Eulogy for my father and photography hero: Dr. William X Andrews
My father, Dr. William X Andrews, passed away on May 23, 2020 at age 74. My family is heartbroken.
He survived combat in Vietnam, he survived being picked up and interrogated by Russian soldiers while motorbiking through Afghanistan because they thought he was a spy, he survived having a gun to his head in Iran, he survived a deadly horse race through the streets in Columbia South America while he and my mother were medical missionaries, he survived running the bulls in Pamplona, he rescued a woman on a train in Turkey as she was being accosted by 4 Turks and he survived the ensuing fist fight as they all slid around on frozen urine, he survived countless horse accidents, and he survived raising 3 rambunctious sons on a farm in Santa Fe but last night he finally succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting for nearly 3 years. His stories are epic and I always thought he was Indiana Jones. Anyone who knew my Dad knows that not only did he have big adventures but every day was a little adventure with him. He was so much fun! Our world feels so much emptier today.
He lived every day as though he was running out of time. He loved life and carpe diem truly was his mantra. He was always planning the next adventure from backpacking trips through Peru to little floats down the Duck River or road trips to Quebec. He had more energy than anyone I’ve ever known. Just before he was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer, he hiked the Santiago Trail in Spain then climbed Long’s Peak in Colorado for a 4th time. Even with terminal cancer our family could barely keep up with him traveling through Spain last summer as he wanted to hike a little farther or order one more round of Sangria as he told us that he once met Salvador Dali. He just didn’t know how to slow down.
He was a true American original. He could shoot a wasp out of the air with a rubber-band. A lifelong tennis enthusiast, he put gun racks in his truck to hold his rackets and could be found on the courts even when it was snowing.
He was a well-liked history professor for 30 years. He often said he couldn’t believe he was paid so much for such a fun job. He loved chatting with his students over a game of chess and taking them on trips to Mexico, Guatemala or Spain. He had a reputation for tough exams but his classes were in demand because of his stories. My personal favorites were the haunting he experienced while camping in a stone circle or the fiasco that ensued after I was attacked by our St. Bernard and he had to take it’s head in for rabies testing and covered in blood and speeding he was pulled over by a very nervous policeman with gun drawn as he asked him to step out of the car to show him.
He was a brilliant liberal thinking philosopher. Though he loved science books like “Sapiens” and read plenty of atheists like Sagan he remained a believer. A lifelong Catholic he felt very comfortable with a faith that wasn’t fundamentalist; that evolution was a beautiful, elegant, awe inspiring process. He said “Though truth can be divined from sacred scripture, God’s greatest revelations come from nature, because that text is written in His own hand.” He could have and would have fit in perfectly as a professor at Georgetown or Harvard but he settled in Columbia near the family he loved so much and put his heart and soul into the local community college. He was proud to have attended Father Ryan High School and Jesuit Universities such as St. Louis University. While attending Georgetown in 1968 before his deployment, he did volunteer work for Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. A gifted writer with amazing recall from the books that he voraciously read, he wrote hundreds of columns and editorials for The Columbia Daily Herald and The Tennessean. He was a talented photographer and he instilled that passion in me that eventually became my career.
As a son he would never hesitate to drive from our farm in Santa Fe to his parents farm in Lewisburg to help out if their cattle broke through a fence or if they had trouble with their VCR. His sense of duty to family extended to his siblings and in-laws who he loved dearly.
As a husband he would sit through the symphony with my mother when he would have preferred seeing the Stones. He was sweet to her throughout their 45 year marriage and loved to show his love with projects for her. True love until the end, my parents had a sweetness around each other that I’ve rarely seen in other couples. My entire life I rarely ever heard them have an argument though mom often felt like she was yelling in later years just because his hearing got so bad (90% loss on one ear because of a rocket attack in Vietnam that killed his friend John Love). Even when he was in debilitating pain towards the end he would thank her and sweetly tell her he loved her while I know I would have been too grumpy and uncomfortable for affection.
He wasn’t afraid of death and said he was happy with his life. He once told me “death is only hard on those left behind” but he did seem to have anxiety about causing any burden to loved ones he would be leaving behind. His mother died only a month ago at age 101 and a day before he died he said he was ready to see them again.
As a grandfather he would jump into a pile of leaves with the girls, he would drag them around the yard in a kayak that was tied to his truck, he bought his grand-daughters matching tennis rackets and skirts when they were shorter than the net. He left us with so many beautiful photos.
As a father he always made it a point to let us know that he loved us and that he was proud of us. He had a child-like abundance of enthusiasm and energy and he distributed it generously. When my brothers and I were young he would take us camping or with him on his daily adventures tagging cattle, target shooting, hunting for arrowheads on the family farm, trail rides on horses or in jeeps with students. When my brothers and I were wild and mischievous teens he encouraged the takeover of his home by bringing pizzas for everyone and lighting bonfires. If our garage bands played loud music he wouldn’t tell us to quiet down but would take photos. He was our biggest fan. After all, he taught us our first songs on the guitar. I loved riding in the car with him because he was always full of advice and some funny story about his childhood. He was tender when his boys were upset over break ups with girls we dated and said no pain is worse than emotional pain. He let us skip school to go with him to reenactments since he said they were educational. But no doubt what he loved most about reenacting was sitting around camp fires at night chatting over cigars with other history buffs.
He was generous in every way, always selfless in his sacrifice for others. Every meal out would begin with him telling the waiter he was paying for dinner before we’d even given our drink orders. Once when he broke his leg badly while skiing, he tossed me his keys from the stretcher and told us to enjoy ourselves and meet him at the hospital that night. Just then a woman skied over to us and said he straightened his broken leg with a crack and it was the toughest thing she’d ever seen.
He left this earth gently with my mother laying by his side. Our home had just quieted from a day filled with his children playing music and his grandchildren laughing. We all had the chance to say goodbye. It would have been just as he wanted it. It has been hard to come to terms with losing my hero these past few years since his diagnosis but we knew that many don’t get a chance to say goodbye and we made the best of it still making memories until the end.
Following is a short excerpt from “A Death in the Family” by James Agee:
I hear my father; I need never fear.
I hear my mother; I shall never be lonely, or want for love.
When I am hungry it is they who provide for me; when I am in dismay it is they who fill me with comfort.
When I am astonished or bewildered, it is they who make the weak ground firm beneath my soul: it is in them that I put my trust.
When I am sick it is they who send for the doctor; when I am well and happy, it is in their eyes that I know best that I am loved; and it is towards the shining of their smiles that I lift up my heart and in their laughter that I know my best delight.
I hear my father and my mother and they are giants, my king and my queen, beside whom there are no others so wise or worthy or honorable or brave or beautiful in this world.
I need never fear: nor ever shall I lack for loving-kindness.
Because people have been asking: In lieu of flowers I think he would want you to vote blue this November. If that isn’t tenable for you perhaps a donation to your local animal shelter since he loved animals and took his rescue, Mr. Darcy, on so many of his adventures.