Honoring my father: Robert R. Scott (1919-2014)

Eulogy for Robert Ronald Scott (1919-2014)
January 17, 2014
Salt Lake City, Utah

By Ronald Bruce Scott

On behalf my seven brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, and, my dad’s adored 98-year-old brother, our Uncle J. Russell Scott seated here with us on the stand,  I thank you for joining with us to celebrate the life of  Robert Ronald Scott -- our brother, father, grandfather, great grandfatherand great-great-grandfather.  Thanks especially to my brothers David and Joe who organized this service with Bishop Tanner.  It had to be a challenge akin to herding cats.

Portrait of a young Robert Ronald Scott, age 24, in Brazil

Until a few days ago Dad was a living testimony to the value of the scripture that advises all to endure to the end. He was working for pleasure and profit. Dad said he continued to work in his retirement because loved what he was doing. Translating Portuguese documents into English for the church kept his mind sharp and energized even as his body began to wear out.  The work kept him alive, thriving and vital.  He presciently resigned from his translating job just two days before he passed away.

Clearly he knew the end was near.  So did others.  As he began to fade late Friday night, way across town the woman who introduced him to our mother way back, awakened abruptly and asked her care giver to “check in on Bob.”  A few minutes after he passed, Donna, the widow of his youngest brother Willard also passed away.  I don’t know what to make of these events, but they do not strike me as mere coincidences.  Now there is only Russ—the eldest of the four children of James and Lucy Scott -- to carry-on for his generation.

A few years ago as their sister Ada in Seattle neared the end of her life, Bob and Russ planned a little road trip.  Bob would do the driving because Russ could not see very well.  Russ would be the navigator and keep a sharp ear out at railroad crossings, because Bob could not hear.  The two of them –one nearly deaf, the other nearly blind – rolling down the highway toward Seattle conjured wacky visions of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List.

It was a crazy idea.  We all laughed out loud.  But, laughing aside, it illustrated clearly what an indomitable pair these two were.  Nothing was impossible.  Let the record show that Dad did not go gladly into that long goodnight.  He lived life as fully as he could, until finally he could live no longer.

A few weeks ago we sat in his living room. He brought up his impending death and funeral. He wanted it short and to the point.  No hoo-haw. No fussing.  I argued that the grandchildren, especially, would benefit learning more about him and his times. He reluctantly acquiesced.

So forgive us if this service today is not quite as short as dad wanted.  When it is over I hope we will have taken stock of the man as he was seen and loved by his children, their spouses, and grandchildren.

Those of you sitting near the stand today may notice that I’m wearing a new Christmas tie.  It wasn’t the only tie in the closet.  I chose it because it symbolizes clearly what Christmas and dad were all about:  Giving.  Giving back.  Giving to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Sharing eagerly and regularly with those who needed help.  Long ago Bishop Charles Stratford, who led this ward when I was young, reminded me that dad was one of a very few reliable men he could turn to in any crisis – spiritual, personal, financial.  Dad, and mother too, always said “yes.”  It was practice, a good habit that lasted a lifetime.

First on dad’s and mother’s life-long bucket list were the children and men and women who became their children-by-marriage. Dad and mom adopted and loved their in-law children as if they were their own flesh and blood. There were few if any in-law problems in this family. In fact Diana, Wendi, Keith, Patty, Ryan, Leonard, Matt and Joleen came to love them like they do their own parents.  

My sister-in-law Wendy Scott recalls sitting in the garden in the late afternoon with her girls and mom and dad.  They were patiently waiting for the sun to start setting so they could witness a particular species of flower as it opened its petals to catch the last rays of light before closing tight for the long goodnight. My parents were giddy with excitement as their grandchildren. Precious moments. Lovely memories.

David asked me to touch on gospel lessons I learned from dad.  Two stick out in my mind.  The first has everything to do with recognizing the fact that we are all God’s children.

I was four, perhaps five. We were living on 8th East at the time. While mom and dad shopped in the O.P. Skaggs grocery store on 9th South, my brother Brent and I played outside…triggering the “magic door” that opened on its own.  As a black family that lived up the street from us – I think their names were Banks or Bankhead – neared the entrance to the store I pointed them out to Brent and used a nasty pejorative word that I apparently had learned in my wanderings around the neighborhood.   The black woman walked over and slapped my face.  I reported the incident to my parents, repeating the word I had used.  Dad said I deserved the slap and more.  “Where on earth did you learn such a word,” I recall him demanding.  “I can tell you, it wasn’t in my house. In my home we believe that all men and women are loved by God regardless of their skin color.” He revisited this theme often, teaching by word and by example.

Dad was very serious about honoring the Sabbath Day.  And, I was good at pressing the limits. Seriously good. I will save those stories for another day.

Sundays were not sit-around times.  They were, however, stay-at-home times.  To keep us home between the end of Sunday School in the morning and Sacrament Meeting in the evening, he and I taped off an official badminton court—singles and doubles – in the backyard.   The games that ensued were fiercely competitive.  They regularly produced more than a few heated arguments, laughter and often a blizzard of scornful epithets. They usually left dad wondering whether the game had been an appropriate Sabbath activity, as they left us both so hot and sweaty we needed to shower before going to sacrament meeting in the evening.

Oh, for just one more round of Sabbath-honoring Badminton!!

There are many more stories.  However, I promised him I would do my bit to keep this service as short as possible.  So, the official summary of his life reads like this:

Robert (Bob) Ronald Scott, 94, of East Millcreek, died early Saturday (January 11) of causes incident to age.   He was born August 31, 1919 in Salt Lake City, the third child of James Latimer and Lucy Russell Scott.  He was raised in the Russell family home on West Temple, in the Jefferson Ward area of the city.  A few years after his father passed away when Bob was just 10, he lived for a year on a farm in Star Valley, Wyoming, an experience he often referred to as “transformative” and “inspirational.”

He graduated from South High School in 1938 before enrolling at the University of Utah, where he studied chemistry.  His academic work was interrupted by missionary service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil, where he became fluent in German and Portuguese; and, by World War II.  He was a radio technician on a U.S. Navy communications ship assigned to the fleet that would have supported the invasion of Japan had it not surrendered after the first atomic bombs were dropped. 

While stationed stateside, Bob married Lillian Haws on July 8, 1944 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Their vows were later solemnized in the Salt Lake L.D.S. Temple.  They lived in San Francisco for several months before he embarked for the war in the Pacific.  Returning home, he earned a B.A. degree in Chemistry.

As a college student, Bob was part of a team directed by Gordon B. Hinckley, later president of the church, which translated LDS scriptures into Portuguese.   After graduating college, he worked for Wasatch Chemical Company for a number of years before founding a company that eventually became known as Universal Chemical, a formulator and manufacturer of industrial products.

Regretting that his musical abilities were limited to drums, which he played in the University of Utah Concert Orchestra, Bob took up piano lessons as a young father. He practiced rigorously and often accompanied his children when they sang or played other musical instruments.

Like others that came of age during The Great Depression and World War II, Bob believed one should acquire pragmatic survival skills.  Over the years he learned carpentry, electrical wiring and cabinet-making. When public sewers came to East Millcreek in the late 1950s, he, with help from neighbors and children, hand dug the trenches and laid the pipe that connected the family home to the system.  Assisted by sons Brent, Joe and David, he remodeled the family home and transformed a rustic cabin Brighton into a place that became a treasured gathering spot for the family.  He often observed that the very best times of his life came working side-by-side with his children.

After he retired from business in the late 1980s, he and Lillian served as adult missionaries for the L.D.S. Church in Salt Lake City then, later, in Portugal on the Island of Madeira, off the coast of Africa.   On their return home, Bob became a productive Portuguese-to-English translator for the church, where he worked tirelessly for more than 20 years until two days before his death. 

Lillian, his wife of 64 years, passed away in 2008. He is survived by all eight of their children:  Ronald Bruce (Diana), of San Francisco/Boston;  James Brent (Wendy), Roberta Jean Jelovchan (Keith), Joseph Lynn (Patti), Mary Englund (Ryan), Lillian Howell (Leonard), Catherine Ruth Bullock (Matthew), and David Russell (Joleen), all of metropolitan Salt Lake City; 37 grandchildren (three grandchildren and one great-grandchild preceded him in death);   65 great-grandchildren and2 great-great-grandchildren.  He is also survived by his eldest brother J. Russell Scott and numerous nieces and nephews.

Dad's influence and love lives on in each person he touched.  It is my belief and hope that he lives on with our mother and the children who preceded him in death.  It is also my prayer. Amen