David A. Robichaux: an eulogy

Below is the text of the original eulogy I wrote for Dad’s funeral. I ad-libbed a great deal of additional material; rather than edit the text to reflect what I think I might’ve said, I decided to go with the original. Writing this, and speaking at Dad’s funeral, was an extremely difficult experience. It was an honor I might rather not have had. However, I remember once turning down the opportunity to speak at a dear friend’s wedding and declining because I didn’t think I had anything to say. I still regret that, years later, and was determined not to make the same mistake again.

We’re gathered here today to remember David Robichaux. To some of us, he was a brother; to some, a father or grandfather; to all, a friend. He was larger than life in many ways. Most of us here today have stories to tell about him, but those boil down to one big thing.

He was a builder. That was in his nature; it was an inseparable part of who he was. Many of my happiest memories of him are times that we spent building or fixing things: a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, a 1964 Corvette, a play set for the kids. He took joy in starting with something broken and making it whole. More so, he found joy in creating something anew, turning raw materials of low value into something useful and precious because of the effort and skill he put into it. This pattern of building was repeated over and over throughout his life.

He built buildings all over the world, ranging from a fishing camp in South Louisiana to factories and warehouses worth tens of millions of dollars. Some of his projects were small, like the pirogue he built for fishing. Some were large, like Town Center at Levis Commons. Nothing made him prouder, though, than the effort he expended to help build a shelter for abused girls in Romania, or our very own Perrysburg Christians United food pantry.

He built a reputation. Over and over, I heard people tell me this last night, using words like “blunt” and “direct” and “integrity” and “principle”. There was no artifice in my dad. He said what he thought, and you always knew where you stood with him. He was fond of saying “if it’s wrong, then it’s wrong today and wrong tomorrow.” I remember being on the receiving end of quite a bit of his directness at various times, like the first time I got in a car wreck during an unauthorized errand. The wonderful thing about Dad is that he said his piece, let you know where things stood, and left it at that. No recriminations, no grudges. That made him a refreshing change from so much of the world, where people hold on to trivial things and use them as anchors of self-righteousness.

He built relationships with people from every walk of life, from high-powered men of business to the people he assisted as part of his service as a judicial advocate. He was equally comfortable with bikers and lawyers, with judges and the guy behind the counter at the auto parts store. I never saw him treat any person with less than dignity and fairness, even when he was angry or upset. He never claimed to be an example of any particular principle, but he had a quotation over his desk for many years that sums his philosophy up neatly: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” He was all about doing, not just talking.

He built a community. Something about Perrysburg clicked with him, and he engaged with the community in a way he never had in any of the other places where we lived. Many of you who are here today know him through Rotary, ARES, or one of the other service organizations he so eagerly participated in. He was always willing to volunteer, and he was always able to motivate others to join in those volunteer efforts. Perrysburg, and indeed the world, is a better place for him having been in it.

Most of all, he built a family. My mother, brother, sister, and I always knew that he loved us, and that he always would. How did we know that? Not just because he told us, although he often did. No, it was because he showed us through the way he treated us, even during times when we had displeased, disobeyed, or disappointed him in some way. His last two days with us were spent taking a family vacation to see Julie, Paul, and Charlie, and they were filled with evidence, both large and small, of his love for family and life itself. His love of family was evident in the things he did every day, not just at big special occasions.

In building these things, Dad displayed an unquenchable enthusiasm. I never once heard him complain about his job. Ever. That’s a remarkable record for someone who put in as many hours as he did. Instead, he awoke and attacked each day with gusto. He loved challenges, not just for the joy of success but for the opportunity to test and improve himself. His enthusiasm and zest were contagious, as many of you know firsthand. He threw himself into new hobbies with zeal; that’s how he got into motorcycling, which he came to love immensely. He rode all over the US, from South Dakota to Vermont to Louisiana, and you could always count on seeing a huge grin on his face when he talked about riding somewhere.

Was Dad perfect? No. He could be as stubborn as a concrete block. He was often impatient, especially when he believed people were working below their capacity or potential. Plus, he watched way too much golf on television. These things made him human, just as we all have our own flaws; there’s no value in dwelling on them. Instead, I choose to think of how much richer my own life is for having known him.

If he were here, he wouldn’t want us to be mournful and sad. Instead, I imagine him saying “I died doing something I loved, and I know how much you loved me. I love you too, and you know that. Now get out there and do something. Make something. Build something. Love something.” I said to several people at the visitation that I would have had his tombstone say “He got things done” as a fitting epitaph. I was wrong: “He worked hard, played hard, and built to last” would be a better one.

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