Has it actually been twenty-eight years since I last looked into your twinkling blue Irish eyes or had the pleasure of being in your physical presence?
Some of the greatest and most influential individuals who have walked this earth have gone unnoticed save for those fortunate few who were blessed to walk in their steps. You are most definitely one of those special men.
You never acquired that which so many in this world admire, value, seek and equate with success and greatness: power, property and prestige. You saw those items as “fool’s gold” and chose to live a more simple but difficult life – a life of quiet dignity, hard work, good example, perseverance, loving concern, and faith in the Almighty. Although you were not given much material or educational advantages, you excelled in this life because you loved.
You had an insatiable and life long hunger for knowledge but willingly sacrificed your formal education in order to help your large family survive the ordeals of the Great Depression. You spent the rest of your life learning something new every day and relishing the acquisition of knowledge in so many fields. You knew more about so many different subjects than most college-educated individuals I have met. Oh, how you enjoyed listening to and engaging in the political debates over the pressing issues of your time!
You came from a large loving family so it is no surprise that when you married you welcomed seven new lives into this world. You were never a stranger to hard work. Your lack of formal education made it more difficult for you to get the better paying jobs. So you did what you had to do – you worked as many part times jobs as was necessary to supplement the income from your full-time position and to insure that your children would receive the quality formal education you had not.
Your work ethic did not go unrecognized and you were rewarded with a well-paying union position with a utility company. Yet, when you had to chose between doing what was right or going along with your union bosses, you did what only men of integrity do – you did what was right.
You paid a steep price – loss of a well paying job and a return to a lifetime of multiple jobs in order to support your family. Some felt you were foolish for following your conscience and doing what was right. They were wrong. They should have admired your courage and conviction. Mom did. Your children do.
Despite the resulting struggles in your life, you never complained and we never felt deprived. We knew we were loved.
We were too young to remember the death of our two older brothers (one from polio and the other from pneumonia) or to appreciate the life-long pain and anguish you and Mom experienced with such a great loss. Even Mom’s many and prolonged illnesses for more than 30 years was something you accepted - that’s what love requires and what men of integrity do.
Even though you were a man of limited financial means, more than a handful of family members and friends told us at your wake how you had always shared what little you had to help those who had even less.
Though not formally educated, you were filled with a wisdom that comes not from books, a wisdom you freely shared when asked by those in need of direction and encouragement.
Few if any outside the family knew the personal burdens you carried. You loved people. You were a great listener. Everyone who got to know you respected you. You had a great Irish wit and charm about you. You were a skillful and well liked bartender and certainly enjoyed tipping a few with the boys at Cronin & Phelan when you were not tending bar. Your friends and clients there valued the compassion and wisdom that poured forth from your lips more than the liquid which flowed out of bottles and taps. They told me so as did the 25 foot banner they placed on the back wall behind the bar: “May Joe Seagriff rest in peace!”
Thank you for teaching me how to be a man – a man of integrity and of faith.
With love from a grateful and admiring son.