBQ grill out of an old 500-gallon drum. If I needed help with anything, Ted was the first person I thought of and I missed him dearly when he was no longer able to do the things he so naturally did.

Ted and Dot moved to eastern North Carolina in 1978 and soon became very much a part of our community. They had gone on a vacation somewhere south of here and on their return trip home to northern Virginia, they passed through New Bern. Ted loved the water and they were impressed as they crossed the Neuse River bridge with the vista of water and land. Ted's engineering job was one that he could do working out of the home and they were thinking about choosing a place for their retirement years. So they came back to this county where "the land meets the water," and with the help of a realtor they found a place on Dawson Creek to build a home. As soon as it was completed they moved here. While living here they became active members of Bethany Christian Church, where Ted served as an elder. Ted became a member of the Volunteer Fire Department and they both served their community in various ways. We were truly enriched by their presence among us.

As I mentioned earlier, Ted died just after the conclusion of Veterans' Day and it is appropriate that we should remember that he was a veteran of the Korean War. He met his future wife before he served in Korea but it was after he had served his country that he and Dot were married in 1957. Schalene writes, 'They were married in my Dad's parents' home in Arlington, Virginia, on a Friday evening, by a volunteer fireman, who was late to the wedding because he was busy putting out a fire. My Mom's parents didn't attend. They didn't like Dad; he was wild -- drank beer, raced cars, and sent a practice grenade to Mom from Korea. They didn't know if it was real or not so they stored it in the chicken coop!' Ted, of course, was none too happy that this was his in-laws impression of him and when Dot's mother would speak of his 'wild side,' he would counter with a story about when he did something good.[1] Fortunately, the 'wild side' faded away and became distant memories of the indulgences of his youth.

Mom and Dad's wedding at this parents house in Arlington, Virginia;
personal collection

Ted took seriously his role as a husband to his wife Dot, whom he loved dearly and as a father to his children. Because he worked out of the home, that gave Ted the opportunity to interact a lot with his children. He was almost always home when they got out of school. He served as their coach in many of the sports they played and he attended their school functions. John write about his Dad: 'One of my best memories was Dad as a teacher. Almost every evening, after dinner and after I completed my homework, Dad would have me sit down next to him with a pencil and pad of scratch paper. He would teach me the things HE thought I should learn, usually engineering related...I tried to keep a straight face even when things got way over my head. I tried not to give away the fact I wasn't as smart as he was."

Ted was always there for his children. His son, Ted, Jr., says of his Dad: 'One thing that never changed from my being a kid through adulthood, if I didn't know something or wasn't sure, I'd ask Dad. He always knew. From, what to do when a kid was picking on me in school, to how to fix a transmission, I really think he knew it all. He was so willing to help with anything.' Schalene tells how when she was stood up on a date in high school her father took his sad daughter out for ice cream and told her how to handle the young man if he ever called again. He did call again and she handled him just as her father had explained that she should. She was pleasant, never acted like being stood up bothered her at all, and turned him down every time he asked her out.

Ted loved fishing and being out on the water. One of Schalene's favorite pictures of her dad is the one on the front of the bulletin. It is a picture of Ted out on the Chesapeake Bay. He and Dot chose their place on the water at Dawson Creek because of his love for boats and fishing. One of Ted Jr.'s great blessings after his retirement from the Coast Guard was to move back home to be near his parents. He and his Dad were able to go fishing together on a lot of weekends. A favorite place to go was the treacherous drum Inlet in the spring where they caught flounder and speckled trout. When Ted told me about their fishing trips I became quite envious. They had good catches and bad catches, but always they had a good time.

Dad on his boat in the Chesapeake Bay; personal collection

There are some things you appreciate all your life, but even more so as the years pass by. I am sure Schalene, Ted Jr., and John have come to appreciate more and more the wonderful parents and family heritage they have been blessed to have. They have had what many others from dysfunctional and broken families have never known. They had a stable home with wise and loving parents who made them their first priority. They were gifted with a father and mother who prepared them to  become the self-sufficient, capable, mature adults they have become with families of their own. They will no doubt carry on the legacy they have received from their parents. In doing so they will be doing just what Ted and Dot hoped they would do as their children.

In 2002, just months before turning 71, Ted suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, an almost always fatal condition. Still he bounced back but with some problems remaining. He was not paralyzed but suffered the inability to process language and sometimes was not able to speak. It led to some interesting conversations when you visited with him. After months of therapy Ted got back to almost normal. He even worked on restoring a sprint race care like the ones he had raced in the early 1950s. But the hemorrhages continued and resulted in a gradual more severe mental decline. Dot became his caregiver and when things became too difficult to manage in their Quail Woods home, and also because of her own declining health, she sold their house and moved Ted and herself to an assisted living facility just outside of New Bern. In September 2014 Dorothy died, and on Thanksgiving Day 2014 Ted was in Duke Hospital fighting for his life. His condition improved minimally and he was moved to the nursing home in New Bern where he died last Monday. He lived well beyond what would normally be expected of someone who had suffered such terrible traumas. For the last few years, the time around Thanksgiving became for his family not just a time to celebrate a holiday but a day like today. It became a day to be together and remember how very blessed they were for the parents they had. It is a tradition I think will continue.

Proverbs 4:1-4 instructs us with this parental advice: 'Listen, children, to a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, and my mother's favorite, he taught me, and said to me, Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.'

Ted was a teacher of his children. His instructions, however, were not so much a quoting of the Bible as they were a matter of being a living example and giving practical advice. Ted was a genuine person -- a husband and father who lived as be believed a husband and father should. Did he ever make mistakes? I am sure he did even as I am sure his mistakes became learning experiences for himself and for his family. While I am confident he was guided by his faith in God, he would never be the one to say, 'Look at me and be as I am.' I think rather that he would hope that you would look to God and become the very best you can be.

Last photograph of Mom and Dad together, April 2014;
personal collection

Dear friends, we see or we don't see God in the people who are close to us and in the lives they live. I am glad that today we remember and honor a man, a father, grandfather, and friend in whom we saw the presence of the Spirit of God. And today, with full hearts and with settled minds we commit the care and keeping of his life to the God in whom we believe. God will surely hold him safe in his arms until that day we will meet again."

[1] Actually, this story is about Dad's Mom, not his mother-in-law. Mom's parents changed their mind about Dad soon after I, the eldest, was born. They saw the loving care Dad gave to his family and thought Mom had chosen her life's partner wisely. I told the story about Grandma Jennings' Dad stories in A Tribute to My Father.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry about the recent loss of your father, Schalene. He sounds like a remarkable man. What a beautiful eulogy.