The Odyssey of Homer

Dad’s Great Ride

(The following is the full text written as a eulogy for my dad’s memorial service on Monday, May 11, 2015 at Asbury United Methodist Church, Durham, NC. For his service, I edited it down and rearranged it for time and to avoid repeating ground wonderfully covered by my brothers, Lin and Page, who spoke before me. This contains what I wanted to say.)

When I think of my dad I think of joy. Joy in the living and doing. Joy in his friendships made and those in the making. Joy in his long love affair with his Martha. Joy in his family and work, the balance between the two, the raising of kids and watching them grow up to have kids of their own. Joy in winning the bid and building the job. Joy in the game of golf, a ball well struck, a fairway hit and a putt holed. Joy in the beginning of the morning and the ending of the day. Joy in worldly travel and arriving back home. 

Joy in me, and joy in you.

Picture 3
Homer’s photo as it appeared in the Durham Herald Sun article for Veterans Day

I have been honoring my dad’s living all of my life. Now it’s time to honor his whole life, because, sadly for us, his life is done.

And boy did he live a good life. Raised in hard times he found the simplest of ways to build a good life.

He started by finding another life very early on with whom to enjoin his. He was 13 and she was 12. Since he and Martha both have lived a good long time, they have shared their lives together longer than most live.

Blessed with an easy style with people, a clear mind, a vision for today and tomorrow, and the wonderful capacity to let the trials of yesterday wash away with a good night’s sleep, Dad was always ready for the new plan for today.

Homer on the Teer Plane
Homer on Teer Company plane

He covered a lot of ground. Eight-four countries. Every state in the U.S. including Alaska before it was a state.

He’s been living on borrowed time since February 19th, 1945 when he first saw Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima at dawn from the deck of his troop carrier before hitting the beach.

He made it off of Iwo alive. It was the worst of many battles that gave him plenty to fear, but he came back home and put himself into his life with a passion knowing that the worst was behind him.

Homer was the epiphany of a self-made man. Just ask Mom…because she made him, her self. He wasn’t an extremely ambitious man for one who achieved so much in his time. He didn’t crave money, glory or the spotlight but he was often in it. It seemed that if something was getting done in Durham, Dad was smack dab in the middle of the doing.

For all of his great qualities and inherent capabilities, it was “Sha,” his pet name for the love of his life, who inspired him to see his own potential.

It was her, his new bride, for whom he fought his way through World War II.

It was Sha who begged him to use the GI Bill he earned through his service and attend N.C. State College instead of returning to his pre-war days as a plumber.

Sha, and their new baby girl, Marti, gave him the incentive and kept him focused on getting his degree.

Oh, he did do it all, make no mistake even if Mom lit the fire underneath him on occasion. Dad brought modern engineering practices to Nello L. Teer Company, accelerating a very good and growing company into a great company. From right here in Durham, Teer built out the US Highway system, dams in Oklahoma and Venezuela, an air base in Israel and roads in Africa.

He dined with heads of states, governors, celebrities, Saudi royalty, West Virginia farmers, Pennsylvania coal miners and African tribesmen. And he was comfortable in each setting.

He trusted his wife, close friends and God to guide him, his creative and spontaneous smarts to generate choices, his ability to decide and move on knowing that most wrong decisions could be course corrected if you’re observant enough to catch the error, and big enough to admit and alter the pathway to success.

When I nursed him over these last few months, as my brothers, sisters and Mom all did, sharing in the effort to help him heal from the infection, I woke up each morning thinking about him. And I’d lie in bed and feel those slow rolling silent tears, tears of sadness, hope and worry, slide down my face and drop to the pillow as I thought about his fight to get better.

Damn, I’ve never met a man with so much courage, courage to fight and survive in the worst of wars, courage to do what he thought was right, for others, and in the best and most difficult of times. Courage to give us all strength as he lost his.

At his weakest moment Homer had more courage than most men on their strongest day.

He knew the difference between God’s Plan and the plans of men – of everyday life. And he believed that a plan made things happen…good things. Progress.

And when folks needed stuff done, Homer was their man.

He didn’t do the work himself, nor did he ever claim it so, but man could he organize and cut through the clutter, focus and harness the power of willing, and sometimes not so willing, people.

He did it for Teer for 38 years starting in 1949.

He did it for the Exchange Club of Durham since 1954,

For the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Durham,

For Asbury Church, its pre-school and annual Christmas Tree Fundraiser,

For Willowhaven and Croasdaile Country Clubs,

And, for Croasdaile Village, his final home.

That strategy helped him focus his way through this life, to live up to his commitments to each of us and the community of Durham. And he relied on it to carry him through his battle for his health when he leaned on others because he could not plan the day by himself. He’d greet each us with, “Top of the morning. Good to see you. It’s a good day. I slept great. How are you? What’s the plan, son? I think it’s time that we made something happen.”

As you can tell, I don’t know how to put a bow on this. I guess that the best way is to end in thanks.

Thanks to the people of Asbury United Methodist Church who gave Dad a spiritual community.

Thanks to NC State College from which he gained an education upon which to build his life.

Thanks to Nello L. Teer Company and family for giving Homer his chance to start and finish his career and passion for building and to provide for his large family of five children.

Thanks to the Exchange Club that gave Dad and so many others the connection and energy to do so much good for Durham,

And the tremendous people living and working at Croasdaile Village who gave him a new home, new friends, and cared so deeply for him during his weakest time.

The amazing doctors, nurses and staff at Duke University Hospital who saved his life for a few more precious months.

The City of Durham for a lifelong home.

And, thank you, to each of you here today, and those who couldn’t come due to circumstance, for your love and appreciation of a man the likes of which don’t appear that often. Homer loved each and every one of you.

You made his day. His life. Every day.

A few weeks ago Mom asked Dad during a late afternoon at the hospital, “If you could wish for something, what would you wish for?” Dad answered, “I don’t deal in wishing.” “What would you change,” Mom asked. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing.”

“Do you miss me?” she whispered. “Honey, I beat this bed to death at night looking for you.”

That about sums it up on this amazing man who I had the honor and privilege to call Dad and you called husband, granddaddy, father, friend, uncle, boss, partner, or neighbor.

Rest in Peace Homer Lindell Riley. You enjoyed a Great Ride, drove most of the way and took us all along for the ride of our lives with you.

And as Homer often summed it up, the rest is history.

Homer, kissing his bride of 70 years, June 2013
Homer, kissing his bride of 70 years, June 2013, at their celebration thrown by their kids and grandkids.