Ray Autrey 11/12/23 – 01/01/13
One of the things that each of us must face at some point in this thing called life, is its end. Many of you are aware that my dad, Ray Autrey, has always been my hero. He was my hero not because of what he did, but because of who he was.
My hero passed away on January 1st of this year. Fortunately, Suzette and I, our daughter Evie, and our granddaughter Adrianna had been with he and my mom for Christmas.
I had always planned to speak a tribute to my dad whenever the date finally came. I did so, and I can tell you that it was the most difficult talk I have ever given.
I thought I’d use this forum to share my talk with you, both as a tribute to my Dad, and to offer a few thoughts for you to consider about what it means to live a truly successful life.
I began by telling the story of the wise man living at the outskirts of an ancient village. The message of the story is that you are going to find whatever it is you’re looking for. I then continued…
“I wanted to tell you that story because of what my Dad, the man whose life we are here to honor and celebrate today always looked for in his life. He always looked for the good and the decent. He looked for the upside, the open door, the opportunity, the possibility. He taught me that anything in life could be figured out…anything was possible. He gave me and everyone else the benefit of the doubt. He treated everyone with respect.
I remember when I was going to Fort Miller Junior High School. I was in the 7th grade. Forced integration was a year old, and we had kids being bused in from the west side who [didn’t want to be there] and who, well…posed quite a cultural shock to those of us living in predominantly white middle class Fresno. During this time, Dad was a juvenile detective, and I had the distinction of being the guy whose Dad regularly came to the school to arrest some of his “classmates.”
Well, one day, a kid named Bobby Hood, who had quite the bad reputation, approached me on the playground when no one else was around, and said, “I want to talk to you about your Dad.” I’m thinking… Oh boy, here we go… And then Bobby said to me, “Your Dad…he’s all right. He treats me different than anyone else in my life. Your Dad has always treated me with respect.”
That’s an example of how my Dad lived his life.
In presentations that I’ve given all over the world, I’ve told audiences that my Dad is, always has been, and always will be…my hero, and this is one of the many reasons why. So I thought it appropriate here, as a public tribute, to read to you something I wrote 14 years ago entitled, “My Hero.”
Young boys love their “heroes”. Growing up in Fresno, California, I though John Brody was a great quarterback, but he wasn’t “it”. John Kennedy was pretty cool, but he wasn’t it. Movie stars, rock stars, teachers, coaches, professional athletes…all offering their role models, their “greats”- but none came close to my hero. Mine really had it together. He was strong. He was incredibly smart. He could do anything. He wasn’t a poster hanging on the wall, or a card that came with a pack of stale gum. I actually got to spend time with my hero. Lots of time.
As far back as I can remember, I’d tag along into his garage, where he’d always let me “help”. I’m sure I made more mess and caused the project to take three times as long, but he never let me know it. As I grew a little older, we made many trips to Yosemite Nursery, where I’d fantasize about great landscapes, awesome vegetables, and spectacular flower gardens. And then there were those countless hours riding together in his Ford F150 Long Bed…talking about everything that was important to a six, or ten, or fifteen-year-old boy. Despite working two jobs, he took time to throw the football, go on Boy Scout camping trips, listen to me play the drums, and was genuinely interested in my homework. He was always there when I needed him. Always cheering. Always believing in…me.
Everyone admires “greatness”. Some dream about it. Others are inspired enough to actually pursue it: you know…a life overflowing with everything that’s good, wonderful, and important. I grew up with it. I knew it. My hero taught me that I could be anything I wanted in life…if I wanted it badly enough. More than that, he proved it to me. By example. Through his patience. With his love. And by his incredible commitment to my mom, my sister, my brother, and to me. He was my dad. I was his son. Nothing else in the world really mattered.
And now, at the age of forty-one, I’m still inspired by his greatness.
Dad, you taught me that the world is beautiful enough to try and figure it out. You’ve consistently given me the greatest gift I could’ve ever had- yourself. Because of you, I am blessed with an unquenchable self-confidence and a heart overflowing with love. You still are, and always will be…my hero.
My Dad was born on November 12, 1923, so on his headstone it will read 11/12/23 – 01/01/13. I’d like you to visualize those dates. Every one of us in here has our first date, and every one of us is going to have our second date. But you know, what truly matters in this equation is not the first date…nor the second date…it’s what’s in the middle. The only thing that matters in this equation is the dash. The only thing that truly matters is what we do with our lives between our beginning and our end. As a matter of fact, I have come to the conclusion that the only true measure of the value of a human life is all the good that was done while it was being lived.
My Dad’s life had HUGE value…certainly to me, to my Mom, to my sister and brother…to all of our family members, and I think also to all of you…his friends from square dancing, from work, or from wherever you had the good fortune of having had an association with this incredible man.
He is the finest man I have ever known.
So considering my Dad, his life and everything he stood for, I want to conclude by saying to him, “Dad…well done. Well Done!”
Please feel free to offer your thoughts and comments below.
Until next time,