Eugene Martin Wicks is my father. He was born on Tuesday, June 11th, 1935 in the city of Philadelphia, PA. That was 28,015 days ago and approximately 342 miles southeast from where he is today, in the city of Rochester, New York, the place where he will shortly leave this celestial plane.
The world was a very different place, still gripped in economic depression, and with war clouds off in the distance. One could argue that Burton James and Anna Mae Wicks were nuts for bringing yet another child into the world under conditions like that.
Yet still, they did. And, by the way, Eugene was child number 10 of 11.
As a youngster, Eugene was more than a handful. Not quite the model child, he once told me that didn't always do the right thing, was in hanging in a crowd at a very young age that would have put him in jail or worse had outside elements not intervened. Those elements would eventually relocate him across the country to Seattle, Washington, where he would find faith, new hope, and a chance to reset the biography.
I can't speak with detail to my father's high school years, his initial college years, or even his military years of service. The fact that I failed to ask him specific questions about those parts of his life saddens me deeply as I now view them as parts of a library to be forever closed for exploration and discovery.
While serving in the United States Army, a blind date on New Year's Eve 1959 introduced him to one Josephine Elizabeth Hills, of Franklin Louisiana. Within four years, the two were married, and by Christmas 1963, the young couple had a child, the first of six to come.
The world was, again, a different place, filled will Cold War tensions, civil unrest, and societal challenges that would test our nation. Gene and Josie didn't cower in fear of the future, but were bullish about it. When opportunities presented themselves, they took action to take advantage of them for the benefit of their family.
Eugene worked for a time with the Vicks Company, but eventually found his way with Xerox Corporation, where he would work for 33 years in a variety of capacities. Strong in his Catholic faith, Eugene also spent a lot of his free time in the service of the church, participating with parishes of Holy Spirit Church, and St. Rita's, to name a few. Civic organizations also saw his shadow, to include the Knights of Columbus and the Boy Scouts of America.
Education was his passion, and those who know him directly can vouch that he always pushed it with zeal. Not only did he talk the talk, but he walked it as well, earning a Master Degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1992, teaching middle grade children about Catholicism in church, and providing guidance to intercity youths as part of outreach programs sponsored by Xerox. Eugene's focus didn't stop at his front doorstep, but it went inside as well. His tolerance for sloppy performance was low, and he pushed his children to strive for more. At a time when dropout rates for black Americans were on the rise, none of Eugene Wicks' children would ever populate those statistics.
There are so many personal memories that can be told of Eugene as a father. I will do my best to capture as many as I can in some form in the coming days. Memories fade in time, and it would be an even greater loss to future generations yet to be born to not know the man whose bloodline they share.
In recent years, even as his health began to fail him, Eugene never failed to live like he really meant it. Family was always important to him, so he made it a point to participate at family gatherings whenever possible. Even as the people who remember him as a small boy continued to pass on to the next life, Eugene made everyone around him feel much more alive. Throat cancer survival came at the expense of a vocal chord, but he persevered. Parkinson's Disease slowed him down, but he didn't stop. And when his personal thought into physical action became further and further apart, his frustrations may have grew, but there were never any doubt of his intent and his compassion.
Eugene is loved by so many, respected by so many, and will leave a legacy that even he could not begin to imagine. To have had him be an active participant in one's life is a blessing in and of itself. But to be one of his offspring is even more so. I am an okay guy, but Eugene Martin Wicks is the true original.
When they made my father, they broke the mold.
For those of faith, they already know that a homecoming is about to take place, a reunion of the highest order. My father will rejoin the love and comfort of parents he has missed for decades, along with other siblings and dear friends long since passed. I am sure that a good time will be had by all.
But in the meantime, myself, along with my mother Josephine, and my siblings, Deborah Ann, Darryl Vernon, Anna Mae, Thomas Christopher, and Dawn Christina, we are going to miss than man dearly.
We are going to miss his smile, his laugh, his self-assurance, and his can-do attitude. We are going to miss the conversations, his physical presence, and so much more. My mother is, and will remain, a very strong and proud woman, but she is going to hurt for some time to come as she will lose her best friend of nearly 49 years of marriage.
There is a quiet place less than five miles from where I type these words which will become his earthly home. When the finally goodbyes are said, I will return to Oklahoma, heavy in heart, but high in spirit knowing that my father will have departed in peace, fully aware that he made a positive difference for the world he leaves behind.
Prayers, good thoughts, and good wishes are encouraged for my Dad and for the family. There will be some tough days ahead and I know I won't ever be quite the same again.