My Eulogy for Dad, By Diana
Walter Frederick Datwyler Jr. was a highly intelligent, compassionate, hard working and loving
soul who had a true and guiding ethical and moral compass that he lived by each day. He had a
wonderful wry sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye when he smiled, and a rare but deep belly
laugh. He was, what we often call with sublime simplicity, “a good man.” He was also my Father.
And a more loving, supportive, instrumental, and helpful Dad I could never have wanted.
Though I may refer to him now in these remarks as “my Father” I hope you will hear the
descriptions and stories of a man you knew as your loving husband, your beloved Dad, your
dear, sweet Papa Walt, a treasured member of your extended family, and your good friend.
Walter, or Fred, as his parents called him, was born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 2, 1929.
He lived his earliest childhood years there with his mother and father, who had emigrated from
the Aargau region of Switzerland, and his sister, Rosemarie, five years his senior. After the
Great Flood of 1937 ravaged the neighborhood, his family moved to Berwyn, Illinois, a lively
suburb just outside of Chicago. Dad loved to tell stories of his youth in Berwyn, of walking
everywhere he needed to go, of going to the movies every week, sometimes twice, attending
Morton High School with its world class band instructor, and, eventually, heading into the big city of Chicago every chance he got to hear big band leaders and their orchestras play the hits ofthe day. One of Dad’s most prized possessions is his time and pride worn autograph book with the signatures of Harry James, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, and the like, scrawled across the pages.
While a student at Morton high school, my father learned to play the trumpet and became a
talented member of his high school band. Unfortunately, he was so determined to be his best,
that he practiced too long and hard and suffered from over use of his lip and had to put the
trumpet down for a time. He did not let that keep him from participating, however, and he
promptly picked up and learned to play the bass, an instrument the band was in short supply of.
He later regained his ability to play his favorite instrument and played trumpet in numerous
bands throughout his life. In addition to studying hard and excelling academically, he also wrote
on the school paper. He often told with pride and a little glee, of the time he wrote a Valentines
Day article that he overheard other students raving about.
As a youth, Dad spent many wonderful summer vacations in Kentucky with his Uncle Bill and
Aunt Dorothy, at “the camp” as they so affectionately termed it. There he learned to swim in the
muddy river, to fish for carp, and to shoot squirrels with his Uncle. To say that this later remark
about the poor squirrels comes as a shock to those of us who knew him is a true understatement, for the Walt we knew and loved would never, ever kill, or even harm, a single living being. I, myself, have seen him carry wayward ants, spiders, you name it, gingerly to the door and set them down carefully outside the house.
After attending Morton Junior College for two years, Dad went to Purdue University where he continued to excel in his academic coursework and earned the marks needed to gain admittance to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, arguably the very best engineering school in the country at the time and to this day. There he worked extremely hard
as a graduate student and teaching assistant, graduating in 1953 with a Master of Science in
His first job out of MIT would be with Bendix Research Labs, in Southfield, where, with the exception of a two year stint in the Army at Fort Bliss, Texas, he spent the vast majority of his professional career. While at Bendix he applied for, and was granted several patents, including one for the Combination Vehicle Yaw Stabilizer, an invention which is used to prevent the
tendency for towed vehicles to sway and swerve. And it was at the very start of his 30 plus year career at Bendix that he met many fine men, no doubt most important among them, a guy named Ed McGlinn, who would soon introduce Walt to his future bride, Mary Louise McGlinn.
She was Ed’s younger and only sister who had come up from Leavenworth, Kansas, to start her adult life in Detroit with the care and support of her eldest brother. Walt was smitten with her from the very start and she, him. They began a whirlwind courtship, traveling back and forth between Detroit and Alamogordo, New Mexico, where Walt was working on a defense project for Bendix. The pictures we see from that time in their lives show how in love they were and what a beautiful couple they made.
It took very little time for them to decide to marry, and even less still, to start their family: A baby
girl they named Diana Marie was born on his 29th birthday just ten and a half months after they
wed. Kathryn Louise arrived a month shy of two years later, and Marta Marie three years after Kathy. Walt worked long and hard to provide for his family and together with Mary, they raised their children in a sturdy classic bungalow home in Royal Oak that Mary decorated beautifully. There, the little girls grew up to be young women, the many family pets were loved and cared for, and they spent their 59 years of marriage together rejoicing in the good times and family
successes and weathering the trials and tribulations that came along.
It was in this house that he loved that my Father took his last breaths, in the living room adorned with the photographs and portraits of his dearest, many of which he had taken with his own camera. It came as great comfort to his wife and daughters, as it should to all who loved him, that as he passed away in the very early hours of Saturday, May 14, he was in his own home cared for by those who loved him most deeply.
Throughout Walt’s adult life, he enjoyed taking photographs. He will long be remembered as
our family photographer who captured the precious and cherished moments of our lives
together. In the beginning he took only slides, and we have countless albums of these. Later
on, he used his 35mm camera and also a polaroid that used to delight the children. It seemed to
us like magic, how he snapped the picture, pulled it from the camera, warmed it on his arm so it
would develop just right, and then voila! pealed the backing off to reveal a photograph that just a
minute ago didn’t even exist. In addition to keeping a complete photographic record of his
family’s life, my Father took the time and care to take pictures for others.
He made notebooks containing all the photographs of the cast of Oakland University’s production of Hair, in which he was a band member, and his future son in law’s high school baseball career, to name just a couple. There were two things you could count on when Dad took pictures of an event: one, that the prints would be numbered on the back in the order they were taken- and dated in military time- year first, then month, and day, and two, that you would receive a complete set, complimentary, all numbered and dated as well. He always had his camera and luckily for us, we now have the pictures of every family milestone including the family vacations to Louisville, Leavenworth, and New England, the high school and college graduations of his daughters and wife, Mary, the births and earliest days of his grandchildren’s lives, and the McGlinn Gatherings over the years, as well as the sweet everyday moments of our lives together. These photographs, so carefully and lovingly taken and organized, will be cherished forever.
My father loved and even respected all animals. This is why a photograph of him as a boy, holding a dead squirrel by the tail in one hand and a rifle in the other, comes as such a jarring shock to me when I see it. My father would later go to great lengths to make certain the squirrels were fed in his backyard He took such great care of our many family pets beginning with my
first, a hamster, Hammy. A memory I will always cherish which highlights Dad’s wry sense of
humor is that when, coming home from first grade one day, I asked him if I could adopt the pet hamster that a classmate was offering. My Dad said, “Do you really want a used hamster?” and then to my delight he promptly took me up to B’wana Dons to pick out a brand new baby hamster. All our hamsters, and there were at least three, and all our dogs and cats were loved and cared for by Dad. Even when the poor animals had lived out their lives, he tenderly dispatched them with chloroform by his own hand in the case of hamsters, or was the one to take them to the vet to be put to sleep. I’m sure he shed a tear or two for every one.
Dad was a genuine humanitarian. He loved his fellow man and gave generously to countless causes over the years. I never once was with him when he didn’t give a dollar or two to the man or woman on the street. Giving to the street musician or disabled person gave him a special feeling I think and it grieved him when we couldn’t stop in moving traffic for the person on the
corner asking for help. He tipped generously and always. Even if it wasn’t expected or allowed.
When we started going to Einstein Brothers for coffee and there was no tip jar, dad complained about it, and not long after he was delighted to see that they had in fact placed a cup on the counter. At Zoup, where he enjoyed many a bowl of lobster bisque, he tried in vain to tip the worker behind the soup counter. The last time I can recall it, he stood at the counter waiting
patiently to speak to one of the servers during a particularly busy time. Eventually, when no one
could stop to speak to him, I helped him walk away by telling him we would get them the next time. I will never go in to Zoup without leaving a tip on the table. For you, dad.
Walter Frederick Datwyler Jr. was a true gentleman. He had the manners and soft spoken style
that comes with being one. He never, ever forgot to say thank you. He thanked me many times
and over and over during the last several years that we spent together. He thanked me for the
smallest gesture of kindness, care or support. Each and every time we went out together for a
bite to eat, a cup of coffee, to the doctor, or on an errand, he said “thank you, Diana.” We had a
little light hearted back and forth about it. I always responded in one of several ways: “Well, you
did feed and clothe me all those years,” or “You’d do the same for me,” or “This is why you have
kids.” The last time we shared this exchange, it was as he lay sick and failing, in his bed at the
nursing center, a few days before he came home to hospice care. He thanked me for a sip of
water. And with tears in my eyes, I said, “You’re welcome, Dad. After all that’s why you had
kids.” My father smiled and chuckled ever so quietly. That was the last time I saw my dad smile,
but I will never forget it all the days of my life.
Walter Frederick Datwyler was a wonderful father. He was devoted to his three daughters and
would do anything for them. He was always there when I really needed him. To search for and
rescue my tiny kitten from the top of the telephone pole, to help me shelter with my little girls in
the basement during threatening weather, to sit at the hospital with me when one of my children
was sick, to get something from the store that I needed and in countless, countless other ways.
He always had just the right words to say to soothe and comfort me in times of stress or sadness. Dad also knew exactly when no words at all would do, only a hug. A wonderful, enveloping, healing hug.
“Walter Frederick Datwyler Jr.” To watch him sign his name, or even see it on a piece of paper,you knew that here was a man who took great pride and care in everything he did. Yes, he took pride in his signature and enjoyed telling me how a grade school teacher had often praised his penmanship highly. Over the years I took delight in watching him sign his name. How he always started his last name with the pronouncement of that capital letter D that looped at the top just so slightly and then sent a bold and heralding line forward that would cross the t that came several letters after. He always signed his name Walter Frederick Datwyler Jr., even when the Jr was no longer needed, out of respect for this father. When, in his last months, age and declining memory caused him to lose some of his acuity with the letters of his name and their placement, it was unbearable for me to watch. Sadly, it took the best efforts of the three of us, mom, dad and me- to get that signature down right on his absentee ballot for the democratic presidential primary this past March. Yet, when he was very sick in the hospital, he bravely rallied and placed that beautiful signature, capital D with a flourish and all, on document after document placed before him.
My Dad and I talked about many things, especially during the past five years as we spent more
and more time together. He shared some of his biggest moments of happiness and also those
of disappointment, of pride and being humbled, of joy and sadness.
One of the things we enjoyed talking about was his collection of video cassettes and DVDs that
he had inventoried carefully and alphabetically by title and also categorized by genre and leading actors. If he had a particular favorite, he would almost certainly buy an extra copy or two to give away, and I was frequently a lucky recipient. As he began to see his life in perspective, and although it gave him some degree of angst, he started parting with his prized collection and
donating them to “the movie library” at our cottage. There they would always have a special place to be enjoyed by generations.
The one movie that dad could never discuss without being moved nearly to tears, was “Saving Private Ryan.” It undoubtedly caused him to think about and feel emotionally connected to a time and experience of being in the Army and serving the country as he had during the Korean War from 1953-1955. Now, looking back on it, I recall that the tears always welled up in his eyes when he talked about the closing scene in the movie where the senior Ryan reflects on his
life and wonders if he’s been a good man. The poignancy of that moment in the film was not lost
on my Dad. I think he felt the same way as the character Ryan did, that to be a good man was
the ultimate pursuit in life. The crowning glory. A thing to strive for all your days. If you were a good man, then you had lived a good life.
I’m so glad that Kathy, Marta and I had the chance to tell him, “You’re a good man, Dad, ” during
the weeks he spent in declining health. I hope he felt loved and cherished when Kathy played
his favorite music from her phone, brought him a book of maps to look at, and his favorite treats
to eat. And I hope he felt loved and cherished when Marta whispered in his ear such sweet
expressions of love and appreciation, as he lay sick and eventually taking his last, deep and
then shallow, intermittent breaths of life. I hope he heard us say “You’re a good man, Dad.”
Walter Frederick Datwyler Jr, Fred, Walt, Papa.
You were, indeed, a very good man.
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