Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Farewell to John E. Andrus, III

Some people stay forever young and vibrant!
by Charlie Leck

I read this morning, in the New York Times, about the death, at the age of 103, of a Nobel Prize winner. Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, a brilliant neurologist, died in her home in Italy on Sunday. Her life and its accomplishments were praised in the New Times story about her today.

The story made me think of another extraordinary person who very recently died at the age of 103. He was, perhaps, the kindest and loveliest man I’ve ever known. I frequently played golf with him up until about twelve years ago. I always stayed near him after a golf round, listening to his remarkable stories, far longer than I really should have. Once in his company, it was difficult to leave him.

Because he was so on my mind this morning, I sat back, thinking. I wondered if I had ever met a better or more extraordinary man than John Andrus (John E. Andrus III). Ever! Anywhere!

I don’t know how to eulogize great men. You must list, I guess, all their extraordinary accomplishments. John had plenty of those – a magnificent education, service in the military and bravery in the South Pacific during World War Two. He established himself as a success in business, the law and community service. He was a giant in philanthropy. He served on board after board. He established a giant foundation in the name of his family that champions and protects the environment and open spaces. He loved the arts and served for years on the board of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I could list all those things that will be said about him this week at his memorial service; yet I remember him most from the quiet, private conversations I had with him, long after our golf companions had departed and left us sitting alone in the locker room lounge at our club. He talked to me of the responsibilities one had to be generous, kind and jolly. He believed in the power of a broad and sincere smile. He had no single doubt about the basic goodness of humankind. He knew that it often needed encouragement and management, but, he proclaimed, it was there in each and every one of us. He was always the optimist, wanting to believe in the terrible goodness of humanity.

John Andrus was an extraordinary man. I guess I idolized him. He was a father figure for me. I believed in him and I believed him completely when he told me something. His advice and counsel influenced me deeply. I saw him last, perhaps, a year or so ago. He was sitting in a wheel chair in the sitting room at our club. For some reason, for a moment, he had been left alone. I walked over to him, grabbing a light chair and pulling it toward him. I sat down directly in front of him. He looked into my eyes and his face brightened and that broad, immense, beautiful smile indicated that he recognized me.

“Why, Charlie!”

Oh, how many times had I heard him make that exclamation – as if he wasn’t just pleased to see me, but that he was absolutely thrilled? I knew he showed the same enthusiasm for everyone, but I denied it and believed then and always that it was just for me.

How bright and alert he still was. How ready to be a kind and dear friend! He knew I wanted nothing from him but that loving, generous smile, the sparkle of his eyes and the soft sound of his voice speaking my name. Our hand shake was gentle and warm. I held on to his hand for a long, long moment. I didn’t want to let it go.

“How is Anne?”

“She is here,” I said. “I’ll get her and bring her to say hello.”

In the short moment it took me to find my wife, his family and close friends enveloped him. Anne could barely squeeze through to say hello and offer her love. His memory was still good – even strong. He enquired about her horses and her farm. It wasn’t an idle question. He wanted to know.

And now I’m reading all the glowing words in his obituary – the long list of organizations of which he was a part – about his generosity and service. Yet, it is that smile and those sparkling, glistening eyes that I will always remember.

Someone said: “The good! They die young!” No! Not always. Some of the good grow old; yet they seem so very young even then – perhaps because they are so good! John Andrus did not die young, but he also never grew old.

I’ll see you off on Saturday, John. And I will never forget the way you smiled and how your eyes sparkled every time you said, “Why, Charlie!”

When once our heavenly-guided soul shall climb
Then all this earthy grossness quit
Attir’d with stars, we shall for ever sit
Triumphing over Death, and Chance,
                                      and Thee, O Time
                        [John Milton: On Time]

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  1. Thank you for this lovely tribute. I have posted it on my FB page for other family members to read. Your words ring so true about Uncle Johnny. He was the same with everyone..eager to know about you, eager to join in a good joke, or tell a corny one. All the best, Alice Andrus

  2. What a lovely piece about such a lovely man. His memorial service yesterday was well attended and your comments about John mirror those shared at the service. Thank you for sharing them!
    Margaret Andrus Thorpe Richards (one of the many cousins...)

  3. As you may know, the mother of the original John Emory Andrus was a lady named Ann Palmer. About ten years ago, while researching a genealogy book on this same Palmer family, I wrote John a letter to his home in Wayzata regarding this shared connection. Imagine my surprise when my phone rang and it was John on other end of the line. He tracked me down. He must have told me stories for two full hours. We later exchanged some more mail and he was instrumental in rounding out this one particular corner of my research. He was gracious and gregarious. I would have like to met him in person.