My father-in-law, Ted Gaylord, died this morning in Houston.
In many respects it was a blessing. He was just 76 but he suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a hereditary disease that gradually robbed him of all lung function. Watching the long, slow decline of this once irrepressible and active — if not exactly athletic — family patriarch has been a sobering experience. And incredibly sad to see.
He was the most successful businessman I’ve ever known, with an astonishingly unerring sense of when to get in and when to get out. Kenny Rogers’ “Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em” was his favorite song, and he was a walking case study that caught the attention of even Harvard Business School.
He was a self-made success story who never forgot his humble roots in tiny Sodus, N.Y., nor the name of one of his employees or other fine-print stuff. It didn’t matter whether he was talking to the president of the United States or a truck mechanic, he treated them all the same. Of course, over the years, the treatment he dished out seemed to center more and more on him than them — again, regardless of whether it was a president or a mechanic on the receiving end. That was all part of his charm, though.
He was incredibly generous. A firm believer that education was the key to a better existence and that knowledge could never be taken away, he quietly shared his wealth to underwrite scholarships, buy computers and enhance learning environments.
He lived the Code of the West, principles of cowboy ethics immortalized in the book of the same name by his longtime friend, Jim Owen. You always knew where you stood with Ted. He was a tough negotiator but fair to a fault, and he retained the fierce loyalty of many of his staff that has lasted for years, even decades.
There was much to admire about Ted Gaylord and it’s plain to see I did. I’m in good company in that regard.
But there’s another facet to this man that only I was in a position to judge, and it actually is what I admired most. I admired Ted Gaylord because my wife — his daughter — adored him.
Fathers and daughters share a special bond; I get that. I like to think I have that relationship with my own 16-year-old daughter, although she could be rolling her eyes behind my back. I wouldn’t know because I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, like her mother.
But my wife, Missy, is in an entirely different zone. The love she has for her dad is absolute, it’s unconditional, it is deep and it is unshakable. I’m not envious, I don’t feel slighted; it’s nothing like that. I’m an interested observer and not a navel-gazer so, no, I don’t think it’s me.
But I do marvel about the kind of man who could inspire such devotion for going on 50 years. My wife has a critical eye — our kids would say too critical — but all her life she’s been able to gaze deep into her father’s soul and to make the connection that I pray will never be broken, even though her heart now is.
That’s the measure of the man who died Sunday in Houston. That’s the kind of father I still strive to be.
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— Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.