My father died on April 8 at age 84. His obituary gives facts about his life, but the truth of a person’s legacy lies in his character. The following post is the text of the eulogy I gave at his memorial service on April 16.
Our father was the fourth of six children, the last of his siblings to depart this earth. He attributed his “thrifty” (some might say “cheapskate”) behavior to being, as he called it, “a child of the Depression.” His father owned a small meatpacking company — so while the Hamners had to scrimp on things like clothes, they always ate well.
Because tuberculosis had weakened my grandfather’s lungs, they moved to the edge of town, where he could breathe fresh country air. Bob’s father liked horses, and he bought a pony the kids named Polecat (on account of his ornery personality), plus three more horses they called Peter Pan, Ping Pong and Popeye. Dad’s older brother, Jack, was a champion rider, and Dad went along to horse shows as Jack’s “groom.” But not everyone in the family enjoyed the horses. The eldest sister, Elizabeth, saw them as examples of her father’s chauvinistic preference for spending money on silly things like livestock rather than on higher education for his female offspring. She nicknamed them Vassar, Wellesley and Smith. Their mother would grow angry when the horses got out of their pasture and munched on her rosebushes. Our father used to laugh about how she went out in frustration after the horses ruined several of her rose plants one day, and she pulled up the rest of them as though they were weeds, just so the horses couldn’t eat them, too. I think having a strong-willed mother probably prepared Bob for fifty-three years of marriage to Donna!
Our father’s career as a Southern Baptist minister began in a tiny church on the Mexican border, in the town of Eagle Pass, Texas. He spent nine years there and made close friends, both Americans and Mexicans. These years undoubtedly shaped his attitude of tolerance for different types of people and viewpoints, as well as his theology.But what about Donna, the love of Bob’s life? Well, the two of them were set up in 1958 by a mutual friend. Actually, Bob (who was 31 years old) initially refused to go out with Donna because, when he asked how old this potential date was, his friend confessed she was not quite 20. After he said “no thanks,” their friend had to get crafty: she waited a couple of weeks, then simply told Bob she had someone she thought he’d like to meet. He asked how old this girl was, and the friend replied, “She’s old enough.” Bob, who was still living on the Mexican border, took Donna out the next time he came to San Antonio. For him, it was love at first sight. By their second date, when they celebrated Donna’s birthday and Bob learned she was only 20, he realized his friend had tricked him. But it was too late — he was already smitten! Donna, however, needed a bit more time. Thanks to Dad’s persistence and Mom’s eventually realizing he was the right man for her, they were married in June 1959 and moved soon thereafter to San Antonio.