A Son's Poignant Eulogy for Jack Webster
This is the text of a eulogy that Colin Webster delivered a week ago at the funeral of his father, well-known Southern Pines resident and man of the world John (Jack) Webster, at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
W.H. Auden helped me find the words I needed when he said:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring him out and let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was our North, our South, our East and West,
Our working week and our Sunday rest,
Our noon, our midnight, our talk and song;
We thought he would last forever: We were wrong.
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
It will take some time before we can comfortably live without him. Every moment this past week he has reminded me of the fun we had together as a close family. How we delighted in his company, what a good life he provided for us and how much we learned from him.
We spent hours together in his workshop making and fixing toys and furniture. I can still smell the sweet smoke of his cigars and hear his favorite Emerald Isle tunes. He helped me build my first car. He was also the best man at my wedding.
Dad really was an extraordinary man -- intelligent, persevering, frugal, very brave, and he had a wicked sense of humor.
From humble beginnings, he excelled in business and rose to the top of corporate America. Company documents on file at Duke University offer a look into a remarkably clear-thinking, practical and insightful 23-year-old when he was first appointed general manager [of an advertising office] in Chile.
In later years, after opening successful companies in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, he earned a true grit award during the long, ruthless, and bloody Argentine and Chilean civil war years of the 1970s.
While his colleagues were getting kidnapped and killed, he managed to navigate the waters between warring parties. When he had to talk to his combative trade unions, he regularly quoted phrases from "El Lider" Juan Peron and others of their leaders. "Really?" they asked, astonished. They didn't know he made most of it up.
He also used his sense of humor to deal with the government intelligence services that followed him around. Because Dad had close relationships with "liberal" media, some of which operated clandestinely, his phones were tapped. Dad was in the advertising business; he needed to talk to the media, particularly those that insisted on speaking freely.
He kept his wiretappers guessing by closing each phone conversation saying, "I was just kidding, Colonel Diaz." It had the poor colonel so rattled that he called on Dad one day to ask him to get serious. With a twinkle in his eye, Dad replied, "I was just kidding, Colonel." They weren't too sure what do about him. He walked a fine line and got us through, even though it took a terrible toll on him and his health.
But rather than hardening him, as it might others, it made him gentler. As with a seasoned artist, his woodworking became more patient and finer, and his newfound passion for orchids filled our world with beautiful flowers.
Most of you here knew that Jack Webster well. At the height of his professional life, he chose to go ahead and make Southern Pines his home and orchids his life. He was a leader in the orchid community, where he converted many to his addiction. He did what he could for this, his community of Southern Pines, for 27 years. He was a good neighbor and a warm and caring friend. We followed him here.
We celebrate his life and wish with a little envy that we could live it like he did. And while we miss him, we don't begrudge him having gone ahead, since this is what he always did for us. We wish him Godspeed and will keep him in our hearts until we reunite and again hear his warm familiar voice saying, "Welcome Home."
Colin Webster, a retired executive with Procter and Gamble and Coty Inc., is now a licensed general contractor. He and his family live in Whispering Pines.
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