MEMORIAL PORTRAIT of JOHN DUNCAN
One of the most poignant parts, for me, of preparing for a memorial service is the time I am able to spend with the family, listening to their memories of their loved one. On the afternoon I spent with Sandy, Debbie, and Ross, I was able to ask some questions and hear their answers, as they thought about their lives with John.
Tell me what you’ll most remember, I asked, and Debbie mentioned her sense of connection with her big brother, his help with her homework, the paper route she helped him with and their many times together at Sand Lake as kids. Ross remembered John’s dry sense of humor and John’s service in Viet Nam where he received the Purple Heart. Sandy spoke of John’s extended family, the Carpenters, and how the two of them, when they married, expanded their families beyond their own biological families.
We talked about that empty seat in the bakery, where John held down the “locals” table and offered his perspective on a wide range of topics, volunteered his help with every project, giving generously of his time and expertise to anyone who needed it.
I was so grateful for his help when I was moving two months ago, for John offered his pickup, his time, his expertise in packing the storage locker, and then driving the huge UHaul truck through downtown Astoria and the narrow streets of Alderbrook to my new home.
There were river trips and fishing trips, golf and boating, building things and tearing things apart to fix them. John helped every neighbor on the block in their Portland neighborhood with the myriad of household repairs that always crop up—water heaters, toilets, kitchen sinks---he knew how to fix them all and when he and Sandy moved to Gearhart permanently, he continued his generous donations of time and talent.
He loved to play games, to hear a good story and tell another. I remember how carefully he’d think through his explanations, striving for just the right word to describe what he was thinking. It was important to him to be right on the mark. He presided over the barbecue pit at many neighborhood gatherings, as he and Sandy invited neighbors and friends to eat fried clams and barbecue.
John Duncan was a generous man who strove to be fair to all; he was honest and ethical, a moral man who believed in doing the right thing. A God and Country guy, loyal, law-abiding, exacting, an engineer to the bone, John was a Scot---thrifty but not stingy, accepting of all people. He loved to distribute lottery tickets to his friends at holiday times and was tickled if somebody won something.
John and Sandy were a good pair. They enjoyed being together and I was tickled by his always referring to Sandy as his bride. He depended on her, loved her deeply, and lit up when she came into the room on those mornings at the bakery.
John had very high standards, for himself and for others. He was frugal, sometimes to the point of missing the big picture in order to save a few bucks. We laughed about the story Ross told about John’s giving him a certain tool for his birthday and then immediately borrowing it so he could use it on one of his own projects.
Sandy said she met John when he came to fix her sink, and her friend Sherry quipped---“he fixed your sink and he didn’t swear once! You’d better marry him!”
John’s pride in his grandson Marcus, son of Nicola and Michael, was strong. He and Sandy regularly attended Marcus’s athletic events and were involved in Marcus’s life. Marcus, Michael, and Nicola were important in John’s life, and they will carry forth the values they learned from John and Sandy.
When I talked with Nicola, she spoke about her Dad’s great intelligence and his sense of humor---which lots of people didn’t get! She felt so well-loved, that her Dad’s love for her was deep and endless. “He was always teaching me,” she said. “Before I could drive the family car, I had to prove that I could change the oil, change a tire, know what was going on under the hood. He taught me to drive a stick shift, and through all the ups and downs of the teenage years, he was laid back, calm, even-tempered even when I was furious about something.” “Life’s a giggle”, he would say.
Nicola’s partner Michael and John were close---and very similar in personality, intelligence. The two of them were good friends and understood each other well.
Marcus told Nicola, ”Papa did everything he could for me; he wanted to make me happy. He always supported me in all my activities, my ball games, plays, school activities. He always supported me in everything. He played catch with me, taught me to golf, and he took me to work with him on the Ridge Path.” Marcus always wanted to tell John about his life; they shared a strong bond.
John’s generosity and commitment to community service are well known in Gearhart. He was proud of what he’d done to extend the Ridge Path, and it is in his honor that the John Duncan Fund for the Gearhart Ridge Path has been established. You will have a chance to donate in John’s name when we meet at the Firehouse after this service for a reception.
In closing, as we thought about our loss of this dear man, we just wished we could have had him with us a longer time and that we hoped he knew how we loved him. And Nicola confided that she wished her Dad had been able to meet the new puppy; John pretended he didn’t much like pets, but she knew better.
It’s hard to lose someone who has been such an integral part of our lives. But I found a quote by A.A. Milne, the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories that fits here:
If ever there is a tomorrow
When we’re not together,
There is something you must always remember.
You are braver than you believe,
Stronger than you seem,
And Smarter than you think.
But the most important thing is
Even if we are apart,
I’ll always be with you.