Friday, February 10, 2006

My Father by Mary Sigmond

St. Andrew's Church, Kent, Connecticut
19 November 2005

I'm Bill and Ruth's daughter Mary Sigmond.

My father has always been a huge presence in my life. When I was a child, he seemed larger-than-life, and it was clear that everyone in the family adored him. I was particularly impressed with how much he knew about everything and how good he was at doing so many things. Although as I grew older, he seemed less of a superman, I remained impressed with the range and intensity of his interests - especially those connected with music - and his endearing if sometimes obsessive pursuit of them. Surely there was never anyone who took on NY Times crossword puzzles or searched record stores for CDs with Penguin Guide rosettes more assiduously than he! Such things we will remember often and fondly about my dad, but of course they were only little parts of the whole.

For all my father's intellectual gifts and his accomplishments as a husband, father, teacher and so on, one thing has always stood out to me as the most remarkable thing about him - and that was his incredible generosity of spirit. Bill John, as the saying goes, was the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back - never mind that that shirt might come with a few stains on the front. As well-read, culturally-minded and intellectually curious as he was, he was also completely unpretentious, down-to-earth and approachable. My father could carry on a friendly conversation with just about anybody on just about any topic - and he frequently did just that. As my mother says, if he didn't know about something, he'd pick your brain until he did.

My father wasn't perfect - no one is - but I do believe he was about as fine a human being as you could ever meet. I never knew him to say or do anything deliberately unkind. Never. As unlikely as it sounds, I don't even recall ever hearing him and my mother have harsh words, and certainly nothing anyone could call a fight. But then, theirs was the love story of two very remarkable people, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Over the years I have both marvelled and shaken my head at the way Dad was willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if it meant he might be taken advantage of. Sometimes that happened too - but even then, I never knew him to bear a grudge. The bigger picture was more important. My father had the remarkable gift of being able to let go of the big and little things in life that eat away at so many of us. I suspect it was partly by nature he was an optimist and always looked for the best in people, but I believe it was also by conscious choice because it brought out the best in himself. It was also one of the many ways he tried to live his Christian faith, a faith which remained central to his life, even as he was slipping away from us these last few months.

There are many wonderful things to say and remember about Samuel William John, but his generosity of spirit was, I believe, the most remarkable and enduring of them all. How grateful I will always be that I could visit him just two weeks before he died, and tell him one more time that I loved him and how proud I was to be his daughter.

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