These are the remarks I made for Beau’s service, this morning, Thursday, April 5 at 11 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Naples, Florida.
You’ve heard of the Seven Wonders of the World – Beau probably told you about them. Since he saw them all—Twice. You’ve also, no doubt, heard of the Seven Deadly Sins –Beau probably talked to you about those too. But I’m here today to tell you about the Seven Life Lessons, created by my father. Lessons in how to make the most of your time on Earth and guarantee a seat next to Beau in Heaven.
The Seven Life Lessons as Taught by Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw
1. Eat Dessert First
Beau has rocked the minds of many a waiter at many of the finest establishments in the world by requesting the Crème Brulee before the meal. Some waiters have tried to say no, but they’ve gotten THE LOOK. You know, the one Beau gives to anyone who disagrees with him. The Look that Says, “you are a dumb-dumb” and “do what I say because I do what I want.” Eating dessert first or having pie for breakfast captured Beau’s personality perfectly. He wasn’t trying to be difficult. He was difficult. But with a purpose: he wanted other people to use their heads for something other than a hat rack. Think differently was the lesson. Turn things upside down and see what happens. You might solve a problem…or save a life.
2. Don’t Eat Lamb Brains
Back when I was in high school, Beau rescued my entire junior class from accidental annihilation. When I’d informed him that we would be dissecting a lamb’s brain in Anatomy and Physiology, he calmly asked for the name of my teacher and looked her up in the Largo White Pages. I stared at him blankly as he called her.
“Mrs. Andrews, this is Dr. Bercaw. Your class will not be dissecting lamb brains tomorrow or any other day. The nervous system of lambs carries a fatal disease called Scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. Thank you and have a nice evening.”
“What did she say, Dad?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “I hung up after I gave her the information.”
Beau then said we should be dissecting rats and told me that in medical school at the University of Virginia, he practiced surgery on a department-issued rat. He named it “Rodent E. Lee,” in honor of our family’s deep Virginian ancestry. Like his namesake, Rodent E. Lee earned my father’s respect for his combat readiness and resiliency.
I haven’t eaten lamb since—even cooked lamb. But Beau’s lesson wasn’t really about NOT cutting into lamb brains, instead he was showing me how NOT to mince words. Tell people the truth, the facts in difficult situations. He always did with his patients and their families. And everyone respected him for his compassion and honesty.
3. Put People in Awkward Situations
I think my father invented the notion of “Colliding Worlds.” He liked to put random people together to see what would happen. Oh, and you couldn’t put them together in some normal venue. The location had to be odd too. For example, he took his buddy Greg Collins to a remote village in East Africa to become the first white Tribal Chiefs of the Maragoli People. Imagine what the Kenyans thought of that duo?
But the story that stands out most in my mind is how Beau thought it best to blend his new family. He, Lee and I were headed to spend two weeks at the farm in Virginia, as we did every summer, but this time with extra special guests: Nora, Kathy and Craig.
Lee and I had never met them before. On the way to get them at 5 a.m. in our big old Chevy Beauville Van, Beau has one instruction for us: Be nice. And he gave us THE LOOK.
So we pull at Nora’s house and they all pile in. I didn’t know what to say so I blurted out, “I always wanted a sister” when I saw Kathy. The four of us kids were sent to a mattress on the floor of the back of the UNAIRCONDITIONED VAN to get to know each other as we drove the 18 hours to Palmyra. Guess what? We emerged from that hot stinky van as a FAMILY, and we’ve been one ever since.
The lesson? Get out of your comfort zone and into the Beau Zone. It’s wild wonderful there.
4. Hold Hands
I learned a lot about Beau by his various means of physical affection. He had different ways of showing he cared. Kathy and I always got a side hug with a kiss on the forehead. Lee and Craig got a hug that included a lot of back thumping. His grandkids got the back thumping, too, and it has the mysterious effect of putting them to sleep. Beau, the Baby Whisper.
But I could tell just how much he loved Nora because he always held hands with her wherever they went, or even sat. I’m grateful to her for many reasons, but especially because I think she saved Beau’s life more than once because he never looked before crossing the street. Nora was there, holding his hand, able to pull him back.
Nora told me the other day that people would giggle when they saw them walking together because they’d also swing their hands. It occurred to me, though, and I told her, that people were probably giggling because Beau was so tall and Nora so small. They were a sight for all eyes and their love made a lot of people giggle. Especially Beau.
The lesson here, of course, is to show people you love them. You can tell them, too, in Beau’s style if you’d like, which sometimes was in the third person. He used to say me after kissing my forehead: “Your Ole Dad Sure Loves You.”
5. Use Profit-Motive to Make People as Smart as You
Beau believed everything could be improved through the principles of the free market—even your I.Q. When I was 14 and wanted a job a McDonald’s like some of my friends. I summoned all my nerve to ask Beau, and here’s how that went:
“Dad, I would like to get a job.”
“Your job is swimming. One day, you’ll get a scholarship to go to college. You are earning a living.”
“I know, but couldn’t I do something part-time?”
“Well, maybe at McDonald’s.”
“You are not going to work at McDonald’s. That’s ridiculous. A world-class athlete doesn’t spend her summer packaging Happy Meals.”
Of course, he had a better idea. Beau decided that he’d pay me to read books that summer. I got one penny per page. I read everything I could my hands on. Beau also got me a subscription to National Review, as well as books by Milton Freidman, so that I would in fact get paid to learn about capitalism.
Upon hearing of Beau’s death, the youngest daughter of his best buddy Joe Dineen sent me an email about how much she loved Beau. In the email she recalled Beau paying HER $10 to memorize the Gettysburgh address.
The lesson here, your mind is as free as the market. Invest in it.
6. Listen Closely to those who Can’t Speak
This is how I came to understand my father. We were in Virginia visiting my grandmother in her nursing home, when we passed the open door of another resident. My father looked in, out of curiosity, and I followed his lead.
A man with cerebral palsy was toppled over in his wheelchair. Beau calmly picked him up and put him back in the chair. They started conversing. I couldn’t understand a word the other man was saying.
My father introduced himself, and asked what the man’s name was. I couldn’t decipher it. But my father listened intently and laughed frequently as the man spoke.
“Did you hear that?” my father said. “Bruce spent his younger days working in his family’s grocery store in rural Virginia. They’re all gone now, so he’s here.”
I nodded to Bruce, and he said something back and then launched into a story about the old days, or at least I think he did. I had no idea what he was saying. I couldn’t make out one word. Drool was pouring out the corner of Bruce’s mouth as he spoke.
“Isn’t he funny?” My father said, patting Bruce on the back. “You are a good ol’ boy, working hard at your family store. Making everyone laugh in the aisles, I bet.”
Bruce beamed up at my dad from his wheelchair for a long, long time. And Beau beamed back.
What I learned in that exchange was that my father had no interest in speaking with those for whom communication was easy. Those kinds of people use words frivolously. Bruce earned every word he spoke. He deserved to be heard and understood.
7. Never, ever go on a Long trip without Supplies
Before every boating trip or drive to Virginia, Beau went to the 7/11 to get additional “provisions,” which was code for Snickers Bars. Snickers Bars were a very serious business in my father’s mind. They have peanuts for protein to “hold us over” in case we got lost in a boat or canoe for days. He always had one in his desk, his pocket, his lab coat, and a melted one in the old van.
So today, in honor of my father and the lessons he taught us—many many more than these—we ofter each of you a Snickers Bar for your journey home. Heck, if the spirit so moves you, ride home with someone who don’t know and make them part of your family.
And one last thing.
Dad, your ole gal sure loves you.