March 29th, 2018

(The post below includes both reflections by Farrell’s son, Marc, and my own meditation.  For a full print copy of the service, including the picture collages Marc showed during the service, contact the family or email [email protected])

“Dad in Four Phases”                                                                                       Marc Bolick

For the past eight years, since his stroke in 2010, I have rehearsed this moment in my head hundreds of times.  I’m glad I did not actually put words on paper until this week.  What might surprise many of you is…these past eight years have been some of the most fulfilling years of our lives.  I would like to take you on a journey…from 1942 to this past Sunday.  I would like to share how this man lived each of phase of his life better than the previous one…and why we’re all better for it.

I’m expecting some emotion to come flowing out of me at some point. Possibly now.  Luckily, I’ve got Pastor Bob warming up in the bullpen should I need some relief.

That said…throughout the next few minutes, the rest of this service, the days, weeks and months ahead – depending on the depth of your relationship with our Dad – we should all have a good cry and a good laugh.  Cry because he’s no longer with us and we miss him, but laugh because that is what he did so often…typically very loud, at himself and it was great entertainment.

So, let’s CELEBRATE the life of the son, brother, husband, dad, father-in-law, grandad, boss, colleague and friend that Farrell Bolick was.  That is what he would expect.

He would also expect us to take something away from this experience.  He was always teaching.  Always guiding.  Always trying to have an impact on everyone he encountered.  I hope this message gives each of you something to take away from today that will serve you well and remember him affectionately.  That truly would be the best way to honor him.

We can break Farrell Bolick’s life into 4 distinct phases.  You could say he lived four different lives over the course of his 75 years and there is a lesson we can take from each one.  I’ll begin each phase with a Bible verse that I believe is representative of that phase of his life or that he referred to often.  Sometimes you’ll get the King James or NIV version…other times you’ll get the Farrell Bolick interpretation.

Phase 1 – Becoming a Man (1942-1966):

For this period of his life I’ll refer you to Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

A few noteworthy events from this phase of his life:

  • In 1942 he was born in Hickory, NC. He lived in a loving, but authoritative and strictly religious household where love was present, but rarely verbalized
  • In 1956, he was 14 years-old when he lost his father at the young age of 49. He was devastated by this event and it had a significant impact on shaping the rest of his life.
  • He was a member of the first football team St. Stephens High School ever had
  • In 1960 he graduated from St. Stephens High School and began attending college at Los Angeles City College
  • In 1963 he joined the U.S. Army and served in Germany and Turkey
  • In 1965 he met Susan Bolick, the love of his life
  • He struggled mightily with his faith after losing his father. He could not understand how God could do something so cruel.  The hurt he experienced challenged his Christian beliefs throughout his life, but he did believe in God and would often reference Bible verses (mostly Proverbs) to make a point.
  • Take Away: Discover, invest in, understand and live your faith. My father is rejoicing in heaven with Jesus.  His body may be gone, but his soul lives on.  Since he left us this past Sunday that has provided our family with so much comfort and peace.  If you are with us today and you have not yet discovered what faith means to you personally – make that investment.  Live it! If you haven’t had to rely on faith to guide you in your life…at some point, maybe today, make that effort.  When you encounter circumstances in your life like we are experiencing today, you will be glad you did.

 Phase 2 – A Husband and Father (1966-1991):

Proverbs 13:24 – spare the rod, spoil the child…and believe me, the rod was not spared in the Bolick household as we grew up!

  • In 1966 he moved to Los Angeles, mom followed him and they married
  • In 1969 he became a dad
  • In 1972 he moved his family from Los Angeles to Hickory and became a dad for the 2nd time
  • In 1981 he went to work for Meredith/Burda
  • In 1982 he stopped smoking at age of 40 after 24+ years
  • Through this phase of his life he was a very kind and caring, but a proud and guarded man
  • He became a devoted, caring and faithful husband and father
  • He had a strong temper when things weren’t going his way (ask any of us about flying hammers or flashlights and you’ll get the picture)
  • He was always there for his family – sporting events, activities
  • Take Away: commit yourself to life’s priorities. The world around us is full of distractions and temptations.  There were plenty of opportunities for him to invest his time elsewhere. He rarely did!  If it was feasible, he attended every event, every activity…even those where it was unlikely that his sons would even get an opportunity to participate.  He was there for support as a father…not to simply observe the performance.  Never underestimate the simple power of your presence and what means to the people you love!

Phase 3: A Second Chance (1991-2010):

Galatians 6:7: what you sow, so shall you reap – as his grandkids began to demonstrate some of the behaviors his sons had in their youth, he always reminded us that we were getting exactly what we deserved!

  • In 1991 he suffered a heart attack that almost took his life at the same age and day that his father had a heart attack and passed away
  • In 1998 he became a father-in-law
  • In 2001 he became a grandad for the 1st time and a father-in-law for the 2nd time
  • In 2002 his mother passed away at the age of 87
  • From 2002 to 2006 he became a grandad 5 more times for a total of 6 grandchildren
  • In 2007 he retired from RR Donnelley & Sons after 25 years and in the same year his older sister passed away
  • In this phase of his life, the public expression of love and emotion that was missing before, was now fully available to everyone and he expressed it much more freely
  • The quick trigger temper that plagued him most of his life had simply disappeared
  • A day rarely went by where he did not tell you how much he loved and cared for you
  • Finally, the loving, caring man we all knew allowed those emotions to become external and not just internal
  • This external expression of love and affection served him well as a grandad
  • He reengaged with friends and family that, in some cases, he had not spoken to in years
  • Take Away: don’t wait for your second chance! Express your love and appreciation for your family and friends daily. Do not leave trivial conflicts and disagreements unresolved.  Maybe today is your second chance.

Phase 4: Becoming Vulnerable (2010-2018):

For this final phase of his life I’ll refer to 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

  • In 2010, while vacationing with our Mom in Savannah, Georgia, he suffered a major stroke that would alter our lives for the rest of his life
  • In 2012 his younger sister passed away and he became the last living member of his immediate family
  • In 2018 he passed away peacefully surrounded by his wife, sons and pastor
  • As life seemed to be at its most perfect point, he suffered a stroke which devastated his body
  • He was left mostly paralyzed on his right side and his speech became impaired
  • He worked hard to rehab, but much of the damage was permanent and resulted in a period of declining health over the past eight years
  • We lost a part of him that day as the man with the booming voice who loved to share stories of his life, laugh at those stories and recycle them over and over again…lost that ability. He lost a piece of his identity.
  • The post-stroke version of Farrell Bolick is the only side of him his grandkids remember. They were too young to remember otherwise.  He did not want them to fear him or remember him as a broken old man.
  • He did not want to rely on others to take care of him. It was the single hardest thing he ever had to do.
  • The only way he could survive and enjoy his family and his life was to become vulnerable. Allow others to see his weakness and to accept that vulnerability.
  • This may be the phase of his life that was the hardest. Hardest on him physically, hardest on the rest of us emotionally…but surprisingly…possibly the most appreciated.
  • The stroke made him vulnerable and, as a result, we all got to see a side of the man we would have never seen otherwise.
  • These past eight years have been so full of love, openness and bonding that nothing was really left unsaid or undone. No regrets and nothing left unforgiven.  We are all so very thankful for that.
  • Even with a broken body – he taught us we could love and respect even more than we thought was possible. That gives us such amazing comfort and we can rely on that when the emptiness of him being gone begins to overwhelm us. His suffering is over!
  • The Take Away from this last phase of his life is…don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. Move past the restrictions of pride and allow those who love and care about you to see who you are in the deepest parts of your soul.  Make that connection.  Allow your weaknesses to make you stronger.  Love deeply and completely.

This is and was Farrell Bolick.  This is what he was most proud of. The family he and Mom built.  He set the fatherhood bar very high for Michael and me…and we intend to honor it by setting the bar higher for our sons and daughters.  That is a tall task.

So, the takeaways that I hope you leave with in remembrance of Farrell Bolick in the hopes that, when you leave this earth, you leave on the same terms and with the same peace and comfort he did:

  • Discover your faith and live it!
  • Make your family a top priority!
  • Don’t plan on a second chance…love and live now!
  • Be vulnerable! Allow your weaknesses to be your strength!

Finally, this story would not be complete without our Mom.  Today would have taken place many years earlier if not for her.  Her commitment to the vows of their marriage allowed my Dad to walk this earth for 75 years.  She sacrificed her qualify of life both physically and emotionally to allow his quality of life to remain tolerable and keep our family whole.  She is quite simply the strongest woman I have ever known!  Mom, thank you.  In the days and weeks ahead I hope you find comfort in knowing that he loved you with all his heart and understood the sacrifices you made for him and us.

To everyone here, thank you for taking time out of your day to join us and honor him.  He was an amazing man that we will all miss terribly, but there is so much comfort in what he gave us and what he has left behind.

I’ll close by sharing a verse my brother, Michael, texted me the day following my Dad’s passing saying it reminded him of him…2 Timothy 4:7-8: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.

 “Always There for Us”                                                                                 Rev. Dr. Bob Thompson

I’ve been Farrell Bolick’s pastor for about a decade, and two moments stand out.  The first was in 2010 when I heard the news that Farrell had suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized in Savannah, Georgia.  By the providence of God I was attending a Continuing Education event in Atlanta, and so I made a detour on my way home and visited Farrell and Susan as they were wrestling with the cold, hard reality that life would likely never be the same.  And it wasn’t.

As Marc said, the last phase was the hardest part of his life but it also bonded him to his family in ways that nothing else could ever have accomplished.  As a pastor I am often aware that the things people fear the most might be beautiful even if they’re terrible.  I don’t try to make that speech in the moment of crisis, but I am aware that my presence brings a God factor into the tragedy.  Every calamity needs a God factor.

The second poignant moment happened last Sunday.  I had been to see Farrell several times late in the week, but obviously Sunday morning is not a time I can spend visiting.  When worship services were over I went to the hospital, expecting once again that I’d spend a little time with him and his family, see how everyone was doing, then head back home until they let me know there was a significant change.  When a person gets toward the end of life, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether the body’s struggle to hang on is almost over or might last hours or days longer.  I wanted Susan, Marc, and Michael to be prepared for either.  We asked the nurse to get in touch with Hospice to see if they could make him a little more comfortable.

While he was doing so, I asked the family if Farrell had any favorite songs.  Immediately their answer was, “Surely the Presence (of the Lord is in this place).”  They also mentioned Amazing Grace.  So I started to sing the refrain of Surely the Presence, and Farrell stopped struggling to breathe.  I wasn’t sure I knew the words to the verses, so I transitioned into Amazing Grace.  As I did so, Susan said, “I think he stopped breathing.”  That was his moment, his transition from this life to eternity.

As a friend commented this week, I had the privilege of being a midwife to Farrell as he was born into eternity. That’s happened a few times across my years of pastoral ministry, and it is every bit as humbling as being present when a baby is born (even though I’ve only had that experience with my own three children).  If you haven’t been there at a moment like that, you think it might be terrifying, and I’m sure in some situations it is.  But the moment when we pass from this life to the next is also holy and often much more peaceful and beautiful than you can imagine. I’ll always be grateful the Bolicks allowed my presence in the room.

It wasn’t hard to connect those two moments of presence with what Marc and Michael experienced growing up – that their Dad was so consistently present for his family.  Michael was the star athlete and Marc said he was more often the guy at the end of the bench (until he switched to track), but Dad was there for both of them.  A father’s presence is not about sharing vicarious glory when your kid holds up the MVP trophy.  A father’s presence is about knowing Dad is there through every victory and every defeat, every joy and every trial, every trial.

Most kids remember Dad showing up for their sporting events or music recitals or whatever they were involved in, but even that is just symbolism for Dad always being there.  He wasn’t there visibly and physically for every moment of life, of course – sometimes he was at work or asleep or with Mom or on a trip or engaged in a hobby.  But we remember the times he was there because they were symbolic of knowing his presence was the great constant of life.

So from my pastoral presence to Farrell’s presence with his boys it wasn’t hard to draw another line to our heavenly Father’s presence with Farrell.  That was a theme in Marc’s reflections – I hope you didn’t miss it!  Every teenager’s life is confusing on some level, but imagine losing your Dad to a heart attack at age 14.  I can’t blame him for feeling God wasn’t there for him.  There would be other moments when God must have seemed distant – having to sign up for military service to avoid the draft, waiting for several years to have children when both he and Susan wanted a big family and soon, seeing Marc come into the world as a premature baby, watching church of his family’s for generations, one his one his own Dad helped sustain and grow, struggle when it had once been so vibrant, not being there when his own mother died even though he desperately wanted to be, his heart attack at the exact age of his father’s, and his debilitating stroke.  Those were moments when God seemed a long way away, I’m sure, reminders of when God took away his father at the tender age of 14.

But Farrell could look around and also see many moments when life took such a positive turn it had to be God.  Though his own father died, his high school football coach at St. Stephens, a Lenoir Rhyne Hall of Famer named Walter Cornwell, did what so many high school football coaches do for boys without a strong father figure.  He was present for Farrell, mentored him, showed him what it means to be a man of character and purpose.  And that wasn’t the last thing in his life that turned out well for Farrell.  Those military years he resisted at first taught him skills with his hands and with people that would shape the rest of his life.

And when he came home after his service, there was that young lady he had first set his eyes on when he was a teenager and she was a little girl.  She was now 17 and he was a service-tested 23, and you can only imagine what her father thought of that relationship.  “It’ll never last,” he said, but he was wrong.  She so fell for him that she ran away from home to marry him in California – remember, we’re talking about the mid-60s here when crazy kids were doing all sorts of things their parents thought would ruin their lives, and it did for many.  But for Farrell it proved to be the best thing that ever happened to him – this woman who would raise their children became a workaholic in her own right, going all out whether it was in raising children or working at Dow, G.E., and Corning, or becoming a pioneer in virtual human resources. All of that prepared her for becoming the best possible caregiver Farrell could have during his final eight years of life.  Susan was one of the ways God showed up for him.

Then there were his own advances and successes in everything from auto mechanics to printing, and the people whose lives enriched his and whose lives he guided through kindness and strength and management skills.  God was there in those times too, using the hard times to prepare Farrell for maximum impact.  Then imagine all the opportunities he had to see so much of God’s world – not only in the military where he served in Pakistan, Turkey, Alaska, and Germany, but with Susan and the boys.  They were a traveling bunch, making use of those coast-to-coast roads – but not necessarily the interstates.  For this family it wasn’t about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible on I-40.  Quite the opposite.  For Farrell it was about finding a 75-mile stage coach ride to the oldest gold mine in the U.S., about Pony Express trails and Butch Cassidy and anything else related to the old west.  It’s why the family settled in Reno for a while.  All this time Farrell was filling and utilizing one of the finest brains God ever placed in a human head.  In Trivial Pursuit he’d whip your butt (his family’s phrase, not mine) because he actually remembered all those useless facts from the tour guides and travelogues.  It made him a great story teller and conversationalist, the kind who doesn’t mind telling you the same story he’s told twenty times before because it still makes him laugh himself silly.

My point is that Farrell certainly had moments of his life when it seemed the so-called Presence of God was as remote and inaccessible as Midas, Nevada, but in Coach Cornwell, in Susan, in Marc and Michael, in six grandchildren, in opportunities and travels there was so much of God’s Presence everywhere around him.

I think that’s the meaning of his life.  It’s what he can pass on to his children and grandchildren, and to all of us who are here today.  Just a pastor shows up at God-orchestrated key moments to remind a family they are not alone, just like a father is remembered for being there at basketball games and track meets, so the footprints of God’s presence are embedded in the life story of Farrell Bolick so impressionably that no one can ever doubt God was always there.

In those final moments last Sunday around his bed, I also asked Susan, Marc, and Michael about Farrell’s favorite Scriptures.  One of them was that proverb Marc mentioned about beating your children – well, not exactly – about not sparing the rod.  The other one was 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now remain faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.”

I don’t know why that was Farrell’s favorite, but I can tell you why it fits his story.  First, Farrell knew what it meant to trust the ultimate expression of God’s love, which we remember today and tomorrow – Jesus’ Last Supper, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and suffering, and ultimately his death by crucifixion on Good Friday.  When he joined this church we asked him to write out what it meant to him to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior: “It means to me that God (so) loved and wanted his children to succeed and have eternal life that he sent his only child to help us understand his love for us – and that he died for our sins so that (even though we are sinners) we can have eternal life.”

Don’t pass over that statement.  This Sunday Pastor Paul and I will preach on that well-known story about two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday.  Like Farrell at age 14, these two travelers cannot imagine that God could be God and Jesus could be Savior with the terrible things that happened on Friday.  It was only when they met the risen Savior that they could grasp that what happened on Friday was actually good, was the greatest love story ever told.  It was only through the death of Christ that Farrell could be forgiven, that you and I could be forgiven.  It was only through an act of pure sacrificial love that sin could be erased and we could have the hope of eternal life.

Why does Paul say “the greatest of these is love”?  Isn’t it more important that we have faith in Jesus Christ, that we hold on to hope?  I think Paul says that because there are times in life where it’s really hard to hold on to faith and hope – when your Dad dies, when you go off to an uncertain future during wartime, when you suffer a heart attack or a stroke.  But love never fails.  Whatever else happens, God will put people in your world who will love you.  It was the people, ultimately, whose love in tangible, physical presence kept faith and hope alive for Farrell – a football coach, a wife, two sons, six grandchildren, colleagues and coworkers, pastors and friends.

So my takeaway is that when you can’t feel faith or keep hope, you can always see love.  And God made sure there were plenty of people in Farrell’s life in whom he could see love.  That, in my view, is what restored his faith.

Let me close with one of my favorite Farrell stories.  As a teenager, Michael was in the car with his Dad out in the St. Stephens area, and Farrell, who was known to have a lead foot and even evade the law in the days when that might have been a little easier, was spotted by a state trooper.  Farrell tried a back road or two, but the trooper got him on Kool Park Road.  When the officer approached the car, he said, “If I didn’t know better, I would think you were trying to run from me.”

Farrell, who hadn’t reached the advanced stage of humility that came after his stroke, answered, “If I were trying to run from you, I’d have got away.”  Sometimes in life the struggles we face make it seem like God is trying to run from us.  “God, why did you let that happen,” we cry out.  “Are you trying to run from me?”  And God answers, “If I were trying to run from you, I’d have got away.”

He will never leave us or forsake us, because the greatest of these is love.  Amen.

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