There's so much that could be said about Gene Whillock (he was funny and ornery and generous and kind), but I don't think I could say it any better than David did in the eulogy that he gave at the memorial service, so I'm just going to post the letter that he wrote here. He read this letter to his grandpa a few days before his death, and he shared it with everyone who attended the funeral.
To use his words, Gene Whillock was a good ole boy. He was a good friend, a hard worker, a great husband and the best grandfather a boy could ask for. As many of you know, my grandpa could tell a story. And before he passed away, I wanted to remind him of a few of my favorite stories, so I wrote him a letter that I would like to share with you.
Saying good bye is never easy, and too often saying good bye comes too late. So before we have to say our farewells to each other, I want to make sure you know how proud I am of you and how much I appreciate everything you have done for me. Grandpa, all my life I have looked up to you. And as I was growing up, I wanted to be just like you.
I remember as a child, your alarm going off in what seemed the middle of the night as you prepared for work that day. Later that morning I would go off to school, looking forward to you picking me up that afternoon. You would pick me up each day from school, take me McDonald’s or Arby’s, whichever was giving away the best toy, and we would go back to the house for a snack and my favorite, a game of catch.
When you worked second shift, I remember wanting to stay up late to see you when you got off work. I would often take a nap after school, just so I could be awake for some cheese and crackers when you got home. And on the weekends, you would always make time to hit me fly balls in the back yard.
Often you would take long trips to help on “special projects” for Boeing. Although I never looked forward to you leaving, I remember how excited I was to see you when you returned. Going to the airport to pick you up was like Christmas day for me. Not only because you brought me back something special from your trip, but because my grandpa was back. We would walk down to the local school yard with my bat a glove and you would hit me grounders for what seemed hours.
Through the years I have heard your many stories about Boeing and looked up to how hard you worked. You taught me to be the hard worker that I am today.
As a child I remember taking walks with you and Grandma around the neighborhood. Often I would ride my big wheel tricycle or you would pull me in my wagon (the one you gave me as an early Christmas present). What I remember about those walks the most was the time we spent together as a family.
I also remember our family vacations. I remember loading the camper in the back of the truck and going to the lake for the weekend where you taught me to fish. I remember trips to Saint Louis to watch a ballgame. My favorite vacation we took as a family was our trip to Walt Disney World. We loaded up the silver Lincoln and headed south. Although I ended up with terrible sunburn, it was a great trip.
Although our family vacations were memorable, it was our family dinners I will remember most. Grandma would be working hard in the kitchen and you would be out back on the grill and I would be in between, just watching and learning from both of you.
Fifty years is a long time, and I will never forget getting to celebrate your fiftieth wedding anniversary. Brooke and I went through pictures of you and Grandma, putting them together into a slide show to the Alan Jackson tune of “Remember When.” It made me realize you taught me not only to be a good person, but also a good husband.
Growing up, I wanted to be a major league baseball player. I would throw that old rubber ball against the house countless times pretending to be Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals turning a double play to win the World Series. Other times we would stand in the back yard and play catch or you would hit me fly balls. I also remember learning the game of baseball as we sat around the radio listening to the St. Louis Cardinals or on those special occasions when we would get to see them on the TV. You would tell me about the players and explain the details of the game to me. You taught me the game was as much mental as it was physical.
As I got older, my dreams of a shortstop began to fade, but I turned into a pretty good pitcher. I always looked forward to looking up into the crowd and see you cheer me on. You traveled far and wide just to watch me play. And after a big win, my favorite thing to do was to flip you the game ball as a keepsake and a thank you for coming out to watch me play.
When my playing days in college days were over, you took me to Atlanta to watch the All-Star Game. That trip will always be one of my favorite memories. We loaded up the hertz rental car and headed to Georgia for the homerun derby and the 2000 All-Star game. Sammy Sosa amazed the crowd with his homeruns in the derby and we saw the likes of Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Randy Johnson, and Jimmy Edmonds shine in the All-Star game. When the 9th inning was over and the fireworks went off, it was the American League who won the game. On our way home from that trip, I realized my dreams of playing in the World Series were coming to an end. Although I was moving into a new chapter of my life, I was prepared because I had you showing me the way.
A few years later, I asked you if I could borrow your car, and not just any car, your Mustang. I didn’t need it for a long trip, just from the Methodist church in Nevada to the 3M clubhouse as Brooke and I left our wedding. Some of my favorite pictures from that day are us in your Red Mustang, with you behind the wheel.
Somehow, this crazy life led me to St. Louis where Brooke and I started our future together. I will always remember your visits to St. Louis and our times at the ballpark, cheering on our favorite Cardinals to victory. In my lifetime, we have seen three Cardinals World Series titles. Not one was better than this year as our underdogs came out of nowhere to become the World Series Champs. I will always cherish sitting at your house, by your side, during Game Seven of the 2011 World Series as we watched our team win the championship.
As you know, the past year has been the hardest time of my life. Brooke and I lost our daughter Eliza, and now I have to say good bye to you. Before you leave, I want you to know how proud I am of you and I will make you proud of me. I will be a good friend, I will work hard every day, I will be a great husband, I will take care of Grandma, and someday pass on everything that you have taught me. I just ask one last thing of you, that you find my angel Eliza, and take care of her like you did for me for so many years. I love you Grandpa and I will think of you every day.