Friday, February 10, 2012

A Tribute To A Good Man

Recently, I had the honor and privilege to attend the celebration of a good man's life. The good man's name is Jack; he is my brother-in-law, my wife’s older brother. Jack had passed from this world into the next just a few days earlier. He joined his parents, his wife of forty-nine years, his two sisters, and two nephews. He left behind a sister, my wife Elizabeth, an older brother Bill, two absolutely wonderful daughters, Karen and Maura, and three grandchildren.

Jack was born in South Bend Indiana. As a young child he moved with his family to Chicago. He was a Southsider.  Jack’s family lived in what is known as South Shore and he attended Leo High School where he was a standout football player. After high school he attended the University of Illinois where he earned a degree in Civil Engineering.

Jack was a passionate civil engineer and during his career built dams, bridges, massive earthworks, and even part of the Big Dig in Boston. He worked for only three companies in his adult life and left a lasting impression on each of those companies and with all who were lucky enough to know him.

That's the basic story of my brother-in-law Jack’s life. But the basic story doesn't begin to tell the story of this good man.  I will make an attempt to enhance the basic short blurb that announces the death of someone after decades of contributions to his city, his country, and to his wonderful family.

Rather than a traditional memorial service, where people would be crying and sad, a celebration of his life and his many accomplishments was much more appropriate.  I would have expected a lot of people to stop by but I was not prepared for what occurred.  The two adjoining ballrooms used for the celebration were filled for several hours with people sharing stories with each other and with the family ranging from his years in grammar and high school through his long career as a civil engineer. In total I would guess there were at least 200 people that stopped by to join in. Each story brought a new and deeper understanding of just who Jack was.  The number of his former co-workers, who were not in contact with him for years, but showed up to join the celebration of his life, shocked me.

One of the things that most people did not know about Jack is that he was an artist. He had been an artist for most of his life. Some of his grammar school friends told us about the cartoons he used to draw, and in fact he was making entire comic books for his classmates. Even though he did some oil paintings his passion was watercolors. Over the course of his life he produced hundreds of works ranging from montages of peoples’ faces or shapes- he loved to work with angles-to abstractions of his work and of the world around him and most of all to the things he loved and cared about. Many people have paintings that Jack produced. What we found out is that Jack only gave away the paintings that he felt contained some kind of flaw; the ones that were not good enough to keep.  As a fly-fisherman, Jack tied flies for his use and to share with friends.

I was surprised at the age range of people that attended the celebration of Jack's life. They ranged from men and women in their seventies and eighties through men and women in their twenties and thirties. Each person had the opportunity to share stories about Jack with the entire group, and many did. We were somewhat surprised to hear, repeatedly, that the speaker was drawn into the engineering professions through their association with Jack. We were not so surprised that Jack served as a mentor for many young people entering the profession, but the sheer number surprised us. Many managers and company owners stated that they owed their careers to the mentoring activities of Jack.

All evening I listened to stories about Jack's life; Stories that covered his life from a young grammar school kid through his career as an outstanding engineer and teacher who finally retired just a month before his death, when his body could no longer manage the rigors of a job. I heard stories of how he demanded perfection from everyone, but mostly from himself. I heard stories about his tirelessness on the job. I heard stories about his willingness to share his knowledge with others. I heard stories about his devotion to his profession.

Later I thought about the number of people who stopped by to help celebrate Jack's life. During the evening I never heard a negative story from Jack's friends and coworkers. This alone convinced me that, most likely, Jack was a good man.

While Jack was ill, I began thinking about the contribution that he had made to the world. It occurred to me that each of us have the desire to leave something behind, to make a mark on the world, to do something so that future generations will know that we've been here. Sadly, most of us never have or don’t take advantage of that opportunity. But Jack did. For generations to come the dams and bridges and other massive construction jobs that Jack participated in designed, or built will stand as a testament to his life. Due to his mentoring, generations of engineers will carry his passion for excellence throughout the profession. The artwork that he leaves behind for many to enjoy will be admired for years, maybe even centuries.  When one considers all he did, one must admit that Jack didn't leave just a thumbprint or a palm print but a massive footprint on the earth. The world will know, and not soon forget, that Jack was here.

The most important things that Jack left behind are his two fantastic daughters Maura, who lives in Norway, and Karen, who lives in Seattle. They, and their children, will carry on the very best of what Jack was. To his old friends, he will always be a Chicago Southsider. To his coworkers, he will always be their mentor, their guide, and the engineer each hope to be. To his daughters, he will always be dad.

When one weaves all of the stories into a narrative of his life one is left with the impression that Jack was a good man who strived to be the best that he could be every day of his life.

Rest in peace John M. ”Jack”  Goodrick. You did good!

This is perhaps the most defining picture of Jack in existence.  I can’t decide if he is watching something intently and thinking or if he is preparing to kill someone, or if he is wishing the person with the camera would hurry up before he busts out laughing and spits that cigar across the room.

One last thing.  All of us being from good Irish stock, I was surprised that the evening did not end with a rendition of “Danny Boy.”  So Jack this is from me to you!


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