My father, Olin Volney Hyde, approved this message before he died.
He gave me 2 minutes for his eulogy. I wrote the following letter to him before his death on May 26, 2019.
It’s longer than 2 minutes. So, in death as in life, my father forgives my defiance one last time.
The words on this page, like the chapters in our lives, have gone through many changes.
You wrote letters to me at the big moments of my life. When I was 12, fighting for my life in a hospital bed. At 30, when we danced with the idea of me taking over your business. I’m now the same age as you were when I almost quit college. You wrote a letter that changed how I look at life. Now, I write to you near the end of your life. To tell you how much I love you. How much I will miss you. And most importantly, how you made the world better in more ways than either of us can ever know or understand: Through your industriousness, your charity, your friends, and your family. Your legacy will live on.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
You lived well, made a difference, and yes, you lived a happy life.
I witnessed 53 of your 89 years. I idolize you. You are the example I follow every day. Not for your personal accomplishments, but for what you inspired and nurtured in everyone around you. I often ask, “What would my father do?” I always hear your voice, your infectious laugh. Raising kids, building a life with my wife, trying to do the right thing.
You are a self-made man. We come from common stock. Our ancestors were lumberjacks, farmers, railway workers. You were born the only child to working-class parents on April 12, 1930, in Syracuse, New York. Your father, orphaned at 10, taught you by example. Hardworking, self-educated. Loving.
Your parents showed you how to rise above your birth-station. How to create better lives for generations to come. Imagine what your mother would say if she were here now? Generations to come will live out dreams that you made possible.
You were the first in our family to graduate from college — an engineer. I love the story about when you were 19; you got fired from a summer job in the Forest Service. Rather than go home defeated, you went on an adventure that foreshadowed the enterprising spirit that defines you. You hitchhiked across America. Twice. First to the Pacific and down the California Coast then back again to Syracuse. You arrived less than 12 hours before fall classes started. You told me that “I just went in the general direction I wanted to go.”
Wow. Look where you went: The Navy. A twenty-year marriage to my mother, Carolyn Lime Albert. Fathering Nona and me.
Remember those math games we’d play when I was a little kid? We would see who could solve problems faster; me with a calculator or you just using your head. What’s the cost per square inch of a round pizza? You taught me how to build stuff, to invent: The voltmeter. The winning car for the Boy Scouts’ box car derby.
We both loved competition.
Who was a better marksman? Me.
A better skier? Definitely me.
A more skillful sailor?… Well, that one I will give to you. But only because the wind always changed when I took the helm. Yes, I hear your laughter then as I do now.
You were always the winner because you brought out the best in everyone around you. Especially me. You did it by being selfless.
When the Vietnam war ended, you sponsored refugees to come to America. You gave them jobs so they could build better lives for their children.
When your friends were sick or hurt, you visited them, sometimes for years on end. When my wife and I got married, you never told us that you were fighting lung cancer.
When I was down and out, you helped me put my life back together more times than either of us want to remember. Anything I accomplish in life is because of you.
Now that I’m in my middle years, I really admire how you overcame the hard times in your life. Your grace made everything look easy.
When you found yourself broke, divorced, and working a miserable job with your kids living far away, you did what few 49-year old’s have the grit to do: You bet everything on yourself. You started your first business. It worked.
Entrepreneurship defined your middle years as you shaped my adolescence. You taught me how to work hard, work smart, and, most importantly, pursue big dreams. You said:
“Work is not about the money, it’s about purpose.”
You lived by a stoic set of principles rooted in truth, curiosity, and commitment. And you had a sense of humor about it. Like when I asked you for a raise. You fell out of your chair, laughing.
You were lucky with love. Carolyn Wingate Crouch made you a happy man. She brought Brad, Leslie, and Cameron into our lives. She empowered you, supported your dreams. I remember you telling me about one night when Carolyn was cooking dinner. You pitched her on the idea of betting your house and life’s savings on buying another business. Carolyn so believed in you that she ignored your pitch, looked up over the stove and asked, “peas or carrots?” She made you whole. Carolyn was your soulmate who helped make you strong.
Maybe the hardest part of your life was the death of Carolyn after almost thirty years of marriage. I’d come back to Richmond to find you devastated.
Luckily, you fell in love with Jane Baird. You were a great salesman. Possibly the best thing you ever sold was wooing Jane into marrying an 81-year old man. Well done, Dad!
The past 8 years have been some of your happiest. Jane brought new joy and life to the final chapter of your life with Paul, Betsy, Anne and Todd, and their families and children. Jane says:
“If you don’t make happy memories, you won’t have them.”
As you pass on from this life to the next, know that you’ve made countless happy memories for all of us.
You are going out strong, Dad. Eighty-nine years of a life well lived. An eternity of making a difference. You leave this world better than you found it. I will miss you. I will love you. For as long as I will live.
— Olin M. Hyde