Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Eulogy of William Albert Snodgrass

My father, William Albert Snodgrass, raised in Wise County, Virginia died at the age of 88 while in hospice in Memphis, Tennessee. Dad was the son of Charles Fredrick Snodgrass and Pearl Frazier Snodgrass. He was born in Pardee in 1933.

The circumstances of time and place in which Dad grew up were hard, but he persevered through them. Over the years of my life, he shared many stories that gave glimpses into his past. Challenges, to Dad, were just opportunities to find a solution. One story he told me comes to mind which illustrates that.

Dad told me that he and his friends would sometimes go out—in his words—“running the woods” and there was a particular place they wanted to go that was at the bottom of a twenty-foot cliff. One way to get to it was to go a long distance one way down the hill, then turn and double back. However… At the bottom of the cliff not too far from the edge grew a forty-foot hickory tree. Dad and his friends found out that they could overcome the challenge of the cliff by… running and jumping off the cliff into the top of the hickory tree and riding its bend down to the ground.

The passing of time, in my opinion, did little to erode the spirit, courage, or creativity of that boy running the woods. But in later years his solutions grew to be more… refined.

Dad graduated from Wise High School in 1951. Following four years of service in the U.S. Air Force, he entered Clinch Valley College and, after marrying Betty L. Baker in 1957, he earned an associate degree in 1958. At that point, starting at the age of 25, things were settled for Dad and he began setting out on the path that, now, we look back and call the rest of his life.

Reprising the entirety of someone’s existence within a reasonable amount of words undoubtedly omits many important moments and events. So, asked to do that, I decided to call attention to three prevailing themes that I believe everyone who knew Dad will recognize.

First of all, before anything else, Dad was dedicated to his family. During his service in the Air Force, he continually sent money back to Virginia to help his mother, father, and siblings: a washing machine for Grandma… money for a sibling’s dental work… these and other things that he was able to provide, even from halfway across the world.

His dedication to his family continued throughout his life. Growing up, he saw to it that we needed nothing and wanted for little. And if ever there were unfulfilled wants, they were withheld for practical reasons. There was just no place to legally ride a minibike or raise a horse! Thinking back, most of the wants not realized were fleeting, and he seemed to know that on the front end.

Far more important than providing us with things was his passion for instilling character. He was never hesitant to offer a suggestion as to how things might be done better. Nor did he withhold his wisdom when his experiences informed something one of us was facing.

Growing from his dedication to his family was his work ethic. Dad saw excellence in the work world as a way by which he could demonstrate his dedication to his family. And anyone who followed Dad’s career would, in it, see excellence at every turn.

Dad’s career with Bituminous Casualty Corporation began at the company’s Norton office in November of 1960. He went on to serve in various positions as a claims representative and claims manager in Lexington and Louisville Kentucky, Memphis Tennessee and Dallas Texas. In 1983, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of Claims and moved to the company home office in Rock Island, Illinois. He served in this position until his retirement in June 1998.

Paramount in Dad’s success were many fundamental work ethic principles. And they could easily be deemed life-ethic principles, as well. Time will allow me to briefly mention only a few. The wording I will use sums up many of his different anecdotes and his wise sayings that became consistent messages over his lifetime.

First off, he taught—and lived—this idea: Do what you are supposed to do. If something is your responsibility, do it. Do it well. Do it right. Do it the way it is supposed to be done… even if no one is looking. And, don’t expect to get a compliment for doing what you’re supposed to do.

Use what you have to get the work done. If there’s a better way… a tool… a technique… something that makes the task easier… and if you can adopt it, do so. But not having something that would make things easier does NOT relieve you of your responsibility, even if doing it is hard. Overcoming hard is expected.

He also insisted on using the right tool for the job. Hammers are for nails, not screws. This concept, he extended to staffing decisions within Bituminous, cooking, grilling, yard work, and… everything… except fishing. 

In fishing, he contended, you can only hold one rod at a time, so one rod should be enough. I think there is some truth in this idea, too. Sometimes, some things shouldn’t be over-complicated. Sometimes, simple is best. While it may or may not apply to fishing, I think there is, in that concept, truth to be found and learned.

Another one of Dad’s principles to success is really simple. Be on time. Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. To that end, if you are ten minutes early to an appointment, you are five minutes late. I suppose this is something I passed on…

A few months ago, one of Dad’s grandsons, one of my sons, text-messaged me:

“Hey… I am in the doctor’s waiting room at 11:40. My appointment is at 12:05. Look what you did to me!”

Being on time, to Dad, was the first step in all of the other things. It was inherent in doing what you were supposed to do and necessary for doing it well.

While Dad’s ideas can be seen in many places and can come from many sources, I believe that Dad’s approach to both family and career grew directly from his faith. Dad had a quiet, personal faith in God out of which grew everything else. It was not showy or flashy. It was not a “Hey, look at me” kind of faith. But it was there; under, behind, and around everything he did.

At some point in my life, Dad mentioned that, when in the Air Force, he carried a copy of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes with him. He told me that Ecclesiastes had been an important source of truth for his way of living.

Whereas that Bible book was cited by Dad to be so important, I want to use it briefly to make a closing point. I will not be, in any way, comprehensive. And also, I am not going to parse the translation of the Hebrew or try to use direct quotes. Rather I’m going to be brief and share the main ideas as they relate to how Dad lived his life.

The author of Ecclesiastes is usually thought to be King Solomon, who is deemed to be the wisest of all humanity. The text of Ecclesiastes recounts the author’s search for the meaning and purpose of life. 

In the beginning chapters, the author tries to find meaning through many, many different things. But, at every turn, he declares that whatever it was… knowledge, riches… every earthly pursuit, he decided, was just “a chasing after the wind.” And we all know that we can never catch the wind.

But along the way over the twelve chapters, the author—the “teacher” as he refers to himself—begins to see that his true purpose cannot be found from things of earth, but rather true meaning is found only in relationship to God.

At the end of it all, the teacher reaches a conclusion: humanity is to revere God and follow his commandments.

And what are those commandments?

In the New Testament, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He replies with two quotes from the Law of Moses. Love the Lord your God with all your might—and love your neighbor. And who is your neighbor? Jesus taught by example of “the Good Samaritan” that your neighbor is all of the people around you in life.

Dad’s quiet, private faith fully represented this. What he embraced from the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes had a deep and enduring impact on how he lived. Throughout all he did over the course of his life, there was a clear reverence to God and an obvious love of those around him.

Coming to the end of his life—even as his family stood at his bedside over those last days—this was evident in his words. Even as his own strength faded, foremost was his wish to know that everyone was okay, safe, and satisfied.

On June 10th, 2021, my father, William Albert Snodgrass passed on into eternity leaving behind 88 years of his life as an example of faith lived out each day, faith that was demonstrated through dedication to his family and commitment to the highest standards in all things.

June, 2021