In Memory of R.B. Helmey

My name is Tyler Thigpen, and I am one of Pop’s (that is, RB’s) grandsons. Mom (that is, Nita) has given me permission to share a few family reflections about Pop under two conditions: that I what I say be #1 brief, and #2 not mushy. Pop, also, wanted it this way. To anything mushy, Pop would have most likely said, “Ahh, Fooey!” I have fully embraced Mom’s directive, and so I will gladly…get on with it.

Some advocate that labeling a person is usually unhelpful. More specifically, the use of nouns and adjectives to describe a person is often insufficient because people are more complex than a label suggests. And Pop certainly transcends any one label. But when, literally, the overwhelming majority of nouns and adjectives that you can think of to describe someone are positive, admirable…even heroic, then…well, perhaps that calls for mentioning them.

There is no denying, for example, that Pop was, what might be called, “the Giver of all nicknames.” Lollie, Tye, Joanie, Ran, Darlin’, Son, Honey... He liked to call my son “the Wizard.” Even for his own name, Randall rarely sufficed. But of all the nicknames he championed, no doubt the most southern, and the least creative, was Duff. Yet because Pop himself was the Giver, when spoken by others, with the sole exception of Mom, none of these nicknames carries the same meaning or sweetness.

Pop was also an avid sportsman. A devout hunter and fisherman. A huge baseball fan, especially of the Braves. Not just a water-skier, but a water-ski instructor. The captain of his own boat even. A scratch golfer…well, maybe an aspiring scratch golfer. And, quite the adventurous snow ski-er. There is a story that runs in our family of Pop at Winter Park, Colorado, straying from the smooth, straightforward path of a simple ski run, and instead boldly dashing into the woods…where he ran into a tree. As I understand it, for I wasn’t there, he was looking backwards…not forward…backwards…concerned, not surprisingly, about the safety of another of our family members.

As a young man, Pop was an ambitious dial-telephone installer, later a supervisor, and, later still, a successful plant manager. He was a truly remarkable boss. And how could a grandson know this, except that on more than one occasion did I meet people who once worked for Pop. And each of them intentionally pulled me aside to tell me, “I want to tell you that your grandfather is a good man, the best I have ever worked for, and one of the best I have ever met.”

Pop was a most able gardener. A piece of bread with mayonnaise, and one of Mom and Pop’s homegrown tomatoes still has never tasted better.

Furthermore, Pop was a guitarrista, a shrewd business person, and a Lewis Grizzard fan. Pop himself was an updated and opinionated political commentator, who could have filled his own weekly column had he been graced with the gift of writing. But Pop had more the gift of gab, and was a friend to every stranger he met.

For sure, one thing extremely important to Pop, was that he was a patriot. In fact, a distinguished army veteran who garnered throughout his service no fewer than 5 awards, including the Phillipine liberation award, the WW II victory award, the Meritorious Unit Award, the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Award with two bronze stars, and the Good Conduct medal.

Pop was a preserver of family tradition. A benevolent head of his household. A caring uncle. A cherished brother. A wise, goofy, and generous grandfather, and a kind and funny great-grandfather, who saw the birth of 7 great grandchildren in the short span of 2 years and 8 months. A dearly loved father, absolutely adored by his children and their spouses. A beloved husband, partner, and best friend.

And in part because Pop descends from a long line of people who were willing to leave everything they had to practice their faith, including a young man from Salzburg called Nikolas Helmey, Pop too was a follower of Christ, a humble disciple who feared and followed God.

On behalf of the family, to Pastor Hardy I want to express our deepest gratitude for the care, the words, the words, and the prayers with which you have encouraged us…not just during this time, but since we have known you.

And on behalf of the family, I also want to say to Mom…in the most non-mushy way that I can…We love you, we support you, we think you’re amazing, and we’re with you.

Pop, you made us laugh. You made us better. You wrote the book on caring for one’s family. And…I believe…that you made us ready to live well when you were gone.

May we carry on the legacy of this man.

And so as to end on a non-mushy note, I have only this left to say…Ahh, Fooey!

1 comment:

Nathan said...

this was beautiful. all family members should honored in this way. thank you.