Happy Father's Day

A Great Man with an Early Tee Time

By Susan DeLay

When my dad, The Hon. Thomas S. DeLay, passed away on July 30, 2012, I was given the task of writing his obituary. Mom handed me instructions from the newspaper with a list of rules no self-respecting obit should be without.

While my personal philosophy is that obituaries should be at least half as interesting as the person was, the Associated Press style manual seems to disagree. I had to encapsulate his entire life into a word count slightly longer than the preparation instructions on the back of a box of Pop-Tarts.

Because my mom insisted I follow the rules, the official version of my dad’s obituary was somber as a judge.

It was also boring. 

But I am a rule breaker at heart and, as a newspaper columnist, I had a platform for exercising my defiance. So, in my next column of DeLayed Reaction, published days after the funeral, I stole a shameless, self-serving moment to say goodbye to my dad—a truly great man. 

My dad had a handful of passions: his family, golf, Ohio State, golf, World War II, and…did I mention golf? Buying Christmas and birthday gifts was a breeze as long as I stuck with the basics: golf equipment, golf hats, or golf-related memorabilia. I purchased a golf hat for him from St. Andrews in Scotland and he wore it for 25 years. The dog chewed it once and I feared for Max’s future; he survived only because my dad was a forgiving man. Max never went near the hat again. 

I once bought him a fancy Mr. Coffee that could do everything but clean his golf cleats, and he was confused. Why would he need to replace his 20-year-old Bunn coffee maker when it still worked just fine?

The next year, I made things right and wrapped up a Dorf on Golf video. By the time his reliable old coffee maker broke down and he pulled the unused Mr. Coffee from its faded and yellowed box, Keurig machines were topping gift lists and my replacement was an antique.

Greatness doesn’t rule out pragmatism. 

What makes a man great? It’s not how much money he has in the bank or hidden under his mattress. It’s not how he looks or what he wears or how many degrees he has after his name. It’s not how often he gets his picture in the paper or is interviewed on television, or how many touchdowns, home runs, or holes-in-one he makes.

A man is great if he is humble and can laugh at himself. If he knows who he is and doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. If he is kind and cares more about others than he does himself. 

At the funeral home, as people came to pay their respects to Judge DeLay, I heard stories he had never mentioned to his family. One of his friends said that as a young attorney who had just passed the bar, he almost hit my dad in the head with a golf ball—by accident. The guy was mortified that he narrowly missed beaning a judge and figured he would have to find a new career outside the courtroom. Instead of dressing the guy down, my dad walked up to him, shook his hand, and complimented him on a nice drive.

When Dad learned of a single mother who was killed, orphaning her four small children, he almost brought them home to live with us. At the last minute, a distant relative was located, otherwise, I might have had four more brothers and sisters. 

Dad was never too busy to take a call from someone who needed help, even if the call came on a Sunday afternoon, interrupting a televised golf tournament. It didn’t matter whether the caller was a friend or the friend of a friend, or a stranger, who openly admitted he had not voted for my dad, but needed help. The caller was not a stranger for long. Dad didn’t help because he hoped to secure a vote in the next election; he helped because he could and because it was the right thing to do.

My Dad lived an “I am third” life, putting God first, others second, and himself somewhere after golf and Ohio State football. 

Greatness can be difficult to define. Everyone knows what it means, but putting it into words isn‘t always easy. The dictionary falls back on synonyms like wonderful, first-rate, and very good. I think greatness needs better words. 

This I know—Thomas S. DeLay was a great man. I know it, as did his family, his friends, and associates. The governor of Ohio knew it, and so did the hard-working wait staff at Bob Evans. Dad treated them all the same. 

Dad passed away in the pre-dawn hours on July 30, and I believe I know why. I’d like to think he had an early tee time in Heaven that morning with his best friend, Ed; his golf hero, Payne Stewart, and his Savior, Jesus.

DeLay-Susan HeadshotSusan DeLay is from the Buckeye State where she took her first paying job at the age of 15, writing a newspaper column called Teen Talk. She lived in the Chicagoland area for 20-some years before giving away her shovel and ice scraper and moving to The Villages.

An industry veteran in publishing services, PR and media relations, Susan wrote “DeLayed Reaction,” a newspaper column, for 25 years. The column is now a blog at www.susandelay.wordpress.com.

She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Florida Writers Association, Pen, Paper & Pals, Writers League of the Villages, and Working Writers Critique Group. She is currently learning that poems don’t have to rhyme and is working on a novel entitled “Saving Jesus.”

19 thoughts on “A Great Man with an Early Tee Time”

  1. Manijeh Badiozamani

    A wonderful piece and a loving tribute to Judge DeLay. Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there!

  2. What more could a Dad want but a daughter like Susan. Two loving people smart enough to know the true gifts of life. Happy Father’s Day, Judge. Don’t forget your lucky hat up there, on this Sunny day of puffy clouds and a light breeze, always at your back.

      1. I know that feeling, being traded in. I always came back, thanks to my good sense of direction.
        Have fun Susan until PPP in Sep.

  3. Your Dad–the quintessential example of a GREAT human being. I love that you wrote he helped people because he could and it was the right thing to do.
    BTW: You are the straightest (self-professed) rule breaker I know. You illustrated his gentleness and humor by telling the story of the young attorney who nearly hit your dad with a golf ball…”nice drive” was a classy reply.
    Your stories, essays and blogs are always inspirational, relevant and timely!

    1. Thanks, Linda! The poor guy who almost hit my dad with a golf ball was mortified. Brand new attorney, fresh out of law school and newly admitted to the bar and he almost hits a judge. He said when he saw my dad walking toward him, he was so scared he was shaking. Dad was very down to earth and really did treat everyone the same. I know a few guys he sent to jail, did their time and came back to thank him. Probably doesn’t happen too often.

  4. Robin Collison

    Like your father, you put everyone at ease and put a smile on our faces. Like father, like daughter

  5. Susan,
    I loved this tribute for many reasons! One, of course, is that you depicted your father as a Godly man… Secondly, you lived in Ohio and I could relate to his needs and wants in many ways. Go Bucks! I once was an avid golfer at Walnut Grove in Dayton… And then, I too, was involved with the courts in numerous counties. Thank you for sharing your love of this great man in time for us to share it with our husbands, fathers, and other important men this side of heaven!

    1. From one Buckeye to another–

      Thank you, Phyllis! I know you worked with the courts in Ohio, so you would definitely have an appreciation for what my Dad did!

  6. Susan, what a beautiful obituary to a man who had his priorities in order. I now know why you are as kind, loving and caring as you are. So well written that I feel as though I know him in some small way. I’m sure he would have been very touched by it if he could have read your thoughts about him.

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