Below is the speech I gave this past weekend at the Celebration of Life event we held for my father, Keith Edwards, who passed away at the beginning of this month. I’m posting this here not out of my own vanity, but because several people were apparently impressed enough by it that they asked me to make a copy available. So, here it is:
Hello. I think everyone here knows me, but for the record I’m Scott, Keith’s son. And before you say it, yes, I know I look a lot like him. I hope everyone enjoyed the slide show. I had to leave a lot of great pictures on the cutting room floor or else it would’ve run far too long.
So anyway, I’m going to read my speech straight from the page rather than try to follow all of the standard public speaking rules because frankly, emotions are already a bit of a roller coaster today and I’ll muck it all up otherwise.
First of all, thank you all for being here for this. It really means a lot to me to know that my dad was loved and will be missed by so many people, and judging from the Facebook responses we’ve seen, there were many more folks who feel the same but were unable to be here today. I will tell you that I really didn’t need people to be here for me, but something in me really needed people to be here for him, and again I thank you all.
It’s common in these kinds of speeches for people to say something about things that they feel they learned from the departed, so I gave it some thought and decided I’d go with that. My dad taught me that white shirts have a magnetic attraction to spaghetti sauce. He taught me that there are things that sometimes always happen and there are things that usually never happen. From Dad I learned that when driving, “whatsa behind me doesa nota matter!” and that you should occasionally really rev that engine to “burn out the gunk.” And probably most importantly, he taught me that the best popcorn in all of Walt Disney World comes from the little popcorn cart just inside the entrance tunnel of Magic Kingdom, all the way to the left near Guest Relations.
Of course I could probably have gone on and on with these kinds of silly, quirky little things, and I’m sure everyone out there could think of some as well. But I stopped there because these aren’t the kinds of things that people really want to hear when you’re giving a speech like this. These things aren’t deep or philosophical, they’re not dramatic or heart-wrenching, and they’re certainly not full of elderly wisdom that opened my eyes to some aspect of the meaning of life.
So I gave it a lot more thought, to try to come up with something better — something more fitting for this celebration of my dad’s life. I thought about it a lot. Through drives to and from work, while mowing the yard, while watching tv shows or football games. I got frustrated because as much as I loved my dad, I couldn’t really think of any of those kinds of things – those deep meaningful things — that I’d learned specifically from him. I felt like maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to him. Maybe I’d missed something important he’d taught me. Maybe I’d let him down, and he’d died disappointed in me.
Now here’s where I’m going to go off on a tangent for a moment to tell a story.
When I was a very little boy we lived near Rochester, New York, and my parents had season tickets to the Buffalo Bills football games. This was back in the old O.J. Simpson days, when O.J. was running for touchdowns and not away from police. Anyway, one time my dad took me to one of the Bills games when I was maybe five or six years old at most. There was a tradition amongst the people who sat in the section of the stadium my parents’ seats were in where any time something went bad for the Bills, the whole section would stand up and shout, “Oooooooooh shit!” and then sit back down. Dad explained this to me along with all of the other football things he needed to explain during that game, and he told me that even though this was a bad word that I was not usually allowed to say, it was OK for me to say it here, with the crowd, at the game, when our team had any bad luck. As you can imagine this was immensely entertaining for a five year old, and I probably had more fun with that part of the game than with the entire rest of the experience. By the end of that game I had decided that I wanted to be a football player when I grew up, playing quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and having my dad and a large group of strangers yell “Oh shit,” whenever anything bad happened to me. I remain an NFL and Buffalo Bills fan, and if you know about football then you can probably guess that means I’ve yelled that phrase a lot over the years.
In the summer of 1977 my dad took me to a drive-in theater (remember those?) because he wanted me to see this movie that had come out that he thought I’d like. I’m pretty sure most of you have heard of it. It was called “Star Wars.” It began like a lot of movies did back then, with music playing while some boring words scrolled up the screen. But then a spaceship flew past shooting lasers back the direction it came from. Then, when the second, much bigger, spaceship began to thunder across the screen I, Scott Edwards, experienced a fundamental change in who I was as a person and who I was going to be forever. I am still a huge Star Wars fanatic, and you can probably tell that I did not become a football player.
About ten years later Dad got me a summer job working in the building where he worked in downtown Chicago. I worked with a couple of other guys in the production center of Heller Financial’s data processing center. Huge reports hundreds of pages long would come off of these gigantic dot matrix printers and we’d have to properly collate them and distribute them to the correct offices and individuals throughout the building. As tedious as that could be, I loved that job. Dressing up in shirt and tie, taking the train downtown, walking the streets of the big city, delivering important information straight to the desks of executives, and even going to lunch sometimes with my dad and his friends all made me feel adult and professional. Since then I have always strived to be professional and to make a difference at work. Oh, and I am still definitely a city guy.
So back now from the tangent to me being unable to think of something profound that Dad has taught me.
I was telling the Star Wars story that I just shared with you to somebody recently when I had an incredible realization – an epiphany, if you will. I had been having trouble thinking of specific examples of important things I’d learned from my dad because it is impossible to describe those things independent of myself. So much of who I am today, standing before you, is a product of things I learned from him, experienced with him, or gained as a result of having him as my father. Before he passed away I made sure I told him that I loved him, but looking back now I’m pretty sure he already knew that. What I should have told him was “Thank you.”
The Edwards men have never been especially expressive of our emotions, but there were a few times over the years where Dad mentioned things to me about how he felt about certain people that I don’t know if he ever said to their faces, and I want to share a couple of those right now.
I know he loved Mom more than anything, and that seeing her smile or laugh always made him smile and laugh as well, even if it was at himself. I am certain that he never for an instant regretted marrying her, even in the midst of huge arguments – or as Dad liked to call them, “loud discussions.” He once told me that what he loved most about doing DJ gigs over all those years was getting to do most of them with Mom.
I know that he was very happy with my choice of a wife, and that he thought of Torie as a daughter he never had. He valued her opinions and felt comfortable sharing private thoughts or concerns with her to see what she thought. I’ve never told anyone else this, including her, but Dad once told me that he thought that Torie was not only good for me, but that she was good for all of us in the Edwards family.
I know that he deeply loved and was proud of both of my kids, Nicolas and Jacqueline. He told me that when he first found out he was going to be a grandfather he wasn’t exactly excited about it. He said he was kind of worried that he wouldn’t know how to be a grandpa or wouldn’t like it very much, but once the twins were born and as they grew older and developed their own personalities, he realized that he loved being Grandpa, or “Grampaw,” as little Jacqueline liked to say. He told me that he was sure they will both make something great of themselves someday no matter what it is they choose to do when they grow up.
If you knew Keith Edwards at all, you know that he was a huge movie buff. He loved movies of all genres and from all eras. He always thought it would be pretty cool to create his own montage sequence made up of his favorite clips from films. He never did get a chance to do that, but I’ve watched a few of them that other people have made and posted online, and I found one in particular, and although it doesn’t specifically contain clips from all his favorite films or all his favorite quotes, it really makes me think of Dad, both in the images and the words. I’d like to share that clip with you right now, if you don’t mind.
I hope something about that little video made you think of Dad as well.
Whether working in data processing at Xerox and Heller or at Disney World on the Great Movie Ride and in Transportation; whether in bowling leagues, fantasy football leagues, or DJ’ing people’s weddings, my Dad made not just acquaintances but friends wherever he went. He loved talking to people, educating people, and even debating things with people. As somebody said recently, “he never seemed to meet a stranger.” Sometimes when we were all out together as a family this would drive the rest of us crazy. We’d sigh and roll our eyes. “There goes Dad again, rambling on to some poor soul about how great Disney World is, or how speeding tickets are just legal theft, or that when he orders a plain cheeseburger it means bun burger cheese and that’s all.” But really I think the world would be a better place if we were all a little more like that.
There’s so much else I could say about my dad as a person, but I’m fairly certain that if you’re here it’s because you already know him, so I don’t think I need to describe him to you. Plus I’m thinking I’ve probably gone on for far too long already, so I’ll thank you one more time for being here, and I’ll ask you all one small favor, for me.
The next time you are at the Magic Kingdom, stop at that little snack cart at the front near Guest Relations and buy a popcorn. But before you take the first bite, lift the box skyward and offer Dad a handful. After all, it is the best popcorn in all of Walt Disney World. I’m sure he misses it.
“I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”