Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eulogy of Donald P. Markham

Words by Dean P. Markham eulogizing Donald P. Markham at his funeral held on April 30, 2013, at Spencer Funeral Home in East Hampton.

On behalf of my Mother, Pauline,    and our family I welcome you today as we celebrate the life of my dad, Donald Markham. The printed obituary chronicles in a neat package the "what" one accomplished but fails to capture the essence of the individual - the qualities of character that define the "who.".

To some Don had a rather gruff exterior, and even at times could be slightly abrasive, but underneath, he was really caring, loving and committed, with a sense of humor and devotion to family, friends and community - especially his grandchildren Nicole, Danielle and Gregory.  I would like to share just a few stories about the "who" that made up my Dad.

Cherished family times often revolved around his stories growing up in East Hampton, particularly with his compatriot in crime, Bobby Dix.  Once, probably when he was in the 3rd or 4th grade, he was sent to detention in the cloak room for talking in class.  Knowing my father, it was probably for doing something much more heinous, like snapping elastic bands.  Center School you see, had,  room the length of the front of the class for storage of coats, lunches and the like, but not visible by those in class.  He thought he had not been the perpetrator and that others rightfully should be equally punished.  As Flip Wilson used to say, "Here comes the Judge!"  On that particular day it either rained or snowed and his classmates, all of whom walked to school, wore artics.  For those of you who aren't familiar, artics were rubber boots that went over your shoes and had buckles or clasps to tighten them.  Don came up with a stroke of brilliance.  He proceeded to buckle the boots - not just to fasten the fronts, but one to each other.  And if that weren't enough, he mixed different boots.  When the dismissal bell rang, he raced out,  hightailing it for Miller Hill (Spencer's is on Miller Hill) as his classmates struggled to unclasp and match their boots.  He said he really enjoyed his afternoon snack of milk and cookies that day.  Now, in spite of this episode, my father remained in very close contact with his classmates, planning, communicating with and attending class reunions every 5 years.

Politics - Democratic Politics - played a significant part of Don's life.  He experienced first hand the traumas growing up during the Great Depression.  He was a Roosevelt Democrat.  With a twinkle in his eye he would say he spent 4 terms in the 2nd grade - Roosevelt's!  That was just one of the many corny jokes he told and we'd all groan.  He fondly reminisced about the few Democratic triumphs in this very Republican Town at that time.  In 1948, while building their house from an old barn on East High Street, we lived with Ed and Jeanette Barton, my mom's sister and brother-in-law. That election day, Ed, a very very Republican, came home from the J. C. Barton Co, sporting his patented Cheshire cat grin,  rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, proceeded to turn on the radio news reports and taunting my father, as every newscaster predicting a Dewey landslide.  The next evening, after the final tally was announced, my Dad secured a copy of as different newspaper as he could, some of which carried stories "Dewey Wins",  but with the afternoon papers correcting the story line of Truman's come from nowhere Democratic victory.  My Dad, placing a copy on every chair in the entire house and then sat quietly in the corner as Ed arrived home.  I understand Ed wasn't quite as jovial that evening.  Regardless, they remained good friends and as was typical, worked together on many many projects for the good of our town.
Donald Markham and High School Friend Governor William O'Neill at Governor's Mansion.
Korea changed my Dad.  Watching NCIS, we know about the character of Marines - the duty, commitment, pride, honor and patriotism - hallmarks of those who serve.  Tom Brokow wrote about men like my Dad in his book "The Greatest Generation."  They did their duty, not believing themselves to be special nor wishing to be pointed out for the obvious.  They just quietly did the job that needed to be done. My Dad rarely talked about his war experiences.  A few years ago, he shared with my son Gregory a different picture of Korea.  In one particularly severe battle, his entire squad, the men he was closest to were killed by a mortar barrage, leaving him wounded. Call it fate. Call it coincidence (I've learned from experience there is no such thing as coincidence) Or call it the hand of God.  There were things that still needed to be done and I think that day the Lord had Don in mind to do a lot of good for a lot of people.  He did not shurk from that duty.
Donald Markham with Squad before mortar attack. Circa 1950.

Discharged, Don jumped into the life of the community he loved.  He was a product of the Great Depression.  People didn't have much then, but here, they gave of themselves as they could.  Old Home Day had been an anticipated annual event but during WWII, it had been suspended.  Revived briefly to welcome home the Vets, it didn't continue as people were too busy rebuilding lives after 20 years of depression and war.

In 1953, my Dad, along with other Veterans such as Dennis Erickson and Bill O'Neill decided to revive Old Home Day. He served as Co-Chair for a couple years.  He also knew it would take more than one or two people to make it a success.  It took a team - which he recruited - to oversee, plan and execute. My Dad was able to get the best out of people and recognized their special talents.  In those days and years later in the Bicentennial Celebrations of our Town and Nation, all the marchers and band performers were fed after the parade.  Time and time again he called upon a lady who seemed to have a special knack to organize and feed the troops - Mrs. Emma Prince who performed splendidly.  My Dad knew how important this was to the success of Old Home Day and in 1976 asked the Bicentennial Committee to recognize Emma for her outstanding contributions.  They dedicate the historical brochure of the town's history to her.  Emma was truly surprised to be so honored ... didn't feel she had done anything special ... but confessed, her hat was a little too small for her head that day.   What struck me about this was the importance my Dad placed on recognizing the team.  It wasn't about him.  It was about the many.  No job was too small and every cog of the wheel was a critical component.

Pauline and Don liked to travel and had many adventures planned until poor health curtailed these excursions.  Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he always wanted to go home.  A little excessive compulsive, the day of return would normally see him packed and at the hotel front desk by 6 am, even if check out and departure weren't until 4 in the afternoon.  He had to get home to his family.

Pauline and Don on Cruise to Alaska.

I guess I'd like to sum it up.  My Dad was extraordinary in many ways, but deep down, just an ordinary guy, who was committed. Just ask my Mom - how else would you stay married for 65 years? 

On a date at old K of C Hall on Newfield St. in Middletown.

 He loved his family, this town and Nation.  He fought for the freedoms we enjoy.  He donated at every Blood Drive and he prided himself on always voting.  Not bad attributes for any of us to emmulate.

Dad, we will miss you.

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