Heart and Soul

Wednesday, July 20, 2005



I took a little vacation from life last week.

I didn’t cook. I didn’t clean. I didn’t grocery shop. I didn’t go to the office. Didn’t answer the phone, check e-mail, or watch TV. I didn’t even work on my newspaper, Internet or radio Heart and Soul columns. In fact, during my entire retreat I only put pen to paper once. And that was to write a eulogy for my Uncle Dave.

For long time Heart and Soul readers, my uncle may be a familiar character, as I have written about him a number of times. For those new to Heart and Soul, Uncle Dave was a man who went to great lengths to stay connected to me and my children after my father (his brother) vanished from our lives. He was also the man who, throughout his life, provided me with a true and valuable role model as a faithful marriage partner, an always-caring parent, and a visionary career person.

In short, he was more father than uncle.

When my cousin first called with the news of her father’s passing I was saddened, but not surprised. It had been 3 years since my uncle’s unreliable memory and questionable health forced the trade of his independent lifestyle for the security of a senior care facility. And though he dreamed of attending his grandchildren’s college graduations and one day dancing at their weddings, when we last spoke he intuitively acknowledged playing out the final innings of his life.

As my family and I headed to Virginia for his memorial service, I thought a lot about my uncle’s place in my life and his role in our family. In review, each memory provided a treasured moment always made better by his caring presence.

Yet upon our arrival in his hometown of Radford, a number of local and regional front-page news stories reminded me that my uncle was a man who made a difference in the lives of many, outside our family.

Uncle Dave was the Radford Recreation and Parks Director for twenty seven years and a part time Radford recreation employee for the twenty years following his 1978 "retirement." During that time, Uncle Dave pushed and pulled the small southern town’s rec program to a level of excellence that made it a recognized and honored statewide prototype.

He also diligently hammered away for a number of years at naysayers and non supporters of his dream to create a town park. His vision included playgrounds, picnic shelters, bike and jogging paths and a swimming pool, all set alongside the New River floodlands in downtown Radford. When my determined uncle ultimately won his park battle, he was rewarded for his civic vision by Radford town fathers as they officially named the land, B. David Bisset Park, in his honor.

Considering my uncle’s prominent role in the community, I expected his memorial service to be filled to overflowing with men, women, and young adults whose lives were touched and influenced by this wonderful man’s caring ways. However, as it turned out, only several dozen residents attended.

I was somewhat puzzled and a little frustrated that the people of Radford didn’t make a greater effort to recognize this man who had given more than half of his 86 years to their community. But then I began to recall the previous day, before my uncle’s memorial service, when our family set off on our own pilgrimage to Bisset Park.

As we turned onto the park’s entranceway, we were immediately halted by a long line of cars waiting to gain entry into the recreational grounds. As we slowly made our way into the park, we were surrounded by men, women and children of all ages, walking, biking, jogging, boating, playing on the slides and swings, picnicking under the protective shelters---fully enjoying every element of the park, just as my Uncle Dave envisioned. Ultimately, I realized that by enjoying Bisset Park, the people of Radford were paying their own form of tribute to this special man, not just for a few hours at his memorial service, but every single day, 365 days a year.

And I also came to the undeniable conclusion that, knowing my uncle, their homage was exactly what he would have wanted and most enjoyed.


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