grief shared


left: Paul Davis, Vance Taylor, Sammy Taylor right: Vance, Irene & Randy Pitzak, mom and Sammy (photos taken by Skip Huntress after the funeral service October 20, 2018)

How do you honor the life of your dad in a 10 minute talk?  It had been a busy week…and actually just overwhelming.  By Thursday night we had made all of the phone calls we needed to make, solidified plans with both the mortuary and cemetery.  Annie, Alex, Mike and his family had arrived.  Everybody had gathered that night for dinner at our house.  We finished the slideshow.  Next on my list was to create the program and to write my talk.  I knew that I wanted to talk about my dad’s generosity.  Unfortunately, the thoughts and stories I wanted to share were not coming to me clearly.  I was exhausted.  I sat down after many of our guests that night had left, and saw that I had a text message from Morena.  She forwarded a letter she had written to my mom, my siblings and me.  She asked me to share it, especially to the children (my dad’s grandchildren).  I knew immediately that it was exactly what I wanted to say at the funeral.  She was an answer to my prayer.

At the viewing, the morning of the funeral, we were greeting friends before the service.  We were all stunned to see Vance with his sweet wife Casey and their daughter Sammy enter the room.  They drove through the night from Sacramento, CA to be there.  Vance is Morena’s youngest child and only son.  He is also a dear friend to our family.  Tears rushed to our eyes the second we saw his face…and love filled our hearts. Driving all that way—and then turning around right after the service to drive back would be a huge sacrifice for anyone, but especially Vance.

When grief is shared…it is lightened and your heart grows stronger.  The love that Morena, Vance, Casey & Sammy shared with us this week will always be remembered.

My talk that includes Morena’s letter:

My dad wrote in his memoir-

“The saddest memory was when one morning my dad left for work and never returned.  No one could believe that he would just up and leave.  There was a lot of heartbreak and tears, coupled with disbelief because we all loved him so much.  There was an effort made to find out what happened, along with inquiries made regarding his whereabouts, but he had totally disappeared.  I remember going outside and sitting on top of the road bank of red Texas clay and crying.  I kept saying it was a mistake and that he wouldn’t leave me, but in the end, I had to accept that it was true.  I don’t know if I ever really got over that hurt.”

He was 4 years old.

This experience molded my dad into the man he became.

He wanted to help those who were down on their luck.

He had such great respect for his mother and the plight of single mothers.

We always knew that family was his first priorityand that we had him forever.

My dad was not a man of great financial means- yet there was always enough to give to those “down on their luck”cars to struggling teenagers, money to hungry college students, rides to stranded hitch-hikers and buying a meal for a hungry mother and her children.  He never talked of any of the service he gavesometimes we were lucky enough to be by his side to quietly observe.  Our home was always open to friendsany day or night.  As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to have three friends live with our family at different times.  My dad wrote of that experience- that he was grateful that those friends trusted us enough to share our home and association.  He loved them as his own.

His respect for motherhood began with “Gertrude Arrington” his mother. He wrote,

“My heart swells with pride to write her name and I doubt if I can do her justice with my pen.  She was one of the most gallant women that ever lived and though she had some shortcomings, I know of no one who could surpass her as a mother.  Our family should always be proud to know that her blood and courage are flowing through our veins.”

Raising 9 children in the depression was a difficult taskraising them as a single mother was an impossible one.  She worked in sewing rooms day and nightand picked fruit and cotton whenever the work was available.  He had a front seat to her struggle and he never forgot it.  We have had friends reach out since my dad’s passing that have shared their experiences of his generosity.  I realized this week that most of these individuals were being raised by single mothers themselves.

Our dear friend Morena asked me to share her experiences of my dad.  We met Morena in Petaluma, CA.  She was a single mom raising three beautiful teenagers: Martha, Kathy & Vance.  Vance and Kathy have muscular dystrophy.  She shared a story with me this week that I didn’t know he was a part of.  Morena used a van to transport her family. Vance and Kathy had to really bend their heads to get in and out of the van because it wasn’t retrofitted. It was difficult for them.  She also had a heavy wooden ramp to get them in and out of the van.

Morena wrote,

“One day he just showed up at my house and told me to call such and such place to make an appointment for the van.  He explained to me that he had talked to some people in the community and had gathered enough funds to get the van retrofitted by a certified dealer, so the kids would not have to strain, trying to avoid hitting their heads.  And just like that, I took the van and had it done and a brand-new pair of very light steel ramps came with it.  We still have those ramps and they continue to be so very useful.  When Eagle Scout project time came for Mike, there was again Bob’s influence and help.  Mike could have chosen from so many projects but he chose to do a concrete ramp for our house so that the kids could get in and out of the house in a safe way.  I know that Bob had much to do with that decision and Mike was very thrilled to do that service for us.  All through the day, there was Bob making sure that everything was being done just right, working along with other men that I am sure he and Mike had recruited and not allowing me to worry about providing food because he brought lots of food and snacks for everyone to enjoy while working on the project.  That cement ramp will forever be a reminder of that beautiful day and of a most kind and generous Bob Miller and his son Mike.  Years later, my daughter Kathy decided to move to Salt Lake City seeking opportunities.  Bob and Connie had already moved to Salt Lake.  I called Bob to let him know that Kathy would be moving there.  Once again, there was Bob looking all over for accessible apartments for Kathy and looking for areas where he thought her needs would be best met.  He found the right apartment and we just had to go there and take care of the paperwork.  In between all these experiences, there were all the many dinners and family gatherings that he always invited us to.  His house was always full of people and he was always cooking some delicious food.  My kids had a very happy teenager hood in-spite of their circumstances in large part because Bob in one way or another was always including them in their family’s activities.  They knew he was a trusted friend who really cared for them.  Now you know some of the things that Bob did for our family.  But most importantly, I wanted your children to know it, so they can always remember what a great legacy their grandfather left them. I am thankful that I know we will see Bob again.”

My dad’s legacy is not in possessionsor worldly acclaim.  Most people don’t know his name.  And we, as his posterity, don’t know all of the good he has done in the world.  What we do know is that he loved us.  We know that family was first for himand forever.  We know to look for those down on their luckand to do something about iteven if all we have to give is a smile, a warm mealor a story of our struggle.  The final paragraph of his memoir states exactly what he expects of us-

“I could write on forever but I think this is the point where all of my family should take over the story and expand on what has been written here.  Your children will appreciate reading it someday and it will be your testimony to them.  I love Mom and all of you with every fiber of my being.  You have all made my life worth living.”

Just as my dad said of his motherI will say of him

My heart swells with pride to say his nameI can’t do justice with my wordsHe was a man of integrity, optimism, kindness, and perseverance. Our family will always be proud to know that his blood and courage are flowing through our veins.

I will be forever grateful for Morena and Vance and the honor they showed to my dad and the friends they have always been.  I hope to be the kind of friends that they are in the world.


 my dad and Vance- scanned from my parent’s photos: taken at the Petaluma Memorial Day breakfast in the early 90’s


their last visit- Memorial Day 2018 at my parent’s home

a highly favored friend

SCAN0067dad, Bishop Jim Earp, Steve Lindsey (nephew) @ Dillon Beach in the late 80’s (scan)

Jim Earp was one of my dad’s very favorite people in the world.  I know his words would mean a lot to him-

Yesterday, I received the sad news from Annie Miller that her father and our dear friend, Bob Miller had passed away.

Back in the mid 1980s, I served as a young bishop for our church in Petaluma, CA. Because of our small numbers, we always rejoiced whenever a new family would move into the ward. So, the Sunday that Bob and Connie Miller showed up with their four young kids in tow, I wasted no time bringing them into my office to get acquainted.

It took about a nanosecond to see that Connie was as sweet a person as you would ever come across. Bob was quick to assure me that Connie and the kids would be coming to church, but was careful to leave himself out of that equation.

Somewhere inside my head a little switch flipped and the thought came to me, “OK, so this guy is my next project.”

Fortunately, that is not what followed. What actually happened was that as Sue and I got to know the Millers, we fell in love with them and they became dear friends — the kind that you could invite over at the drop of a hat for dinner or dessert, or to just hang out, play some songs on the guitar and enjoy one another’s company.

Bob had a great sense of humor and enjoyed a good story — and he had a bunch of them stored up from a life that could best be described as “colorful.” He had made a lot of interesting acquaintances along the way. Once, he invited Sue and me to come with him and Connie to see the legendary Charles Brown perform in Berkeley. We got front row seats, listened to some great classic blues and even got to visit with Charles backstage after the show. Turns out, Charles was a close friend with a member of Bob’s family!

He was a great lover of — and quite versed in — music of all kinds, but especially blues, country and bluegrass. He always enjoyed it when I pulled out the guitar and we would all sing some John Denver songs together — which was a bit of a mystery to me why someone who appreciated good music all his life would enjoy my rather modest musical skills — but it was also an honor.

Bob was a born salesman. He had an endless supply of great ideas for selling something and making money. They didn’t always work out, but that never deterred him from pursuing the next opportunity.

I learned early in life that it’s generally not a good idea to mix friendship and business, so I had always studiously avoided opportunities from friends to make a buck. However, Bob has the singular distinction in my entire life of selling me on an idea he had come up with to produce a memorabilia book for Little League baseball players, where they could store their team photos, record their baseball stats and blend it all with some great baseball stories that taught the value of teamwork, sportsmanship and learning the fundamentals with discipline and hard work. We didn’t sell many of them, but I still have a case of those books in my shed — relics of some great memories and our enduring friendship.

Anyone who knew Bob knows how much he loved his family. Connie, Carin, Deedee, Michael and Annie were the center of his universe. I think he always thought he won the jackpot when he won Connie’s heart. She is not only the rebar that has given their family strength, she is the brick and mortar, too. Together, he and Connie raised a wonderful family that has remained close as they have grown up and are now raising families of their own.


How grateful I am that during our recent trip to Utah, Sue and I took the opportunity to spend a wonderful afternoon with Bob, Connie, Carin and Dede, and some of their kids. We sensed as we left that it might be the last time we would see Bob in this life.

I have this personal belief that is an extension of my faith — and that is that our closest friendships were forged before we ever came to this earth. That once here, we have the opportunity to renew those relationships and prove them while on this mortal journey.

A friend I met during our BYU days — and have kept all these years — recently described me as a “highly favored” friend — one of less than a handful throughout his entire life. That touched me deeply and confirmed to me that the most valuable work of our lives is found in how well we deal with our family and friends.

I can think of no higher compliment than to say that Bob and Connie Miller are “highly favored” in my life, that I am grateful that they are part of the fabric of our lives, and that I fully expect our friendship to endure not only through the ages, but in the eternities.

Jim Earp