My father-in-law, Dr. Louis Warshaw, died on Sunday, December 12, 2011. Lou was an exceptionally good man who worked hard, traveled the world and was very giving to his family and friends. Not many people knew that Lou was my chief proof reader for the magazine articles I’ve written for ALIVE the past couple of years. He didn’t always relate to the topic or get the humor, but he took his assignment very seriously and I deeply respected his detailed comments. Lou had an admirable work ethic and was a person of great integrity. He made me a better writer and a better man.
Lou was the son of Polish immigrants who came to the United States in the late 1920s. He was the fifth of six children and the first born on American soil. Lou was not much of a student growing up, but he found his place once he enlisted in the United States Navy. The navy provided Lou with training and an education which gave him a newfound academic confidence. He graduated first in his boot camp class and second in a much larger class of navy Radiomen. After four years in the military, Lou was honorably discharged and he relocated to the East Bay after visiting his sister who lived in Alameda. He used his G.I. Bill to enroll in college, first attending Oakland City College before transferring to U.C. Berkeley. He entered the school’s newly opened Optometry department eventually graduating with honors in 1961. Lou went on to become the first optometrist to receive his Masters Degree in Public Health. During this time, Lou and his wife had a daughter – Julie. Sadly the marriage didn’t work out and in 1967 Lou accepted an academic position at Ohio State University as Director of Clinical Laboratories. Sometime in the early 1970s, Lou made his way back to suburban Detroit, where his parents lived and he began private practice. Over the years, Lou became a member of the Michigan State Optometry Board, and he was instrumental starting the School of Optometry at Ferris State University. He eventually became Chief Optometrist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan. Lou’s research papers and contributions to the optometry profession earned him many state and national awards. Below is the eulogy that I gave at his funeral.
December 19th, 2011. It has been said that before a person dies their life passes before their eyes. I believe that after a person dies those closest to him have flashes of special memories and cherished moments spent with that person. The following are my flashes of times spent with Lou.
FLASH. I first met Lou in the summer of 1992 when, even though I already had the job of Julie’s boyfriend, I still needed management approval. You see, even as an adult, I was a little nervous going into my interview knowing that Julie was Lou’s only child and that I was the third consecutive Mike to hold this position. Lou was in town specifically to spend a few days with his daughter. Fortunately, during our three hour Q and A session over dinner, Lou was charming, inquisitive, gracious and engaging. Now I don’t like to brag, but I had met a lot of girls parents in my day, Lou struck me as someone who I might one day be able to consider a friend in addition to being the father of my future wife.
FLASH. The day Julie and I got engaged. Even though it had taken her four months to tell her father that we were living together, he was the first call she made to announce our engagement. Lou was thrilled or at least said he was thrilled.
FLASH. Leading up to our wedding day, my mother was terminally ill. The cancer had progressed so rapidly that we didn’t know if she would make it so see us get married. My father, also a Navy man, had passed away some years earlier and Lou had not yet met my mother, but it was very important to him that he get to know my parents. A couple of weeks prior to our wedding day, Lou called and talked with her for about an hour and a half while she was receiving chemotherapy in the hospital. That meant the world to my mom. On our wedding day, Lou worked the room like a politician. Now most of our friends and family couldn’t tell you what we served for dinner or what our first song was, but they all said how nice it was to meet Julie’s dad. He had that kind of effect on people.
FLASH. The day our first child was born, a little over fourteen years ago. Lou and I hugged and shared tears of joy as I told him that he had a grandson. It seems that I had mistaken the umbilical cord for something else and run out of the room before the doctor could set me straight. Lou was equally thrilled to know that he had a granddaughter (Hannah). He was moved to tears again twenty-one months later when he was blessed with a second granddaughter (Claire).
FLASH. I have many flashes of Lou’s annual visits when he would come out and stay with us for a week. He insisted we wake him up early so that he could ride with Julie and the girls in the carpool to school. He loved attending not only their sporting events, but even their practices. He read to them, helped with their homework, gave them eye exams, cooked with them, played board games, did puzzles, and read to them. He would even let them do his hair. Lou wore a pronounced sweep hair style and was occasionally mistaken for the actor Bill Macy (he played Bea Arthur’s husband, Walter, in the popular 70’s sitcom Maude). Papa Lou regularly stressed the importance of higher education and how important it was to always try your best. I truly believe his words have had a lasting impression on his granddaughters.
FLASH. In addition to our love for Julie, Hannah and Claire, Lou and I also shared a love for college sports. On the occasion we had to attend a CAL Bears football or basketball game, he would talk a lot about his life during our one-on-one time together. Lou had deep regret that he was not able to be an everyday dad for Julie growing up, but I learned to really respect and admire how he tried so hard to stay connected and make their times together special. Some of Julie’s fondest memories growing up are of road trips with her dad. Lou tried, unsuccessfully, to get sole custody of Julie, but it wasn’t that easy for a single father in the early 1970s. Fortunately, Lou’s frequent calls and visits often bridged the miles.
FLASH. Lou was very generous and he took our family on wonderful trips to Disneyland, Niagara Falls and a Caribbean cruise. Even though Lou had “been there and done that” I truly believed he liked seeing these places through the eyes of his grandchildren and the road trips we took reminded him of the adventures he and Julie had gone on when she was a child.
FLASH: Lou was a master turkey carver. He would take apart that bird like a skilled surgeon. At home in Michigan he would often spend a holiday such as Christmas or Thanksgiving going to the homes of his friends carving their turkeys. Lou also loved reading, watching old war movies and spending time at his home on Sylvan Lake.
If impression is the greatest form of flattery, I ask you to indulge me as I do my impression of Lou calling our house on a Sunday morning. He was always our first call every Sunday and holiday. I’m certain that 9:30 or 10:00 in Michigan seemed like an appropriate time to call, however in California if was three hours earlier. (For my ALIVE readers, it is important that you read Lou’s part with an elderly Jewish man’s voiceover utilizing a Michigan (Lower East Peninsula) accent.
Mike: Hi Lou. He always got a chuckle when I knew it was him calling.
Lou: Michael, What’s happening?
Mike: Not much Lou, it’s just a quiet Sunday morning. Lou first liked to give me a weather report.
Lou: It’s cold and gray here today. The lake is frozen, we’re expecting sleet and the wind chill makes it a negative 130 degrees. Lou always exaggerated the weather. It probably wasn’t any colder than -120. How is it in California?
Mike: Well its blue skis here and in the low 60s. You should move here.
Lou: Maybe one day. But we knew he never would. Next, he loved to tease me about my sports teams. What happened to your Warriors (or Giants or 49ers)?
Mike: They lost a close one, but we’ll win the next one.
Lou: Our teams (Lions, Pistons and Tigers) aren’t any better. What are my granddaughters doing today?
Mike: Claire has a soccer game, Hannah’s riding her horse and they have homework to do. Later we’re having some friends over for dinner.
Lou: You keep them too busy. They need some down time to just play like kids. Where is my daughter?
Mike: Well Lou she’s still sleeping its only 6:30 here. He would then get all flustered because he realized he had called way too early.
Lou: Have her call me later. Good-bye Michael.
Mike: Good-bye Lou.
Lou is already missed. Fortunately, the flashes of cherished memories and special times spent together will stay with us forever.