Eulogy for my father

Three weeks ago was my Dad's memorial service. A few times a year, I share something outside of the tech enterprise field on the Beneblog.

The Definition of a Gentleman

Eulogy for James R. Fruchterman, Sr.

When my brother Bill was leaving to join the Army, our father took him aside and asked him to write down a quotation. Ever resourceful, Bill grabbed one of dad’s business cards and wrote out the following quotation:
It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. Cardinal Newman.
Bill still has that business card.

Newman’s message, and Dad’s, was that a gentleman was always aware of his impact on others. Our Dad was always aware of his impact on others. That was my dad!

He inspired us, he inspired each one of his children, by his example, by the people and pursuits he loved, to keep our impact on other people in mind. Of all the many ways he inspired us, six really stood out for Dad’s six children when we talked about it.

First, he inspired us with his love of technology. Not that that means Dad was all that mechanically handy. He wasn’t. When the news of dad’s passing made it around, one of our neighbors from where we grew up posted a remembrance of this online. You see, my dad was trying to install a deadbolt in our front door. After a couple of hours of working at it, the job was still not done. Dad let our sister, Anne, then 14, to try her hand at the project. In less than ten minutes, the job was finished!

My brother Bill says that he was therefore inspired by dad to become a mechanical engineer, so that he could fix things around the house. Mom would save up projects for Bill to work on, some which had already been “fixed” by Dad.

But, seriously, he loved technology and was always talking about the coolest new thing. I especially remember the time he came home after seeing the Xerox Star at one of Harvester’s engineering labs. The Star was one of the very first personal computer workstations, with display and mouse and all that. It was especially memorable to me, since brother Tom and I both ended up in the computer industry.

Of course, all four of Dad’s sons became engineers.

Second, he inspired us with his love of music. He was always singing. Sister Liz remembered sitting on Dad’s knee on the tête-à-tête in our backyard, listening to him sing Blue and Gold and other songs. Dad and his friend Lee Canfield were infamous in Chicago’s Burnham Harbor for blasting out German military marches as they sailed Lee’s boat, Go Bananas, out of the harbor into Lake Michigan.

Third, he inspired us to work hard and to do the right thing. Dad had a ferocious work ethic and was dedicated to doing the right thing for people. Liz pointed out that none of us could remember Dad taking a sick day from work. She recalled the weekend that Dad spent calling International Harvester (IH) dealers when it became clear that one of their machines had a defect that could cause it to tip over. My dad didn’t want to imagine a farmer or a farm kid losing their life because of his inaction.

The story that gave me the truest insight into Dad and his approach to practicing the law was about a ten-year-old farm boy who had lost his arm in a combine accident and the family had sued IH. It wasn’t a problem with the combine; the boy’s 16 year old brother had left the combine running unattended. The company was in the right: it was the brother’s fault. But, Dad thought that the right thing was to settle the suit. He was very proud of how he had structured the settlement as a education and college trust fund for the injured boy. That was our dad!

Fourth, he inspired us with his love of humor and pranks. Brother Tom especially remembered his dad as a storyteller, someone with the gift of gab and a touch of the blarney. We could never entirely tell which ones of his fantastic stories were true, and still can’t be sure.

I once asked him about the scar on his hand and got the answer: “hand-to-hand combat in Korea.” My dad the hero! I mentioned this years later to Dad’s brother, my Uncle Dick, who explained that the scar came from a broken soda bottle in Brooklyn.

Dad and his brother regularly pulled off pranks. The most famous was when they crawled under a row of bungalows at the shore and turned off the water to each one in the middle of the afternoon when everyone was at the beach. Then they sat down to watch the ensuing chaos.

Dad’s pranks extended into the courtroom. They were defending a personal injury case, and the defense (dad) was pretty sure that the plaintiff was faking a severe neck injury. Dad chose a crucial moment to nudge a heavy book off a table to the side of the plaintiff. Bang! The book hit the floor and the plaintiff’s head whipped around towards the noise. The judge saw it: case dismissed!

Fifth, he inspired us with his love of words. Both Mom and Dad had enormous vocabularies and were voracious readers, traits we were glad they passed along to us.

Sixth, and last, it goes without saying that he inspired us with his love of family. He was so in love with mom. He would do anything for his kids, and made many sacrifices for us. He was a great example of a dad.

Dad always kept Cardinal Newman’s enjoinder in mind – he was always thinking about other people. The last year wasn’t easy on Dad, in and out of different hospitals and rehab facilities. But, we always heard from the staff how much they enjoyed having Dad with them, how nice and courteous he was to everybody, and his sense of humor.

You know, we will all really miss Dad, but I know that we will always continue to be inspired by his example of loving technology, music, hard work and doing the right thing, humor and words and family. Most of all, we’ll be inspired by his life as a gentle man who aspired to always be considerate, always aware of his impact on others.

Given by his son, James R. Fruchterman, Jr., at Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Church, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, October 24, 2009.


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