Today would have been my father-in-law’s 91st birthday

Joseph A. Dickerson, Jr. died in May 2006 at the age of 86. Today would have been his 91st birthday. My wife, Frankie, still misses him, as she misses her mother, Peggy, who passed away in January 2010. At 5:30 pm today at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Waco, Mass will be said for the repose of Joe’s soul. What follows is the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service:

I would like to now say a few words about my father-in-law, Joseph Alexander Dickerson, Jr. He lived an extraordinary life. He spent the early days of his youth in Casper, Wyoming, where he was born on March 22, 1920.  But it was in the great American southwest, initially central Arizona, in which he would make his mark and meet his bride, Peggy Gardenheir, to which he remained wedded for over 62 years.   His education at the University of Arizona, at which he was studying engineering, was interrupted by his nation’s call to service in the Second World War. He served with distinction as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, which would later become the U.S. Air Force.  He taught ROTC at both Fordham University in New York City and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Between 1947 and 1956 he and Peggy became parents to four beautiful daughters: Coween Ann, Tami Jo, Frankie Rozelle, and Jo Alexis.

Retiring at the rank of major in 1962, Joe returned to the University of Arizona on the GI Bill, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

In 1965 he moved to Las Vegas to take a position as an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service. During his tenure at the IRS he taught accounting part-time at Clark County Community College.  After retiring from the IRS in 1978, he went into private practice.  Although he continued to play golf several times a month, retirement offered Joe an opportunity to revisit an old love, piloting single and twin-engine airplanes.  In his fifties, he even took up alpine skiing, an activity in which he participated with his children and grandchildren.

Between 1969 and 2004, Joe and Peggy became grandparents to Jennifer, Carie, Treva, Jordan, Tyler, Alexander, and Gabriel; and great-grandparents to Finnegan and Mona Belle.  Joe loved them all.  I will never forget how his face lit up when he was told that any one of them was coming by for a visit.  Even in his twilight years, when his body was weak, he always seemed to muster the strength to embrace, or play with, the most recent additions to his progeny.  Forever embedded in my mind will be the picture of this loving man, gazing with deep affection into the happy faces of these children, as if he were peering into their souls and being well pleased with the treasure he uncovered.

Joe was a devoted husband, loving father, loyal brother, and good friend.  He had the inner strength and uncommon wisdom possessed by many of his generation that survived the depression and World War II.  He was strong without being overbearing; he was affectionate without being syrupy; he was courageous without being headstrong; he was a wise man not a wise guy; and he was trusting without being an easy mark. He had what I call deliberate grace, an uncanny combination of humility, confidence, timing, and wisdom.

I was the recipient of this deliberate grace on more than one occasion.  I remember, for instance, the evening of July 11, 1987, the day I married his daughter Frankie.  That evening, towards the end of the reception, which was held at the top floor of what was once the Dunes Hotel, Joe took me aside and said to me, “Frank, I am only going to give you one piece of advice, and do not ever forget it: You cannot tell Frankie, your wife, that she is ever wrong, ever. Even if she is wrong, you can’t tell her. That’s the way she is. They’re all like that.  If you remember that, you’ll be fine.”  My father-in-law, the man who helped western Allied powers defeat the Nazis in the Second World War, indeed had a keen eye for what was possible and what was not.

When I visited him for the last time, on the evening of May 6, he squeezed my hand as I said goodbye. I felt that the circle was now complete. Even though I did not always follow his advice, to which his daughter Frankie would be more than happy to testify, he knew that I understood that she, like his wife and all his daughters and his grandchildren, are truly worth the effort.  He put his trust in me, again, as he did on July 11, 1987.  Joe, I will not let you down.

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.

(photo is of Joe and his family from June 1986)


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