Samuel Hart: 1922 - 2008

Sam Hart

2008-12-05 22:04:59

I've been terrible at updating lately. My only excuse is that a lot has happened. That's a lame excuse, I know, but there you have it.

First of all, I've been on-again-off-again traveling for the last month or so. We had a family get together with my wife's family in late October. We had Thanksgiving just last week.

In addition to this, my father passed away and I had a funeral to fly to. My father was an incredible guy, and, really, he deserves many posts all dedicated to him. Perhaps someday I'll do it. But today I am too stressed and busy to do it any sort of justice, so I'll just mention some highlights.

Before I begin, I'll point out that I have photographs of the funeral itself as well as a family dinner thing afterwards online here. My camera is quite poor, so the pictures really all came out horribly. I apologize for that, but what are you going to do? Perhaps one of these days I'll invest in a real camera...

My father was 86 when he passed. He had actually been ill for quite some time, although you'd wouldn't have known by looking at him except for the last few months. Really, they broke the mold when they built my dad.

They don't build them like that anymore

My father had around five heart attacks and eight open heart surgeries. I realize these sound like incredible numbers, but I'm not embellishing them for dramatic effect.

When he had his first heart attack, he didn't tell anyone he was having it. Instead, he brushed his teeth and went to bed. He didn't sleep, mind you... I can only imagine what he went through that night. He then got up the next morning, went to work, and had his heart attack there. He did all of this so he could get workman's compensation for my mother and his family.

When I was a child my father worked at FMC in southern Wyoming. I'll be honest, I have no idea what he did there, or even what FMC did there, but I suspect it had something to do with mining. I do know that my father was a superintendent, and that he did something with extremely large pipes.

One day there was a strike at the plant and my father found himself without any subordinates. There was still work to be done, but obviously not enough people to do it. So what did my dad do? Why, he set about doing it by himself. While moving some very large pipe he tore some of the tendons on his rotator cuff in his shoulder.

Once again, he came home, didn't complain about the (presumably searing) pain in his shoulder, and went back to work the next morning where he tore out the tendons on the opposite shoulder. After surgery, the doctor's said he would only have ~8% of his strength back and would likely never be able to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. Of course, he had to prove them wrong, and was still doing strenuous activities well into his 80s (when he was 84 he helped my brother build a patio deck in his backyard).

The next heart attack he had that I can remember (and his first open heart surgery) happened when I was around sixteen years old. I wish I could remember the details of the how and why it happened, but I don't. What I do remember is how he looked in the hospital: he looked like death warmed over. I had been around the dead and the dying before- you don't grow up with elderly parents without seeing a lot of aunts, uncles, and grandparents die- but something about seeing my father after surgery affected me unlike anything else had before or since.

After this heart attack the doctors weren't optimistic about his chances for survival. I distinctly recall one telling us he'd be lucky to live another six months. However, survive he did. He was able to see me grown, go through college, go through two marriages and about a dozen jobs. He lived almost 25 more years above and beyond the six months that the doctor had given him.

Speaking of my marriages, he would have two more heart attacks because of them.

The day of my first wedding with Cassie my parents were living a three hour drive away from where we were getting married. When they started out on the trip to come to the wedding, my father once again knew he was having a heart attack. By now he was in his 70s and no longer had the stamina he had had in his 40s and 50s, so he couldn't make it the entire trip. Instead, he made it about an hour and a half out and had to pull over. Determined not to ruin my wedding, he opted to lay down in the back seat and have my mother drive. Stubborn coot wouldn't tell her he was even having a heart attack!

Of course, my mother figured out what was going on pretty quickly and got him to a hospital. But for my first wedding and honeymoon my father was in the hospital having yet-another triple bypass.

For my second marriage (to my beloved Jessica) I had learned my lesson. Jessica didn't want a big church wedding with all the hassle and annoyances that those bring, so she and I decided to just elope. While we told family we were going to get married, we refused to tell them when (we're stinkers). Within a week of our eloping, my father had another heart attack. After he recovered from that one, I remember him joking with me on the phone that I better make this marriage work because if I were to get married again it would kill him :-)

Long story short, my father was easily the toughest guy I've ever met in my life. I get a kink in my back and I'm laid up for months. But my father was the kind of guy that could shrug off a heart attack.

A restless soul

My father did enough in his life to fill up ten lifetimes. He served a mission in Norway, then stayed on afterwards to tour the country in a musical band (that apparently was quite popular). He skied down Norwegian bobsled runs that were covered in snow, and quite possibly invented snow boarding (crazy guy took a thick water ski and used it when he lent his skis to a friend).

His careers were diverse. He was a plumber/pipefitter, miner, radio DJ, pilot, real estate agent, forest ranger, ran a ranch, insurance salesman, and likely a number of other things I can't recall.

He studied mathematics and wanted to become a mathematician until World War II derailed those plans. During WWII he stayed at home and tended the ranch while his brother served and died in the war (I need to look this up, but it was either the invasion of Iwo Jima or Normandy that my father's brother died in). He actually tried to enlist when he found out his brother had died, but he was rejected because of some health concern.

My father never really retired. I've always felt that was largely my fault (he really couldn't as he was still raising a child well into his late 60s), but I recognize that true retirement probably would have ended his life earlier. He just loved doing things, and had a very hard time sitting still. In Wyoming he worked as a US Forest Ranger up until 85 (when they laid off all the workers and outsourced to a non-governmental agency).

My ex-wfie, Cassie, and I took my parents to Yellowstone when my father was approximately 79 or 80. It was a real blast, and easily one of my favorite memories of my father. He took his US Forest Ranger uniform and wore it in the Yellowstone park. Now, he wasn't a ranger there, of course, but that didn't stop him from pretending he was and making up crazy stories about the sites for anyone willing to stop and listen to him. He had the best sense of humor and loved messing with people. He had this ability to mess with you in a way that didn't offend or upset. It was all very friendly and kind.

Touched many people

Perhaps the one aspect of my father that is the most profound is how many people's lives he touched.

He served as Bishop in Green River, WY for many years, and was responsible for reactivating many people. While he was Bishop there, they actually split the stake several times and make many new wards. I have no doubt that his tireless efforts there were a big reason for this.

Before and after that he did everything within his power to help people. I really can't express properly the kind of good person he was- because any analogy would pale in comparison. I know that sounds corny, but it's true. You just wouldn't be able to find someone else as kind, loving, and charitable.

Perhaps the best way I can express how much he mattered to people is to tell you that his funeral packed the room with several hundred people with several lines of people standing in the back (because there weren't enough chairs) and with people lined up out into the hall. The funeral procession had a stream of cars the likes of which I've never seen- it effectively shut down the town of Green River WY as we drove from the church to the grave-site.

Of course, helping us shut down the town was the police. As I understand it, nearly the entire force was out to guide traffic and pay tribute to my father.

One final political item

I could go on and on about my dad. Hopefully someday I'll have the energy and motivation to properly write about him. But I'd like to close this entry with one small political item.

When I was a child, my father and I didn't see eye to eye on politics. I was a little political nerd (even drawing political cartoons that were featured in the newspaper when I was ten) who always skewed towards liberal democrat. My father, however, was very much a republican in the traditional sense. I remember arguing with him as a kid about Reaganomics, and gloating when the Iran-Iraq contra fiasco was exposed (kind of freaky, I know, I actually got into politics very young).

In his later years, however, he softened quite a bit to my views. He even started leaning my way (I'm sure the Dubya years did more for my case than I ever could have, however). In the months leading up to the most recent election, he told me he was planning on voting for Obama. This thrilled me because we never had voted for the same candidate before- we'd always voted against eachother (of course, since he was in WY, his vote usually counted for more than mine did due to the electoral college's imbalance). I felt very close to him, and was looking forward to sharing a special moment with him.

Now, my father had a lot of problems with his heart... as I've already mentioned. He was given an experimental pacemaker which had a rather exclusive club of owners. At the time he had the pacemaker installed, there were only a few others in the country with this particular pacemaker variant in them. One of those people was Vice President Dick Cheney. My father actually had his pacemaker put in within weeks of Cheney's, and it gave him a kick to tell people that he had the same pacemaker as the VP of our nation.

In spring 2007, both my father's and Cheney's pacemaker batteries started to go. My father's doctors recommended strongly that the batteries be replaced, as they were down to less than 5% charge. However, because this was a peculiar unit, replacing the battery meant replacing the entire pacemaker. Medicare refused to pay for it, saying that 5% was more than sufficient and telling them to come back after the battery had failed entirely. This decision was appealed many times over the next year.

Cheney, on the other hand, had his battery replaced in June 2007. Of course he did... he was the VP. He wasn't forced to deal with Medicare.

One week before my father passed away, they finally got approval and replaced his pacemaker. Obviously, it did little to prevent his death that late in the game.

It is this story of how tragic and sad the final year of my father's life was that is always present in my mind whenever anyone talks about the state of healthcare in the country. Had our healthcare system not been so messed up, I know my father would still be with us today. I know he would have been available to watch the inauguration of our first black president.

Whenever you hear anyone call any of the democrat healthcare plans "socialist" I want you to think of my father, and realize that a so-called "socialist" healthcare plan would have saved his life. Then think of how many lives could be saved in the future if we only had some form of universal healthcare- if people wouldn't be denied healthcare needs because of low-income or lacking private insurance.

Then, I want you to punch the jerk who cried "socialist" in the face. Tell him it's from Sam, by proxy.