Eulogy of Harry H. Moseley: Reflections on a Life Well Lived

St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Milwaukee WI

7/31/2021

By Bill Moseley

Good morning. My name is Bill Moseley and I am Harry’s eldest son. My Mom, brother James, our families and I are grateful for your presence here today and for the time you took away from your busy summer schedules to celebrate Dad’s life. It means a lot to us.

It is a strange thing to celebrate someone’s life over a year after their death. The immediate pain of their passing has somewhat subsided and you’ve had time to reflect on their legacy. You all knew our Dad in different ways, as a colleague, parishioner, oarsmen, non-profit volunteer, uncle, in-law, cousin, friend, collaborator or other.  There will be time at the lunch following this service for others to reflect on Dad’s life and we look forward to hearing from you then. My modest goal now is to share what it was like to have Harry as a father and a close family member. Dad had 81 years on this planet and I think it is safe to say that he lived a good life. But what does it mean to live a good life and what can we learn from someone who lived in this way? The more I thought about Dad’s life, three themes emerged: resilience, love of life, and commitment to family, which I would like to reflect on in turn.

Resilience

Living a good life does not necessarily mean living a perfect life or an easy one. Dad was extremely lucky in many ways, but I have more recently grown to appreciate the way he dealt with and bounced back from hardships. Losing his father in college, having his university rowing team not qualify for the Olympics, not making partner with Price Waterhouse, being let go by Caremark in his 50s, and then let go again a few years later by a start-up firm in Indiana. These all had to have been challenging moments. Following these losses of employment at an age when many are summarily discarded by corporate America, I saw him maintain his integrity and sense of self-worth and work tirelessly to identify what would be next for him. Each time he approached finding a job as a job in and of itself, literally going to the employment center every day until he found another position. I am sure some of this drive was about a commitment to support his family, but I think he was also adamant about being in the game and making a contribution. Let me make two brief comments about his resilience in these instances. The first is that these moments of loss or rejection didn’t seem to own him, although I am sure it was very challenging. Sure, he would talk about it with us, but you always had the sense that the family was most important and this other problem was secondary. We were going to be okay. Second, these experiences led Dad to have deep compassion for others who had lost their jobs. Dad was always happy to meet with anyone, anyone who had lost their job and I know he met with and supported countless individuals in this situation.

Love of Life

Dad loved life or, as the French would say, he had joie de vivre. In fact, Dad was so enthusiastic that he more or less only knew how to operate in 4th or 5th gear, pushing right up until the end. This, of course, may explain why he racked up a few speeding tickets in his life and was quite fond of that gadget known as the fuz buster. Good food and fine wine were part of this joie de vivre, but it extended to so many other areas of his life, his competitive nature in sports, his love of the outdoors, and his passion for social justice and politics.

Dad was always competitive, especially when it came to athletic endeavors and games. For example, Dad was an aggressive poker player. While I would hang back and make small bets until I knew I had a good hand, Dad was always pushing and betting more chips. I can only imagine what it was like to row against him. There is a metaphor here, because Dad was ‘all in’ on life in the same way he was ‘all in’ on poker.

Like any good poker player, Dad did not shy away from calculated risks. He and Mom moved the family to Belgium from 1985 to 1987 in a job option with Baxter Travenol. This was an amazing and transformative experience for both he and the family. While I was away at college by then, I know this greatly expanded their world view and led to some important new opportunities for my brother. Although this move likely cost him some advancement options at work, I don’t think he ever once questioned that it was well worth the risk.

As native Clevelanders, and long-time Chicagoans, Dad and Mom embraced another adventure when they moved to Milwaukee. One of the really nice things that happened after they relocated here in 1997 was that Dad had more time and opportunity to explore his interests. My brother and I were out of the house by then and he really enjoyed working at Aurora Healthcare. His proximity to the Milwaukee River allowed him to embrace his passion for rowing again, something he had set aside for nearly 40 years. Here my parents also found a welcoming parish in St Mark’s Episcopal Church, and rewarding social justice work with Common Ground, the Gathering and numerous political campaigns. Thank you Milwaukee for being so good to my parents the last 23 years of Dad’s life.

Commitment to family

Dad was also always very committed to family, so it is not too surprising to me that many of his passions, such as rowing and politics, were put on hold when my brother and I were younger and living at home. He was all one could have asked for in a father and he dearly loved our Mom, his daughters-in-law and grandchildren.

One of the things Dad and Mom were really good at was recognizing and nurturing different skills and talents in my brother and I. My brother James and I are quite different. Parents obviously pass on distinct traits to their children, some of these are learned, while others are innate. We like to joke in our family that my brother James got all of the skills. He is the engineer, following in the footsteps of practically all other males in our family. He is good at fixing things, from cars, to computers, to work around the house. In fact, I sometimes tell my wife that she married the wrong brother. As my brother struggled in school as a young kid, it’s my Dad who really recognized that James enjoyed all things mechanical. Allowing my brother to acquire old computers and machines, take them apart, and then reassemble them in different ways in the basement over months was a brilliant way to bolster his confidence and boost his talents as a budding engineer.

Of course my Dad tried to do the same with me, having me work on various house projects throughout my 18 years at home, but it just didn’t stick. While I don’t have inherited engineering skills, what I do attribute to my Dad are my passion for physical activity, my desire to explore places near and far, and my love of maps. I am a geography professor, the only academic in a family where the men were engineers. At one point I remember Dad noting that this was kind of remarkable, a very different path than anyone else in the family – and it was said in the most positive, loving and supportive of ways.

Dad’s love of nature and time with family are exemplified by a couple of stories. When we were in grade school, Dad used to take us on Sunday afternoon adventures. In those days, Dad travelled a lot for work during the week, so Mom always had a well-earned Sunday afternoon off.  One of our favorite getaways was the land surrounding the College of DuPage, near Glen Ellen, Illinois where we lived from 1968 to 1976. Here there was a lake and a wetland we called “the Swamp.” We spent hours there with Dad, collecting fish, tadpoles and frogs that we brought back home to nurture in a backyard aquarium. We also constructed makeshift watercraft that we used to skirt across the swamp, exploring every nook and cranny of the shoreline. Here we learned to revel in the wonder of the natural world side by side with our father.

In the summer of 2010, Dad and Mom took our kids on a memorable summer adventure, via train, to Glacier National Park and then on to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. During the trip, our Dad and our Uncle Bill (who joined them along the way) taught our then 10 year old son Ben how to play poker, a game that would become a regular feature among some of us at family gatherings, including the many camping trips that Dad would accompany the kids and I on in his later years.

Last but not least, I mention the family cabin in LaValle, WI which I know some in the church men’s group here have visited. In 1991, my parents built a cabin there. Actually my brother James managed the whole project and did much of the electrical work himself. In the ensuing 30 years, Dad and Mom cherished the cabin as space for family get-togethers, including the fourth of our seven epic Moseley family reunions. It was a place to frolic in the lake, ski in the woods, hike with a family dog in the hills, and enjoy the many fruits of the land, from raspberries, to cheese, to corn and beer. With its huge fireplace, magical couch for napping, and large common area, it exuded the spirit of Harry Moseley.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by sharing how I find Dad’s voice lingers with me. In the middle of my college years, I remember lamenting to Dad one summer that I was sad that I had never met either of my grandfathers, men who had both died in their 50s before I was born. At the time, he suggested that people might live on in this world in invisible ways and, that while I had never consciously met my grandfathers, he suggested that their habits and modes of thinking were likely passed on to me by other living relatives. My grandfathers were here he hinted, but I just didn’t realize it.

In the months since Dad’s passing, I often think of him when I am out on long bike rides or cross-country skiing in the woods during the Minnesota winter. As I do this, I am sometimes in this extended mental conversation with Dad. Oh, isn’t this bend in the river cool? Dad would have liked this. Or this old neighborhood with its architecture, or this path through the forest… It is as if my sense of wonderment and joy in the world are a shared experience, shared with my immediate family when they are present, but often shared with Dad when I am alone. Dad’s voice of resilience, love of life, and commitment to family lingers on in my mind. He is gone, but still present.

Memorial services create a space for many things to transpire in our hearts and minds: they allow us to mourn, they allow us to celebrate the life of the person who has passed, and they give us a chance to reflect on what is important in our own lives. Thank you Dad for creating such a space today.

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