Family Friday: What I Learned About My Grandfather in His Eulogy

He was what you saw: a simple, forthright, kindly, gentle man of utmost integrity. In fact, he leaned backward to avoid any pretense.

Reverend Harold Rekstad’s eulogy of James T. Robb

I was bent on surviving seventh grade as a first-timer in a Maryland junior high when my mother’s father, Grandpa Robb, died in April, 1967. He was only 69 — three years older than I am now — brought down by prostate cancer. I didn’t know that his illness was the reason for the trip my sister and I made with our mother from Bogotá the summer before sixth grade, or that the last time I’d see him would be in a Winona hospital, where he noticed my stylish pale pink lipstick. Brief visits to Winona were all I’d known of Grandpa until the week that my grandparents spent with us in Colombia, when we connected as fellow writers in a way that felt very special.

Grandpa had a quiet smile on his face as he wandered over to a bench and pulled his notepad and pencil out from his jacket breast pocket. I recognized the unseeing gaze — he was building a poem. I hoped he would share it with me, like Mom shared my poems with him in her Monday letters home.

Jane Kelly Amerson López, When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, Bogotá, 1964

Dad was five thousand miles away setting up press for the Pan-American summit in Uruguay that April, so my sister and I stayed with next door neighbors while Mom flew to Minnesota alone.

Laying in the Murrays’ guest room bed, I realized that I would never again hold Grandpa’s soft, creased hands, never again hear his voice reading my poetry back to me over the telephone, never again seek his counsel on a rhythm or a rhyme. The void was as big as the night sky over the White House the night we stood vigil for President Kennedy.

Jane Kelly Amerson López, The Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, Rockville, 1967

Just this week, I discovered the typed-out eulogy that Grandpa’s pastor and close personal friend, the Reverend Harold Rekstad, delivered on April 13 at the First Congregational Church in Winona. Reading it, I felt that I was sitting in those pews but also sitting with Grandpa.

Quality of character

Jim would be greatly distressed if he thought this would be a sad or mournful occasion. He would dislike even more any kind of flowery eulogy. However, he manifested many qualities of character which we want to recall, not in eulogy, but as an inspiration for ourselves in the years to come!

The Reverend Harold Rekstad, First Congregational Church

Soul of a poet

There was neither sham nor guile in his makeup. Jim had the soul of a poet. He sensed and saw the world about him and felt deeply what is missed by the casual observer.

The Reverend Harold Rekstad, First Congregational Church

Compassionate man

Jim was a man of genuine compassion. He cared about others, and expressed his concern In quiet, thoughtful, unobtrusive ways. He was a man of genuine religious faith, the kind that comes from the heart by deed and thought, not rote or ritual. Of all the possessions he might bequeath his loved ones, this would be the choicest, for it was was plain and simple.

The Reverend Harold Rekstad, First Congregational Church

Grandpa’s Bogotá poem: A Call and Farewell (1964)

I cannot leave this place

This town

Or any land

But must look back

And then I see

One beckoning

And gently waving hand.