Celebrating A Very Good Life

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I realize that due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I had said I would not return here until Wednesday. However, it struck me that it would be entirely appropriate to use this site to recognize a personal milestone in my life.

Twenty years ago today, December 1, 1994 I lost my best friend in the world – my father, at the age of sixty-eight. I will not be sad and spend the day in mourning. Instead, I choose to be upbeat and remember the good times he and I shared for the first thirty-six years of my life. He introduced me to my passion of IndyCar racing by taking me and our family to the 1965 Indianapolis 500. He took me to my first NFL game in 1971 and my first Tennessee Volunteers football game in 1974.

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My father and yours truly in 1967.

He had a passion for travel, trying to squeeze as many miles into a two-week vacation as possible. The ultimate trip was 1971, when we drove 6,500 miles in two weeks; from Tennessee to San Diego into Mexico, up the west coast into British Columbia across Alberta, down into Glacier National Park in Montana and into Yellowstone before cutting across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin and Chicago before heading back down to Tennessee. It seemed unbearable at the time, but I wouldn’t take anything for it now. He and my mother eventually traveled practically all over the world.

As an adult, while hearing about some of the rough childhoods of my contemporaries, I almost feel like I need to apologize for the fact that I grew up in a “Leave it to Beaver” household. We were probably slightly upper-middle class. But my father worked very hard so that my mother could stay home and raise three boys, with me being the youngest. Somehow, he managed to send all three of us to college and we all earned our degrees. My parents were not drunkards, they never cheated on each other, nor had any physical altercations. Their quarrels were minor and we never even knew what a dysfunctional family was. After hearing how others have grown up, I feel very fortunate and sometimes almost feel guilty when I say that I had a very happy childhood.

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James A. Phillips circa 1990

My father and I went to the 1993 Indianapolis 500 together. I had a friend who allowed us to get into the garage area on Race Morning. As my father stood there staring through the opening that led to the pits and watching the enormous crowd gather, he got emotional as he said “I never, ever thought I would see myself standing in Gasoline Alley”. We later went to our seats and as usual, he cried when Mary Fendrich Hulman gave the command to start engines. He also got emotional seeing Emerson Fittipaldi come around on the final lap to take the checkered flag. By the time the next month of May rolled around, he had already been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On December 1 of that year, he passed away.

I’m very thankful that he and I went together to the race in 1993. I’m also glad he wasn’t around to see my first marriage disintegrate in divorce. I am most thankful that he got to meet my second wife, Susan, when we were dating as freshmen in college in 1977. He would be happy to know that we eventually got together and would be envious that we married at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012. During the ceremony, my mind went back to my first race in Stand J with Daddy back in 1965.

So today, as I still miss him and think about him every day – I speak for my mother and my brothers as we celebrate the life we had with my father. It was a very good life.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “Celebrating A Very Good Life”

  1. Jack Phillips Says:

    Nice post, George. He’s been gone for 7,305 days and not many of those days have passed without me thinking of him and missing him. In addition to his love for the Indy 500, he just loved LIFE more than anyone I’ve ever known. He was passionate about everything he did. He loved good food, good music, good cars and good company. He was a careful and competent airplane pilot, and a very good historian. He would be the biggest fan of your blog if he were still here on earth, and I’m sure The Almighty gets tired of hearing him brag on you and your blog in heaven.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    Very nice George. Like you i had a similar time with my farther . He gave me my passion for racing. He still lives in me. I could never replace the things he gave me. May 1960 and my first 500.

  3. Phil Kaiser Says:

    It’s amazing George, how our lives are so similar to each other’s. My father passed in 1997, six days shy of his 58th birthday from a massive heart attack after having three open heart surgeries, something I share with him; I’ve had five heart attacks myself, but they didn’t have the type of stents they have in me now to save my father then. We grew up decidedly Middle-Class, but my folks (who were together 35 years until he passed) always found a way to indulge my father’s love for 8mm movies. He shot thousands of feet of film at The Track, and Eddie And Dave happened right in front of them in ’64; it’s all on film in the family archives.

    We didn’t have any alcohol, violence or any other weirdness growing up with my folks. They found the money to get me my first drumset when I was nine, followed by a piano for my brother next year. My dad was my biggest fan and would go see all my shows when we played in town. The waitresses used to line up to dance with him as he LOVED to jitterbug! I always said I’m not famous because I grew up in a “Leave It To Beaver” type family and really had nothing to complain about, so I didn’t have that “angst” that modern popular music has been made up of these past 35 years! And I too have felt those feelings you describe of almost having to apologize for the fantastic, care-free life I lived growing up thanks to them.

    My father and mother would chaperone our roller skating parties at our school when I was in Junior High; he got to meet my little girlfriend at the time named Patty (our first date when I was 12 and she was 13 was to The Track for Quals) and would be SO TICKLED that I waited for 30+ years to get married only to marry Patty after getting re-acquainted with each other on Facebook! My, the similarities!

    A wonderful tribute to your father, George, one that makes me think back to my own incredible childhood. God bless him and my father, here’s to the idea they’re up there “bench racing” with the all time greats who have passed before, and that my father finally got a dance with Marilyn Monroe, his all-time fave!

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

  4. billytheskink Says:

    A lovely tribute, George. It is a great blessing to have or to have had such a loving father who both shares and inspires your passions.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    Thanks for sharing this George.
    I was fortunate to have my Dad into my 56th year before a third different cancer finally was too much for him.
    He also was responsible for me learning how significant it is to have the experiences of traveling. With him Our family travelled on nearly every state and part of Canada. We lived in Glasgow, Scotland, for three years, and I travelled Israel, Northern Egypt, and Rome and Vatican City with him.
    He introduced me to auto racing and the Indianapolis 500 as we listened to Sid Collins on the radio in 1959, with the Indianapolis News spread across my parents’ bed ,filling in the standing every 10 laps, on the pages provided to do that.
    That became our Memorial Day tradition until he took me to the 1963 race after my uncle, the GM of then WFBM, Channel 6, gave us tickets right across from the pits.
    The next year he finally convinced Mom to go with him. When they got back home, Mom reported that the pre-race ceremonies were the most thrilling experience of her life. Then the Sachs-McDonald accident happened right in from of them.
    Mom went and sat in the car as Dad stayed for the rest of the race.
    We were never permitted to mentioned auto racing in front of Mom again until several years after I began covering the 500 annually in 1972.
    Dad took me to the race again in ’65, and I was part of the pre-race ceremonies as part of my high school band in ’67-69.
    Dad also took my sister and younger brother to their first 500s.
    He died on April 26 and was cremated. With the exception of Mom, the whole family decided to attend the race in him memory.
    The day before the race, we made the annual pilgrimage to the cemetery where much of Mom’s family is buried, this time to leave Dad there also.
    One of his granddaughters had folded a box of origami cranes for him. After we had placed the simple, but beautifully made box holding his ashes in the small hole in the ground, we took turns dropping the cranes in with him. When we were done, I noticed that two cranes, folded with black and white checkered paper, had landed side by side, perfectly centered on the top of the box.
    We all thought that was amazingly appropriate.
    The next day we sat in the North stands, just a few rows above where I had sat with Dad at my second 500 in 1965.
    As long as we have memories to share about our parents, they are still with us and those with whom we share the stories.

  6. Thanksgiving is for giving thanks for your blessings.
    ……………. And you just did.

  7. George:
    Great post, it is amazing how many of us share a similar story. My dad worked for Hulman & Company for over 40 years and in fact was Tony’s caddie before that. So it was natural that I would be introduced to Indy from the start. Dad and I went to Tony’s first 500 in 1946 and I have been to the track every May since. Dad was also good friends with Clarence Cagle who was superintendent of the grounds at the speedway and late in April of 1956 we were at the track to see Clarence and he asked dad if he would like to take his Hulman & Co. 1955 Ford V8 for a lap around the track. Dad said no, but could the boy (me)? I was 16 with a brand new driver’s license burning a hole on my wallet and couldn’t believe it when Clarence said OK. Dad told me to take it easy and be careful so at 16 I was driving a lap around the Indy 500 track, WOW! I can tell you that that Ford did hit 100 down the backstretch. 100 is easy at the speedway Right? (We do dumb things when we’re young)
    Throughout the next 4 decades Dad and I spent many days in May at 16th and Georgetown. In the 60’s and 70’s Dad worked at the track during qualifications running the 33 tower and during the streaking days I ran the top 10 tower in the first turn and watched many spectacles in the “Snake Pit”.
    Dad passed in 1983 (also from cancer) and never got to witness my greatest n500 moment. In 84 I was one of the volunteer crew members who worked for Usona Purcell on the Hoosier Transportation Special that was driven by Dennis Firestone. That year there were 108 cars entered and our all-volunteer effort qualified 32nd and finished 12th.
    Race day morning that year I was to stick the starter into the Cosworth engine in our 3 year old March at the beginning of the race and when we were standing out on the track during the playing of Taps I couldn’t help myself and the tears flowed as I thought of dad and how he must be looking down on me then.
    I have a son, a daughter, 2 Grandsons and 3 grand daughters who all are 500 fans carrying on the tradition, and in fact my son was in the crew with me in 85 when we again tried to put that same now 4 year old car in the show (didn’t make it) I think dad would be proud of what he started and I’m thankful he did.
    68 years at INDY and still counting.
    Frank Roales

  8. Greg Wright Says:

    George, this post brought back so many of my own memories with my father. I lost him in March of 2005 due to lung cancer. He would go to the 500 every year in the 70’s when he was an engineer for Good Year. I started going in 1989 and have been there every year since, my father joined me in 1990 through 1998. We had some tremendous times and I miss him very much. Today, I try to keep the love of Indy alive in my own kids. I still attend, but now its with my girlfriend and best friend. The 3 of us have been going together since 2002. I am sorry for your loss but love the fact that you choose to remember the great times and why you love Indy in the first place. Hopefully, one of these years we can meet and talk about our memories of years past.

    • Very nice tribute, George. Our backgrounds and introduction to motorsports were very similar. I lost my Dad on May 21, 1974 at the too young age of 57. Very few days pass that I don’t think about him. My wife Judy never met him, but she says she knows him since she feels she may live with his clone. Keep up the interesting and well-written blogs.

  9. george thank you very much for the moving memories of you and your dad indy times. in about 7 weeks i lost my dad to a heart attack but thorugh good and bad we always had our love for the 500 and open wheel racing in general. he took me to my first race at the newly bulit eldora speedway at age 4 and my first indy 500 that same year in 1962 and ive been to some part of the month every since. even thourght it will be 12 years since he left it seems like yesterday. and every time i go threw the gates at the speedway i can still see everywhere we sat or stood and it brings a happy tear to my eyes as i remeber those good times. like you george i feel i was lucky to have all those fond memories.

  10. My Birthday is the 25th and my Grandfathers was the 27th. We always had a great family gathering for Thanksgiving and somewhat coincidentally the Birthdays. People move away, marry, and sadly die and those days are long gone now. But left great memories.

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