Courtland Alden Collier passed away Thursday, July 17, 2008, just before 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here is the text of Nathan’s prepared remarks for his father’s memorial service, held July 26.
How do you say goodbye?
To someone who has nurtured, loved, and protected you to the best of his awesome ability your whole life through?
How do you bid adieu to the strongest influence in your life?
To your primary role model?
To the person whose life shaped and molded yours?
How do you let go of someone who for so long was your rock, your anchor, your foundation?
A constant in an ever-changing world?
A north star you could sight your course on?
Someone whose voice always held a warm welcome, whose door was always open, who always had time for you?
How do you say goodbye to your father?
I never knew my granddad, he died in 1950, two years before I was born, when my father was only 25.
It has only been recently, as I began to consider the passing of my own father, that I began to wonder how he coped, how he dealt with the passing of his father when he was only 25? I am 30 years older now than he was at the time, and I hope somewhat wiser and steadier for the years, and it is still a challenging passage indeed. Thinking what he must have gone through left me with a deep and abiding appreciation that I had the joy and privilege of spending an additional 30 years with my father than he was able to spend with his. It also left me with an abiding commitment to be fully present in my own son’s life.
On the spur of the moment one summer morning a group of my friends and I decided that nothing would do but an impromptu float down the Ichetucknee River (this was when it was still timber company land, long before it was a state park). Dad was the parent who agreed to go with us, drive us, chaperone us down the river on inner tubes. I still remember him in a floppy hat to shield him from the sun, book in hand as he floated and read, keeping us company.
Even though we 3 kids put him through a lot——we were a strong-headed, active bunch——I can only once remember him losing his temper and being shocked that it could happen. Somehow it made him more human and I felt a lot of guilt at the time for having been the provocation.
His administrative assistant of many years at the City of Gainesville once told me that on her first day working with him he told her that no matter who he was with, no matter what the importance of the meeting he was in, to always put his kids’ calls through.
I never felt so loved as when she told me that story. It was vintage Dad. He was there for his kids. Raising us was his top priority.
At the hospital, when the end was inevitable, he asked my sister to leave so he could speak to me alone. Directly, he asked me for his prognosis. He had heard it from the doctors and from my mother, Marian, but I guess he needed to hear it again, perhaps he needed to hear it from me. He was an engineer through and through, and he always preferred to cut to the chase and deal with the facts, so I gave it to him straight. He absorbed the information and then said he had a good life——a great life——he had raised fine children, the greatest achievement a man could hope for, and that should be enough for anyone.
Dad reached out constantly because he believed in a erecting a big tent with room for everyone. Long before diversity became a political buzzword, Dad lived and practiced diversity.
As a city commissioner, he was an activist visionary, a fiscal conservative with a populist agenda. Dad was a practical man who stood on principle, not afraid to rock the boat or to challenge accepted practice. So much so, that he was passed over the first time he came up for mayor during the normal rotation, which was the custom at the time. Dad authored Gainesville’s first sign ordinance, first green space ordinance, first indoor clean air ordinance.
He had an engineer’s practicality combined with an incredible belief in human potential. Dad’s belief in human potential was his greatest gift to me.
He believed in me. He believed that I could do whatever I set my heart and mind on. Because he believed, I believed. Because I believed, I dared to try——try with enthusiasm and verve and resilient confidence. Because I willingly and cheerfully tried, and tried, and tried again if I failed, more often than not I succeeded.
Truth is, I began saying goodbye almost a decade ago when his health first began to fade, when the first thin thread of responsibility began inevitably to reverse. As, slowly, the child began to be parent to the father, as I began to accept, bit by tiny bit, the role of caring for him. The role he so lovingly played for me, lo these many years.
Truth is, I will never, ever finish saying goodbye.
My father lives in me, in the man he helped me become, in the citizen he taught me to be, in the community member he inspired me to become, in the leader he role-modeled for me. My greatest goal, my deepest challenge is to pass on the best of myself——the best of my father——to my son. I can do no greater service to the memory of my father than to be to my son the father Dad was to me. If my father’s ideals of community service, of stewardship, of duty, his love of humanity, his belief in people and their potential, if all these things live on in my life and in that of my son, Dad’s legacy, his essence, will be immortal.
Goodbye, Dad. I love you so very, very much. I will miss you terribly.