A Eulogy for William Dodsworth deCamp delivered by his son, January 20, 2005.
On behalf of everyone in our extended family, I thank each of you for coming here. Bill loved people. He was the most gregarious person I ever knew. During his whole life, and especially during his illness, his spirit could always be made to soar by simply adding people.
I do have one terrifying piece of news for you. Two nights ago we were sitting in the living room, and I heard Eleanor say to my sister Janet, “You know, Willie is already starting to act just like his father!”
[I think I just heard everybody in the church laughing except my staff.]
In my life to date, I never heard the word “unique” as many times as in the last four days. Although the Lord takes care to make every soul unique, some people seem to come out just a little “uniquer”; and such a person was my father, William Dodsworth de Camp.
Dad loved people, and he also loved places, especially places of origin: in summer, Bay Head and Mantoloking; in winter, spring, and fall, Short Hills. Eighty years ago today we might have found him just fifty yards up the hill, at the Short Hills Country Day School, not paying a whole lot of attention, with his dog Mac waiting outside to join him for the walk home to West Road – over fields and through woods.
Although he never forgot his home places, Dad managed to pack into his life a truly amazing variety of experiences. For example, raise your hand if you have ever hijacked an airplane at gunpoint. My father actually did that during World War II.
The number and variety of his acquaintances was no less remarkable. For example, his classmates in prep school included a future writer of Broadway shows, a future President of the United States, a future Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and – more important to my father than any of that – a lifelong friend and future usher at this memorial service.
Bill’s love of nature was at the heart of his being. It is so easy to picture him on the beach, in the ocean, on the bay, in the woods, or snowshoeing up Magic Mountain, all while exuding his boundless enthusiasm for nature – of which he himself was a sort of elemental force.
My father – it must be admitted – did possess the ability to give other people a hard time. In fact, if there is anyone in this congregation who has never been given a hard time by Bill de Camp, you have accidentally walked into the wrong memorial service. But, you are invited to stay, because Bill always stood ready to make a new friend.
Despite the difficulties Dad could pose, we are all here. Bill was worth it. If excess in plain speaking can be a sin, so too can excess in reticence.
Where courage comes from we do not know, but my father had it. There was only one direction: straight ahead. And only one time for getting a thing done: ten minutes ago.
The ordeal of my father’s illness and death was of a sort that at times can challenge one’s belief in a beneficent God, but it only reinforced my belief in angels. My sisters, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and our many friends took loving care. We felt our beautiful mother, Janet Oliver deCamp, and our beautiful sister and mother, Emily de Camp, there also, in spirit.
Finally, I thank my wonderful stepmother Eleanor Baker-deCamp, from whom I have learned so much – about courage, wisdom, style, grace, and good humor. I remember reading long ago Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in which a friendship is formed between a man and a woman shortly before the end of their lives. When I read it, I could not understand the point of introducing a new character and a new relationship so near the end of the novel. Now I feel the power of it.
A long and mostly happy life is done. A grandparent, parent, husband, and friend – Pa, Bill, Dad – for whom all else came second to family and friends – has done his earthly work. Let us hope that we have learned the lesson Dad was trying to teach Lee and Margo and Janet and me as we followed that cloud of cigar smoke around the woods those many years ago:
Look at the wonder all around you.
Wm. deCamp Jr.
January 20, 2005