The struggle of explaining my relationship with Del always started with how to describe him to people who didn’t know him. I usually settled on calling him my Godfather. It had the right ring of near-familial without blood-relation to it, and in some ways it was quite true. Of course, Presbyterians don’t usually do godparents, and Del had been a few continents away when I was born and christened.
What he started as was my grandfather’s best friend. They’d been Boy Scout leaders together most of their adult life, although Del was a decade younger than my grandfather. In my earliest memories of him, I’m probably 7 or 8. We made the trek to Seattle to visit my grandparents for a great family tradition: the annual Gilbert & Sullivan outing. I’m not sure exactly which show it was, but I remember seeing Yoeman of the Guard, so it was then or earlier. My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and various family friends were all there – a huge crowd of us for dinner, a speech by Del about the play we were about to see, and the play itself. A few years later, after the performance, he asked my parents if my sister Heidi might be able to join him for some other plays, and with their assent, a new relationship was born.
My turn came when my sister got too busy to attend the plays, perhaps around my freshman year of high school? Del and I had so much fun together, we had to set a rule that we could only have an event in Seattle once a week during the school year. (Seattle was a 2 hour drive for me. My Jr. year of high school I put 1000 miles a week on my parent’s car.) He brought me along with him with his season tickets to the ACT, Seattle Rep (I nearly died of embarrassment when we caught “Angels in America” there when I was 16), Intiman, Seattle Opera (my favorite – he got me a signed copy of Lohengrin by Ben Heppner which shows how in tune he was with my obsessions) and “Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We also caught musicals at the Paramount, and the periodic Seattle Symphony Orchestra concert (my favorite was New Years ’98 concert in Benaroya Hall’s inaugural year). Throughout high school (and summers in college!) I got a world class arts education, first hand, from Del.
It wasn’t just that we watched the plays together, either. Most of our outings included a dinner. I remember one night eating at the Four Seasons in Seattle where he apologized to my future husband, who would not be able to take me anywhere fancier to propose to me. (In point of fact, Adam took me to Applebees. After Del had met him and approved of my then-boyfriend, he’d offered the advice that Adam should take me to Der Rosenkavilier to pop the question.) We had car rides to the plays, dinner before hand, the plays themselves, and then the post-play breakdown. I almost always loved it, but recall Dels’ surprise when I was particularly critical of 7 Guitars when it premiered Seattle. We skipped it when it subsequently showed in Ashland.
Del and I talked a lot. About everything. We talked about the shows we’d seen and would be seeing. He spun me extremely specific tales of Seattle of yore – the people, places & events. He witnessed much of the city’s growth from a regional backwater to nationally important center. At the height of Microsoft’s power and dominance, we even once sat behind Bill & Melinda Gates at a relatively exclusive showing! He told me about my grandparents, and my father as a young scout. He talked about Baden-Powell, and the Order of the Arrow, and his mother. He told me how his parents would take him out to fancy balls, and he’d explore with the other kids and then fall asleep in the coat room. He told me how the doctors believed he’d been a twin in utero, due to the mirror-placement of his internal organs. He talked about KING TV, and the day he had a heart attack at his desk at work, died, and was brought back. From that day on, without fail, he ALWAYS ordered the salmon at dinner. Always. He’d encourage me to get creme brulee for dessert and then stare at me wistfully while I ate it. I particularly remember the long drive from Ashland back home to Mineral, where he spent no less than two hours explaining the whole concept of an “HMO” to me, and how it would work amazingly, back when that was a brand new concept to the world.
He was also always there for me. I am not sure I played in an orchestra concert where he wasn’t in the crowd, nodding his approval. He noted my interests and helped me pursue them. Most of the time when I met up with him, he had newspaper clippings he thought I’d be interested in. He never forgot a birthday. As time went on, he was increasingly at every Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering. My mom kept tea in the cupboard, which only he ever drank. After I left to go for college, Del and I were frequent correspondents.
My parents, in a sign just how much he was truly family, stepped in when it became clear that he could no longer live alone. They tackled with love and compassion the task of preparing a home he’d lived in for 75 years (which, in all our time together, I’d never once seen) for sale and a new generation. My mother says that in all the extensive files he kept, I was his longest & most voluble correspondent. My parents have been with him since, treating him like the grandfather to me he is like. My father kept vigil with him today, as his breathing became unsteady, labored and then finally ceased.
My relationship with Del was just one chapter in the book of a great man. There are many who look at his life’s work, and can be forgiven for thinking he dedicated it to excellence in the way they knew him. His scouting service was legendary. His name is inscribed in the outdoor theater at Ashland. He had an eidetic memory, and could (and would) give you the life histories of all the important people ever buried in Queen Anne Hill. He was a great patron and lover of the arts. He also worked a full career, starting with pushing elevator button on the Smith Tower (a favorite topic of conversation), through the rise of television.
He was a remarkable and generous man, and I’ll be forever grateful that he gave me so many rich gifts: of experiences, tickets, meals, marble heads of Wagner (ok, only one of those), but mostly – his time.
If you have any remembrances to share, or want to learn more about this amazing person, you can visit delloder.com