Most of us are familiar with the term the “Greatest Generation”… sometimes called the WWII generation; the generation born from ~1900 to 1929. Characteristics that define the “Greatest Generation” include:
- Personal Responsibility: The harsh reality of the Great Depression forced many to a higher standard of personal responsibility, even as children….
- Humility: The Great Depression fostered modesty and humility…
- Work Ethic: Hard work enabled survival during the depression & war.
- Frugality: Saving every penny and every scrap helped families survive … “use it up, fix it up”,
- Commitment: One job or one marriage often lasted an entire lifetime.
- Integrity: People valued honesty and trustworthiness…
- Self-Sacrifice: to defend their country or support the war effort
Most of us are also familiar with the phrase “Grace builds on nature” attributed to St.Thomas Aquinas ….. “grace does not destroy nature, but fulfills its potential”.
When grace fell upon those of the “greatest generation”, you really had something. You had men and women of great character and experience and virtue elevated by the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been personally blessed to count a number of men from this generation as my friends. Well, the other morning one of my dearest and closest friends went home to his heavenly reward. What a man! Dick Birmingham was my close friend. He was a mentor to me. I admired him greatly. He taught me so many things about life. Dick was a great story teller. I loved to listen to his stories, his jokes, and especially his teachings about the Lord. Above all, Dick was a man of God… a servant of the Lord. He and Claire were married 68 years with 10 children and many grandchildren. Dick had many “spiritual children”… men that looked up to him and listened to him, and grew closer to the Lord because of him.
So many stories to tell. Dick & Claire reached out to Judy and me when we moved to become part of the People of Hope in the late ‘70’s. They welcomed us and kept an eye on us. I remember meeting in their basement on Snyder Ave. in Berkeley Heights…Jim McCarthy would pick me up for our men’s meeting. (Dick loved Jim McCarthy…another great man who I’m sure was there to welcome Dick home).
So much time spent together working to build the People of Hope community and Koinonia Academy with many other great men and women. His dedication and humor helped us through many difficult days. I was privileged to introduced Dick as he received the first Koinonia Academy Paraclete award. I mentioned that Dick lived out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in every way… look them up, he did them all. He was a good teacher and loved all the kids. I also mentioned his friendship. He taught me a lot about golf, helping me to become a “student of the game”, admittedly still early elementary level; Dick would reserve the tee time, pick me up, make the tuna fish sandwiches, give me distances with his golf GPS as we went around the course, encouraging everyone. I was there on the day he shot an “84 in his 84thyear”…. pretty incredible.
There’s no time to get into the stories about his father who’s funeral home was in their home, or the lobster fishing as a kid, or being a navigator in the Navy, and his love for lobster and scallops ….. his “box wine” which he raved about. Dick was fun to be with. Everything seemed like “it would be okay” when you were with Dick.
Dick was a man of deep faith. When he was baptized in the Holy Spirit and proclaimed Jesus as his Lord, everything changed. He was led to the People of Hope and met his dear friend Walt Quense. Dick led me to spend time with the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. I thought I was doing pretty well going once a week, when he mentioned he went every day. He said, “Our Lady of Fatima Eucharistic Chapel “ is only 7 minutes from Koinonia, I pop by every day on my way home.” I started to do the same.
Dick loved his children and prayed earnestly for each of them. Dick loved a good beer, but many years ago, he gave it up as part of his prayer for all his kids. He was very proud of each of them and loved them deeply. Most of all he loved Claire. He would say, “Claire and I have never had an argument”. We would chime in and say, “Dick, that’s a tribute to Claire, because we know you love to argue”. He would laugh, but agree.
I told my wife the other day that Dick wore me out; he just did not stop loving. He was 92 years old and still going to daily mass and Eucharistic Adoration… leading a scripture study at the Chelsea where he lived, coming to men’s group…. he just would not stop loving God and his neighbor… young and old. And how could I stop at only 75…just because I was a bit tired.
Over the last several months, Dick would frequently say “my bags are packed” … I’m ready to go home. We all knew his time on earth was coming to an end, but no one wanted to believe it. Well, he’s now home with the God he loved and served so well … so wholeheartedly.
Dick, we miss you already. You were one of a kind. Don’t worry about your dear Claire…your great family will watch over her well along with your many friends. And don’t forget to pray for all of us until we’re together again. God bless you our dear friend and brother.