Today, we gather to remember and celebrate the life of a truly extraordinary man, my father, SFC Phillip Glen DeWitt, born on February 16th, 1945. Dad had a tough childhood. It seems that his cards were stacked against him from the start. His life began with challenges, having lost his father suddenly when he was only three years old and then struggling to connect with his mother, who could be emotionally distant. Dad was determined to pave a different path for his own family.
Dad listened to me and taught me so many things, but most of all, he was fun, from letting me choose what we did on an afternoon playdate as a small child to turning the mundane into the magical, like taking me to see the first sunrise on New Year's morning when we would get up really early and walk to flag hill park where it seemed like the rest of the world was sleeping. Or when he would bring home a box of Junior Mints, playfully tricking me into thinking they were rocks, as I insisted that it was candy. Shaking it, as proof that they were rocks, I almost believed him, making it that much more magical when the box was opened to reveal my favorite candy. Dad liked to be silly and have fun, and could be like a big kid himself.
My father's legacy is his devotion to family. Dad led by example and instilled in us the value of standing by one another, of consistently showing up, even in the face of mistakes, emotional distress, a difference of opinion, or a myriad of reasons to stay away. An example comes to mind. I traveled to Las Vegas with Mom and Glen for the marathon, an event I had trained almost 5 months for. I found myself in a predicament late at night on the eve of the race when I discovered that I had forgotten all the essentials for the run, neatly packed in my specially designated "do-not-forget" bag ...which I had accidentally left over 200 miles away, at my home in Redlands. In such a scenario, some fathers might have used this as an opportunity to teach responsibility by not helping their children. Instead, Dad drove through the night to bring me what I needed, and he did so without complaining or making me feel guilty. Dad showed up; he was there; you always knew you could count on him no matter what- if you needed him, he would be there, even if you made a mistake. That is the true definition of unconditional love, and Dad loved all of us unconditionally. Dad was always there for me and my brother when we needed him. Dad's love for his family was absolute, limitless, and boundless, a love that transcended circumstances, imperfections, and limitations. Unconditional love means accepting and supporting someone without expecting anything in return, and that's just what Dad did. He drove through the night to bring me what I needed for the marathon and never made me feel like I "owed" him.
Family devotion was a cornerstone of Dad's character. I remember my mom telling me: Dad would do anything for our family; he would die for our family. Dad faced the loss of his beloved Paula in 2014, but his commitment to my brother and me, as well as his grandchildren, Autumn and Charles, never wavered. Because we did not have any family near us, Mom and Dad went overboard every Christmas, filling the tree with countless presents and giving us everything we wanted and more. Dad was an extravagant gift-giver and loved to go above and beyond. Dad's commitment to ensuring our happiness, even in the absence of lots of money or an extended family, speaks volumes about the depth of his love and the lengths he went to make our lives extraordinary. Throughout our whole lives, he remained fiercely devoted to his family. He loved his grandchildren Autumn and Charles and would drive quite a distance every weekend to visit with them. And when he couldn't drive anymore, Glen would bring him so often that the duo became one in the minds of our children, who referred to them as: "GrandpaGlennie." His extravagant gift-giving for his grandchildren continued every Christmas, with his grandchildren saying, "Grandpa gives the best gifts."
Dad had an amazing sense of humor and made Mom laugh until she cried almost daily throughout their 45 years of marriage. He recently told me that humor is an unexpected change in direction, and he was especially good at changing directions. Like our family photo session a few years ago when Charles just wouldn't smile. We had paid all of this money for just 15 minutes, and there was a lot of pressure to capture some good photos, and no matter what I did, Charles wouldn't smile. Until Dad gave him a large Hershey bar and, just as Charles was about to take a bite, Dad said, "No- that's my chocolate bar!" The result? A huge, natural smile.
Although Dad never graduated from college, he was the smartest man I knew and is the reason I went. Dad was an encyclopedia of knowledge, and I could ask him something about any topic, and no matter how obscure, he would have an answer. Dad knew that a college degree was our ticket to a better life. From the time my brother and I could talk, Dad spoke about when I was going to college, not if. Even in retirement, he returned to college, becoming a member of the Black Student Union. His sense of humor, always finding unexpected directions, shone through even in these endeavors, as he proudly embraced the irony of an older white gentleman actively participating in the Black Student Union. Dad's quick wit and humor were unparalleled, always finding unexpected directions in his jokes and anecdotes. And let's not forget his AP - acronym phase.
Dad had a handful of core friends across the globe that he was fiercely devoted to. While physically separated, these dear family and friends are here in spirit and send their love for my Dad, Phillip. Ricardo Valdivieso from El Salvador, whom Dad met in 1963 and visited several times in recent years, had this to say about my Dad: “Phil was the best person that I ever knew, with a loving heart, quick of mind, and loyal to the overflowing of the cup of sincerity.
Valor and laughter were in his handshake, in his smile, and in his soul.
He was the light that broke apart the darkest of clouds, the breeze that brought the gentle bending of trees, the wings of a soaring eagle, bearing the promise of, I will see you soon, and that promise is guaranteed by the twinkling of his eyes!”
A long-time friend in England, Steve Quinn asked me to share this:
“I turned up, all those years ago, an almost total stranger, was welcomed into your family home and within a couple of hours was made to feel like I'd always been part of it.
Phillip was one of the most honest, honourable and generous people I've ever met and I consider myself the most fortunate of men to have had him as a true friend.
His love for, and pride in, his children (and more latterly his grand-children) shone through every time he mentioned you (which was often).
Not to forget the cats! - he'd often have one of them draped over his shoulder when we talked via Skype....
I think if I had to try and encapsulate my impression of Phillip in one word it would have to be "enthusiasm" - he had such an incredible enthusiasm for life and the people in his life and I could guarantee that after every call (whatever kind of day I'd had) he'd have put a smile on my face.”
Now, I would like to conclude by reading one of Dad's favorite poems, Eternity by William Blake:
He who binds to himself a joyDad had more adventures to go on. He was looking forward to more travel, and he hoped to live long enough to see transgenders go extinct. But the Lord called him home. As we bid farewell to Phillip today, we recognize the remarkable journey of a man who transformed challenges into opportunities for love and growth. May he rest in peace, knowing that his legacy of resilience, love, family devotion, and a quirky sense of humor lives on in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to know him. Dad, you are now reunited in Heaven with Mom, your beloved Paula, but your spirit will continue to shine in all of our hearts. Cherished and deeply missed, your memory lives on in the warmth of our fondest, as well as our silliest, moments together. "Kiss the joy as it flies."
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.