My little brother John, 13 years my junior, smiled his way into life as the last of five siblings. He enjoyed amazing attention from three brothers and a sister. He grew up with sports, excellent schools at which he excelled, and the promise of a wondrous life. After graduation, he attended Michigan State University like the rest of his siblings.
John arrived from a unique ‘service brat’ family. We traveled all over the globe. As a kid, he wore a T-shirt that read, “My daddy is a Marine!”
Our father, M/Sgt. Howard Wooldridge, U.S. Marine Corps, a mere 46 years of age, had died while serving our country when John was three. It racked our world and changed our destinies.
I remember our dad saying, “When you shake hands after meeting someone or after a game, grab his hand and look him in the eye. Let him know that you’re happy to congratulate him, whether you won or lost. He’s a person, just like you. Same with the ladies. Show your respect. You may win or lose in the game of life, but always be thankful you are playing.”
I never forgot my dad’s wisdom. To this day, you will remember that you received a firm handshake from John and solid handshake from any of the Wooldridge boys and our sister. Be prepared to look us in the eyes and know that we respect you.
To give you an idea of John’s foundation, when our dad died, the newspaper I delivered each morning carried a story about our father:
“In memory of Howard Wooldridge. We’ve come to expect people who are in bad health to approach the doorstep of death slowly and painfully. We anticipate the end to come this way so that we can prepare ourselves for it, whether it will be us or someone close. That’s why it comes as such a shock when a person in apparent good health and endowed with boundless energy swiftly and quietly slips away.
Howard Wooldridge was an athlete raising a family of athletes. In his early years he was a participant as well as a coach and leader of sports wherever he traveled. Later, he stuck to coaching and officiating, leaving the playing field to his three sons. To an athletically active man, nothing in the world can be more satisfying than having an athletic child.
Howard Wooldridge must have had great happiness with his children. Along with his wife, Vivien, who was always at his side, and his growing daughter Linda, he was a man well blessed.
The human body lasts less than a century; a man’s achievements endure forever. This is the sum of Howard Wooldridge’s fatherhood and friendship: memories that will survive throughout the years. To those who knew him well, Howard will remain a man with limitless zest for life, an iron determination to succeed and the compassion to understand human frailties.
Let it be known that our mother took up a monumental challenge to raise five kids on her own. She worked 40 hours a week, and cared for John. She held us together as we suffered from emotional shock. Vivien Wooldridge held a steady hand over her children. We all turned out to be good kids.
Just as the dark horse of death came for our dad too soon, it also came for his youngest son, John, too.
I remember coming home from college to greet John with great anticipation. He carried a mile wide smile. He became a Star Student and the top of his high school class. During his college years, he trucked with me in the summers. He motorcycled to Alaska with us. We played tennis. We sailed our windsurfer. He shared deer camp with many of the friends here today. Later, he trucked all over this nation with United Van Lines. He loved computers.
With the girls, ever the optimist, Rex and I asked how he did on a date the night before: “Beginner’s luck!” he said with a smile.
He joined the U.S. Air Force and served in Desert Storm. On one of the ordinances he loaded, he took a magic marker: “To Saddam Hussein, Get Tough or Die” that came from a title of one of my magazine articles about Alaska. He sent me the picture. While in the military, he lived in Colorado where he skied, climbed and rafted the rivers. His picture dominates many of our adventure pictures and will remain on my photo wall for the rest of my life.
While we all experience challenges, troubles, pain and sorrow in our lives, John moved forward. He cared for our mother in the summers at the farm. He worked toward a teaching degree. He enjoyed his personal pursuits in his own quiet way.
Like our father, John left the planet too soon. He left unfinished business for all of us to continue. What is that business? John would say, “Live your life for all it’s worth every day. There are no ordinary moments. Enjoy your friends, family and loved ones. Take advantage of every sunrise and the glory of every sunset. Go fly fishing, hunting, play golf, fly a kite, go skiing, ride your bicycle or climb a mountain. You’re living on this planet to enjoy yourself. Pursue your passions and always smile at the end of a day with a joyful voice, “I showed God a good time.”
To our brother John, may he lift into the brighter dimensions of spiritual expression. May his transition into a new facet of the spirit carry him and his pursuits to limitless heights. May all of us that were touched by him be thankful for his presence in our lives. May we go forth from this sanctuary today knowing that John gave his best to life and he would wish the same for each of us. He was a good man, a fine brother and a decent and kind human being. May the Great Spirit smile upon his journey and may he be smiling down on all of us. And so it is!
John Howard Wooldridge, dead at 51, may he rest in peace. God bless his journey. Frosty, Rex, Howard, Linda and our mother Vivien bid John a deep felt and fond farewell.