Dr. Carlos Henrique José Antonio Rogelio Miguel Rafael Vernón de Coates
Antonio Miguel Rafael Vernón
March 14, 2003
When I first heard word of my dad's passing it did not register immediately. However, after a night where I did not fall asleep until the sun rose, things became very emotional as reality set in. Fortunately, my Uncle Charles reminded me that I should be grateful for the memories that I do have. He made me realize that my dad was now in a far better place and that I should move on, respectfully.
When I first thought about a eulogy, I did three things. I looked up eulogy on the internet. I found that there is a very good business selling semi-professional eulogies on the web. (It seems the market clears at about $29.99). Since my father was a man who lived below his means and rarely paid for things he could do himself my next act was to seek the advice of internet friends on the discussion boards of the Motley Fool. We participants on this board call ourselves fools. Several fools sent helpful advice and support. Since my dad is my hero the third thing I did was look up the word hero in the dictionary. We will get back to the results of that search in a little while.
A fool whose family has a flower business reminded me of the meaning of a eulogy:
Excerpts from the Merriam-Websters Dictionary are as follows:
Etymology: from Greek eulogia praise,
1 : a commendatory formal statement or set oration
2 : high praise
And the from the MW Thesaurus: Related Word adulation, glorification
I was unsure about my role here before you but this reminder eased my thoughts because I quickly realized how easily I could make a commendatory formal statement of high praise, adulation and glorification of my father. Please view this as a tribute to the life that was lived and the fondness and memories left behind.
Quite simply, my dad was a man who preached discipline and hard work. He also lived by the values of economy and never spent a foolish dollar. He was not interested in the latest fashions from Milan or the latest electronics from Tokyo. He would rather purchase something made in "Panga Panga" (wherever that is) if it was a dollar cheaper and could perform the same function. He did not care who made something as long as it was made well and had a good warranty behind it. If it had a rebate, that was even better. I should also mention his skill at maximizing introductory offers. Some of you may remember the old Buffalo Savings Bank. We were regular customers at the Sheridan-Harlem branch. I liked to go with dad to the bank on Fridays in part because of our favorite tall and slender teller. We would always wait for her and she would always save us the $2 bills. Sometimes, he would buy some rolls of pennies so that I could search for "Wheat Pennies" for our collection. One time a branch a little further down Sheridan Road opened up. For new passbook accounts they were offering tennis racquets among other things, limit two per customer. As a family of four we walked out with several new passbooks and equipped to start our own tennis team.
In his prime, my dad was an elite world class athlete. I had the distinct pleasure of running regaled in a t-shirt that simply read "Carlos' Team" one summer in the Amateur Athletic Union Developmental League. I had a wonderful time having the fastest dad in Western New York. Although he took the most pride in the 100 meters I enjoyed the 200 and 400 because I could run around the infield screaming "Go Dad" as he beat all his competitors. If any of you has run track with my dad or played racquetball with him you know him as a cunning competitor. When I lived in New York and St. Louis we had quite a rivalry. Whenever I visited Buffalo, I had to take my lumps against him in racquetball, but when he visited me, I was generally able uphold my honor in a game of squash. . . barely. My dad use to tell stories every night at the family dinner table. My dad once ran a 10.2 second 100 meters when the world record was 10.1. The family dinner table lore has it that he was once scheduled to race against Bob Hayes, the first man to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters. Bob Hayes became sick and was unable to race. One could infer that the thought of racing my dad made Bob Hayes sick or that he was simply not up for the challenge at that stage of his career. No one knows for sure who would have won that race, but I would like to believe that I know and that the late great Bob Hayes also knows. I am sure they will be scheduled to race very soon now that they are in the same league again.
Two of the stories my dad told go together well: All three of the Vernón brothers were told by their mother if they wanted to go to the U.S. they would have to take up a sport and earn a scholarship. Egbert, the oldest took up baseball. Frank, the next oldest, took up swimming. My dad ran track. Each made it to the U.S. Unfortunately, Frank and Egbert both left college for jobs. My dad spent his summer with them in NYC after his freshman year. As Labor Day approached, the brothers asked Carlos why they heard no plans of his return to school. He said he had decided he wanted to stay with them. Frank and Egbert could never agree on anything and they went into a separate room to argue about what to do. They returned and Frank explained that he and Egbert AGREED! Neither of them would tell their mother that her last son had dropped out of college. They handed my dad enough money for his bus ride back to New Orleans and told him he could get off the bus whenever he wanted, but don't ever call either of them if he decided not to return to college. My dad went on to receive four degrees.
My dad enjoyed his clock collection with regular post dinner naps watching the fireplace and listening to the chiming as he lay under his clocks which decorated the mantel.
He was very mechanical, as he described it, he was a "Jackleggo", which is a term only he knew the meaning of, but we all understood to be point of pride. I fondly remember the bunk bed he built for me. He also loved engines. I recall storied trips to Watkins Glen more to enjoy viewing and talking engines in Pit Row with "Pit Passes" than to see the races. Alas, his mechanical skills were not heritable.
Because he grew up without snow, whenever it snowed (in Buffalo this was often) my dad was in a playland. He got out the snowblower and cleared our driveway. Because he enjoyed the opportunity to toy with his big power tool in the snow he continued by clearing a sidewalk path to next-door and the neighbors' (The Floss Family) driveway. This left the division of labor clear. I had to cut the grass in the summers and he cleared the snow in the driveway in the winters. I had to rake the leaves and he cut the wood that was usually scavenged from a nearby excavation for the fireplace.
My dad loved computers. Many of you were probably at one time his customers. One of the highest priorities in my dad's life is education. My dad felt my education was too important for me to disrupt my academic career to come visit him. I am in the last year of coursework for my Ph.D. in Finance at the University of Chicago. As his time drew to a close, he preferred that I continue to keep up with my courses. In fact, he forbade me to visit him because it would interrupt my schooling during the semester. I had to order a laptop computer so that my school work was portable. This was the fourth computer that I have owned and the first that did not come from his business.
His inspiration, which essentially comes down to his two motivating catch phrases "DIG DOWN DEEP!" and "GIVE IT/ME EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT!" help turn me into a modestly legendary athlete myself. Sometimes, when I am preparing for what I know will be a tough set I hear my dad saying "Tony, you have got to concentrate!"
My dad and I use to talk on Sunday nights. I will miss his general knowledge. If I ever needed to know anything Dad very likely knew the answer.
He overcame the prejudice of the 50's and 60's to achieve four degrees. His struggles to overcome remind me of two stories. First, I recall how much he enjoyed travelling to visit me when I lived in NYC via Amtrak. In the sixties he use to ride the trains in the segregated south, but had to pack a shoebox with food since dining cars were off limits to blacks. He always picked departures with a dining car so that he could truly enjoy his liberty along the ride. I also remember him scolding me profusely for not voting. He reminded me of his efforts to help secure enfranchisement. Although I may miss some smaller primaries, I never miss a presidential election.
Second, I recall his struggles for my rights. I recall that in junior high school, there was some disbelief that I had actually scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests. They decided to put me in remedial classes, test scores notwithstanding. When my dad got wind of this he stormed the principal's office. The principal asked my dad what he did for a living. My dad replied that "It does not matter whether I am a doctor or work for the sanitation department." The end result was that I was tracked for honors and advanced placement classes thereafter. This was a turning point in my life for which I will always be grateful.
One of the last things I told my dad was that I am very proud to have had the parents that I have. I hope that someday I may be able to capture the fancy of a beautiful, intelligent counterpart who can help me raise a family I am proud of, like he my dad did.
I conclude by returning to the dictionary for the definition of hero:
1 a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b : an illustrious warrior c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities d : one that shows great courage
Although my dad's life was claimed by adenocarcinoma, his spirit was not. Many friends and family members will miss my dad for different reasons. As a lifelong member of "Carlos' Team", I will always remember him as my hero. I can only pray to God for the fortitude to overcome this loss and to protect my dad's soul.