8 May 1999
My Uncle Russ died today of a heart attack shortly after mowing the lawn. There were no bands playing or holiday’s across the nation as is done for presidents or heroes; just quiet sorrow to mourn the passing of a husband and father. I doubt I shall ever know a finer man in my life. He died the way he lived his life; quietly doing the little seemingly ordinary things that were extraordinary to those whose lives he touched. There was nothing ordinary about my Uncle. He made everyone’s life a little brighter and the world is a better place because he was here.
You have an “Uncle Russ” too. He may not be you uncle, but, you have one; he is that relative or a friend who is always “there” when you need them the most. Non-judgmental, encouraging, you never asked him for help but he always seems to show up at the right time? The “Uncle Russ’s” are the backbone of society. The person who builds your Character and make you want to be a better person because of the support they gave you. That was Russ Horan.
My first memory of him was at a retirement ceremony to honor my grandfather. I was a small child at the time and such events were a great source of boredom to my young mind. It was late and I was tired. As we were leaving Park City High School, I was swept off my feet and on to the shoulders of my uncle. He immediately said something that had me laughing all the way to grandpa’s house. Russ always had a gift for connecting with children. Children swarmed around him and listened on the edge of their seats, never tiring of his stories. Russ always seemed to have a joke and a piece of candy for the kids.
Years passed. My family moved to Alaska. I looked forward to our trips to Utah to see family and friends. When my father had taken quite ill with heart problems, Russ and Marie invited my brother Dan and me to go on short vacation with them. What a wonderful time I had with Gary, Dan, Marie and Russ. We saw the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas for the first time. I remember Russ constantly had me roaring with laughter. I didn’t realize till later that Russ was giving me a much needed break from the problems that were dominating my life. I have thought back on that little vacation many times over the years and am amazed at how much that small effort on his part helped me.
When your father passes away and your 14 years old, you are mad. You’re mad that he left you. You’re mad that you have to move from a place you love. Mostly you’re just mad. I was probably madder than most. There were a lot of people who wanted to step into my life and be my father. I resisted this and became furious with anyone who tried. “How dare them” I thought. One day Uncle Russ came by and took me golfing.
No one loved sports more than he did. Russ led the tiny town of Park City’s football team to the state championship game and narrowly lost due to a dropped ball by his lifelong friend. He knew I loved sports too. He equipped me with an old set of clubs and as I hacked my way down the fairways and greens, Russ showed me how to hold the clubs, aim, swing and putt. Anytime I ran low on balls, Russ always loaded me up with his endless supply, fetched from one of two army duffel bags full of them. I cherished those times with him on the golf course. I felt I could always talk to him but never had to.
One week ago I saw him for the last time at my brothers wedding. I had not seen him in some time and he had lost a lot of weight. The trials of aging and radiation treatments for cancer had certainly taken a toll. He was talking about his health problems and joked about how he loved peas and how he “hadn’t had a good pea all winter”. I have heard this joke of his thousands of times over the years; it always made me laugh. As we parted, he suddenly hugged me and told me that he loved me. I was surprised and concerned because while I knew he loved me, Russ had never hugged me. It felt more like a farewell than a goodbye.
I am filled with a sad/happy empty/fullness now that I know he is gone. I wonder how many heroes are out there who, like my uncle, quietly go about improving peoples lives while all the fame and glory go to less deserving people who crave the spotlight. More should be done to honor them.
Russ was not just my Uncle, he was my friend. He took away a lot of the anger I had as a child and he was like a father to me.
I love golf. Russ gave that love to me. I’ll never step up to a tee box without seeing him there smiling, whistling, searching in his pocket for a piece of candy and enjoying the little things in life.
P.S. 6/24/13. UPDATE, since his death, I teed off the start of each golf season with the old Sam Snead Persimmon 4 wood which was the sole surviving club from the original set Russ gave me. I did this to honor and thank him for the great gift of golf he gave me. Sadly in 2009, the club exploded on impact and now is part of history. I miss that club and still dedicate my first drive to my Uncle. I always feel like he is smiling down on me every time I make birdy.