A few dozen people said goodbye to Richard Sterling “Dick” Wilkinson last Saturday at the Chapel of the Phoenix, Arizona Church of the Beatitudes. Some days prior to the service Florence, Dick’s wife of 64 years, asked me if I would like to say a few words, and at the service my remarks followed those of Dick’s daughter Patty. What follows is an approximation of what I said, since I didn’t write out my comments beforehand.
I live near 35th Avenue and Northern. I walked here, though I was offered a ride, just to tell Dick a joke. (I’m hoping his awareness is present.) It’s a knock-knock joke.
Aardvark a thousand miles for one of your smiles.
Dick had a beautiful smile–dazzling, brilliant. And he had a GREAT handshake: firm, connected. It was like completing a circuit.
I only really had one conversation with Dick–but that conversation lasted more than 20 years. Every time I would leave him after we talked, I’d shake his hand and say, “To be continued.” Next time I’d see him we’d pick up where we left off.
We talked about all kinds of things. Dick in particular liked to talk about his days on the farm. One thing that made Dick one in a million is that he was one of very few people who could claim a genuine Cowlick. Dick had to milk a lot of cows, and he was perfect for that job too, patient and gentle as he was. One day one of his grateful clients expressed her appreciation with the application of her tongue to the back of his head.
There’s a song by Steve Goodman, who wrote “City of New Orleans,” written about his father. Karen [Dick’s other daughter] would never let me perform it, or even recite it. She didn’t want to hear anything that would even hint of a world without her father. But there is some overlap between Steve Goodman’s dad and Dick Wilkinson. They both flew over “The Hump” of the Himalayas in World War II, though Steve’s dad was in a C-47 and Dick was in a C-46. They both worked in the automotive industry. But Dick didn’t go for cheap cigars, and he’d rather hear a corny joke than tell one. Still, there is one line in the song that perfectly describes Dick Wilkinson:
“No one ever knew/A More charming creature on this earth/Than My Old Man.”
I’m so grateful to Florence and Patty for making it possible for me to see Dick one more time, earlier this summer. Apparently they showed Dick, who’d been having memory issues, photographs of people, and he went, “No–uh uh–don’t think so . . .” but when my photo came up he said, “Hey–I know THAT guy . . .”
And we had a great visit, a normal visit, though Dick’s hair was a little wild. It reminded me of many years ago: I’d given Dick a book on the collected writings of Bertrand, Lord Russell, because Dick reminded me of him. But never had Dick looked like Bertrand Russell more than the last time I saw him, with his hair that way. “Hey, Dick,” I joked. “it’s Saturday. Relax! Let your hair up!” Dick laughed–he got it!
And when I left him, just like all the other times, we shook hands and I said, “To be continued.” And, you know–I can’t wait till it IS continued.