Byron Rothhouse ~ Died January 7, 2004   Leave a comment

On behalf of my mother and my sister I want to thank you all for coming. We are here today to celebrate the life of a sweet and gentle man, my dad, Byron Rothhouse.

We were not surprised that Byron lived past New Year’s Eve because he really loved champagne and fireworks. My father was always ready to drink a toast with a friend. In fact, after his stroke I found a case of champagne splits and two hand painted champagne glasses in the trunk of his car. He would bring champagne to shop keepers, auto-mechanics, librarians and friends. Obed and I took my dad out after his stroke to the local hardware store and newsstand. People came out from behind counters and from back rooms to say hi to my dad. Some knew his name and some called him Doc – and they were all happy to see him.

My father was sweet on the inside as well as the outside. In fact, we found his stash of Milky Way bars in the trunk of his car. Ironically, Byron was a dentist with a sweet tooth.

As many of you know, my father had trouble speaking after his stroke. However, he had a very expressive face and was able to communicate love with his kisses and the batting of his eyelashes.

When it came to Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin, my father had no trouble communicating at all. He remembered the lyrics of every song he ever knew. We spent many happy hours singing along with Ella and Frank and these are memories we will treasure forever.

When my dad had his stroke in February of 2001, we never imagined that he would be able to come home and have the quality of life that he did. There are 3 people largely responsible for this. Of course, our amazing and wonderful mother, Betty. Her love and strength kept dad’s spirits up and put a smile on his face. She is our hero. Camille watched my dad at night. And since my dad was a life long insomniac, there was never a dull moment for her. She was always cheery and Dad looked forward to seeing her every night.   And- she never missed a single night in rain, sleet and snow. And, of course, Obed. Anyone who saw them together knew that their bond was real and deep. My dad loved Obed and so do we. Thank you Obed or as my dad would have said, “Boom Boom.”

But of course, the bulk of my memories were of my dad before his stroke. Byron was a true renaissance man. His interests ranged from James Joyce to Beckett to folk dancing and weaving to jewelry making and stamp collecting. He had a love of learning and a passion for life that he passed on to Jodie and me. He was a prolific reader and in addition to a love of books, he taught us how to play chess and ping-pong, how to ski and ride a bike. Importantly, he taught us the value of giving and philanthropy. He always believed that you should help other people. When we were little, we used to read the NY Times Neediest Cases and select families to whom we would donate money. He was very active and loved to play tennis. He had a mean slice and would spend hours alone on a tennis court practicing his serve.

When we were growing up, my father was the Pied Piper of the neighborhood. He spent his Thursday’s off with us. He rode bikes with us and took all of the kids in the neighborhood to the reservation where we climbed rocks, hiked and fed the deer in the paddock. I’m sure he never imagined that 40 years later the deer would be in his own back yard.

My dad was an adventurous man. Jodie and I spent 8 days in the Grand Canyon rafting down the Colorado River with him. Many families have taken this vacation but none had done it when the children were only 8 and 9. I think at the time that Jodie was the youngest person ever to go on the trip. Everyone told my dad that he was crazy to take us – but he wasn’t. It was a fantastic vacation.

My father often spoke of his love of the water, particularly the Long Island Sound and the ocean. I believe he also really loved the wind. Our sailboat combined for him his love of water and wind. And of course, my father drove a convertible his whole life. In fact, he drove the same convertible, a 1963 maroon Catalina convertible from when I was 3 to when I was 16 years old. He sold that car for the same amount he paid for it. My father loved the wind in his hair and we also went up together on several hot air balloon rides – one in Malcolm Forbes’ balloon. My father also took us up in a glider when we were really young and we got to push the button releasing the plane as we glided back to the ground.

I felt a little sorry for my dad because he lived with 3 very verbal women and he often could not get a word in edgewise. While at times he may not have spoken a lot, he was a “Man of Letters” and I mean letters. When I was in college, I got a letter from him every single day. Sometimes he would write about the weather, other times he would enclose a pretty picture or poem and other times he would wax philosophical about politics or history or family. At least that is the way I interpreted his notoriously difficult handwriting. He also wrote poems and plays.

Byron loved to dance and he cut a mean rug. In addition to Foxtrot with my mom, he loved to folk dance. But, our dance was the Cha-Cha.

My father had a great sense of humor and really loved practical jokes. When we were younger, we used to learn a new word at the dinner table every week. One week the word was “gullible.” After we learned the definition, I was determined not to be gullible. Several nights later, my dad told us that Rice Krispies and in fact, all food contained ketchup. I said that I knew that wasn’t true and that I was not gullible. After about 15 minutes of discussion, he told me to check the pantry. My father had painstakingly written in the word ketchup to the ingredient list of every single item in the pantry.

My dad was a real woman’s libber – with two daughters he had no choice. He told us we could be whatever we wanted to be when we grew up except a dentist. Even though my father was a great dentist, he wanted us to explore things that he had not had the opportunity to explore.

He didn’t talk much about his childhood and I don’t think his parents were role models or taught him much about family togetherness. Given his own experience, it is remarkable to me that he was such a wonderful, loving, caring and involved father.

My father told me that when he met my mother, his whole world changed for the better. He fell in love with Betty and her entire family. They embraced him and he adored them. Until he died, my dad always cheered up when Dana, Jesse, Hildy, Rose or my cousins came to visit.

My father had a big heart and as it turns out a very strong heart. My father believed in love and family. He did not know what to believe about life after death. We like to think that if there is a life after death, my dad has been reunited with some of his old friends and is drinking champagne, driving a convertible and playing tennis again.

We love you dad and we miss you already.

Posted March 17, 2011 by Julie Rothhouse

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