My Father-in-Law, V. Eugene McCoy, died very suddenly on Monday, July 16, 2018. From July 7 – 15, he joined the rest of the family in an incredible beach vacation that featured, among other things, our celebration of his 85th birthday. At the end of that trip, as each car prepared to depart and head north, he whispered – as he always did – into the ear of each member of the family, “Remember: Grammy and Gramps love you an awful lot!” He arrived home late in the day on the 15th, and on the morning of the 16th he went to play his regular Monday morning tennis match. After winning the first set convincingly, he collapsed on the court as his earthly life ended. I was privileged to be asked to make a few remarks at his memorial service from the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE – the entirety of which was recorded and is accessible in the media link below. Since many readers of this blog knew Gene, and since all of us know death, I thought that you might be interested in reading this.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, NIV)
I am humbled to stand here on behalf of the family and say a few words about the gift that Gene McCoy has been to us and to our family.
As far as I can figure it, I’ve known Gene for about 55 years. We met here – well not actually “here”, because there was no “here” here when we met. There was an orchard and a farmhouse and a Darley wing and a big old chestnut tree where we could get really cold lemonade on days like this. At that time, I was one of the little rugrats in the nursery and he was a guy who sneaked in during the first hymn and made his way into the side pew over there after his early morning tennis match or golf game.
Our relationship changed rather dramatically about 44 years ago when I fell in love with his daughter. While I was walking on eggshells for a few years, I soon came to appreciate at least his tolerance and eventually his embrace. And like everyone else in the front rows to my right – and probably everyone else in the room – I loved him fiercely. And like each of them, I have grown secure in his love for me.
Before I say too much, I’d like to ask you to pause for just a moment and reflect: what is something that Gene McCoy gave to you? Maybe it was a ride, or a piece of candy; it could’ve been a paper towel that he’d carried in his back pocket just hoping that someone would ask him for it. Maybe it was some good advice, or a book, or a carefully clipped comic strip or bridge column.
I’ll give you a moment, because my hunch is that you can’t think of just one.
Gene McCoy was one of the most amazingly generous people you’ll ever have the privilege to meet. While I bet everyone in the room knows this, my sense is that the people up front have had the most opportunities to witness this. As my brother-in-law Marty said, “Gramps redefined the basic Christmas stocking.” Each Christmas, the sons-in-law and grandchildren would find a giant bag with a tag indicating that it had been left by “the tool guy.” Every time Craftsman had a sale, Dad would go into the store and buy four or more of whatever shiny caught his eye. Do you know how when you go to a store there are special parking places for those with disabilities, and spaces for new or expectant mothers? I’m betting that the Sears store had a reserved spot for Gene McCoy.
In fact, is there anyone here from Craftsman today? If so, please accept my condolences. On behalf of the entire family, we’re deeply sorry for your loss.
Now, if you’re not in our family, you’re probably smiling to yourself and thinking, “Wow, that’s nice. Gene helped his sons-in-law get started. That was kind of him.”
And I’m here to tell you that you don’t get it. I mean, he bought, and we got, TOOLS! So many tools. Listen: every Christmas and every birthday for the past 40 years there has been a bag from Craftsman with my name on it. Some of it was stuff that I really wanted, and I couldn’t afford to buy for myself – like my first Shop-Vac. Lots of the tools were things that I didn’t even know that I needed – such as the band clamps he gave me a few years ago. And, to be honest, there has been a lot of stuff that I had to Google to find out what it was for and if and when I might ever need it.
You might not be surprised to know that as we and Dad aged, the themes of the tool kits changed. Early on, we seemed to find a lot of gadgets that everyone ought to have for their cars: Raise your hand if you ever had a standard-issue Gramps McCoy green tool kit or 12 volt air compressor in the back of your car… For a while he was in a “ratchet” phase. We got ratchet drivers and ratchet wrenches and flexible ratchets and who knows what else. There was a “cordless” phase, where we got battery-operated drills, mini-tools, saws, and – believe it or not – battery-operated hammers. Who knew?
But in spite of the phases, there were some things that were always – and I mean ALWAYS there. For forty years, twice a year, I’ve gotten a bag from Gene that has contained batteries, extension cords, scotch tape, super glue, light bulbs, and, of course, clamps.
This morning I’d like to suggest that Dad’s affinity for these particular gifts was rooted in his view of the world. When you opened your package of light bulbs – whether it was the old fashioned incandescent, or halogen, or fluorescent replacements, or LEDs, you could sense that Dad was saying that there were some dark corners in your home, and surely in our world, that needed a little more light and illumination.
When I carried those extension cords and the giant packages of batteries home, and to church, and to the youth center, it occurred to me that there are times when you just need a little more energy. Gene drank something like 23 cups of coffee each day in order to keep himself going, and he was always encouraging me to find ways to rest, recharge, and then engage with energy and purpose.
Each time I opened a package of tape, glue, or clamps, I was reminded that things – and people – tend to fall apart sometimes. When they do, it doesn’t make sense to just throw them away. Instead, he challenged us all to look for ways to mend, restore, and heal the things in our lives as well as the relationships in which we dwell.
In fact, it occurs to me that one gives tools to those who are able to recognize not only the brokenness of the world, but who also realize that each of us has agency – that is, we can effect change. One gives tools to those who believe that the world can and should be a better place.
In some ways, Gene McCoy is a tool given by God to help you and me to understand more of the Divine intention for this life, and to then use our energy, our intellect, and our time in working to make that intention palpable in the world.
The scripture you’ve heard from Ephesians chapter three is all about knowing what all of the best and most knowledgeable theologians say is unknowable – the love of God that surpasses knowledge. How can you measure the love of God? Where does it start? Where does it end? How in the world can we truly speak of these things that are fundamentally mysterious and supernatural?
And yet Verl Eugene McCoy, Junior, the scientist, sought to study that love. To quantify it. And, most importantly, to demonstrate it – to make it known not by describing it, not by talking about it, not by pointing to it – but by demonstrating it in the best way he could. In his lavish generosity, his insatiable curiosity, his insightful questioning, his corny jokes, his love for puzzles of all kinds, his efforts to push himself and challenge you – Gene McCoy was an agent of God seeking to make the purposes of God a little more clear.
As I say this, I am fully aware of the fact that if Dad was in the room right now, he’d be wishing that I would please talk about someone else; he would be uncomfortable with all of the attention being paid to him. To that I would simply respond that this is the first sermon I’m preaching in 30 years that Gene McCoy is not timing, he won’t be asking me to email him a copy, and he won’t be responding to it with some thoughtful questions and helpful feedback. Gene might be uncomfortable with us looking at certain aspects of his life as noteworthy or illustrative for us as we continue to walk this earthly journey, but this is one time I’m not giving him a vote.
Because here’s the deal, beloved: I know for a fact that while Alex, Marty, and I might have received the most white bags from “the tool guy”, each and every person in this room has been given tools of one sort or another – many, perhaps, by Gene himself; more, I’m sure, by others whom God has chosen.
One more thing about Dad and those tools: when he came out to Pittsburgh to visit, he would always find an excuse to go down into our basement. I’d find him looking into my tool cabinet, and he’d ask me, “Whatever happened to the such and such I gave you three years ago?” And if he saw a job at my place that needed to be done, he’d look at me and say, “You know, the ______ I gave you a few years back would be perfect to fix that…” He wasn’t nagging – he was gently reminding me that I had what I needed to get stuff done.
Folks, it’s pretty simple. Someone gives you a gift, and you say “thank you”, and then you USE that gift. In gratitude to God, and in honor of Gene McCoy, I’d like to encourage you to take a few moments at some time today to think about the gifts you have received. Then, make sure that you actually usewhat you’ve been given to make this world a brighter, more peaceful, and less-fractured place. It is what Gene tried to do, and it is surely the will of God for us. Amen.
To hear the entire memorial service, including music, scriptures, and other reflections, please use the audio player below.
The remarks about Gene’s life made by his pastor, the Rev. Brad Martin, begin at approximately the 21:10 mark of the audio recording. My remarks, outlined above, can be heard beginning at the 33:40 mark.
The comments below were made at the committal service, a gathering of our immediate family.
As we gather around the grave and contemplate the gift of Dad’s life and consider the nature of our own mortality, I’d like to share a brief reading from the first epistle of John, chapter 3:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:1-2, NIV)
As we think about the great mysteries of life and death, we have to confess that we don’t really know all that much. We know something about what we are, but we realize that we cannot truly be sure of what we will be…
So this day, let us claim what we know: the gift of love.
This past week, as most of you know, I watched more tennis on television than I have in my entire life. For some reason I enjoyed watching Gramps and the rest of you watching Wimbledon.
As I thought about this morning, and the events of this day, it occurred to me that it is easy to focus on what we do not have, and what has been taken away. And then I thought about tennis, where the score is kept in a different way. Nobody has “zero” in tennis. Nobody has “nothing.” When you don’t have anything else, you have “love.” When everything else is gone, there is “love”. And when nobody has anything, it’s called “Love All”.
It seems to me this morning that even when we feel most bereft, we can remember that we have “Love All”. As we walk through the difficult events of this day, let us remember that we have known great love – and if there are times when it feels as though you have nothing – hang onto that love.