March 5, 1939 - March 28, 2016
My father, Robert Pierson, was a man with passion and he was a gentleman. He was a hard working, dedicated, intelligent man and although was born into a world of challenges, fear and uncertainty, he was able to overcome and not only be successful, but leave a legacy in his wake.
Dad was born in Richmond, VA in 1939 to a mother who was only 16 years old. Although we don’t know exact details of my father’s childhood, we know that being a young African American boy in the South could not have been easy in 1939. Dad was raised by his grandmother for the first 7 years of his life and then placed in foster care. At this time a successful African American dentist named Dr. Bassett (Grandpa Bassett to me) took my father in and raised him as his own – teaching him right from wrong, life skills and mentoring him and most importantly taught him how to be a gentleman.
Dad, despite such a rough start, soon went to school, graduated high school and proceeded on to receive his Bachelors of Sociology from Virginia State. Shortly thereafter, he entered the US Military as an Army Intelligence Officer. During this time, he had the opportunity to serve our county, mainly stateside, by providing security services for foreign dignitaries.
My father rarely spoke of his military career; I never saw his uniform; I did not even see any photos of this time of his life. It wasn’t until recently that I started to glean bits and pieces of this portion of his life. I think this is because my father was very proud, but didn’t gloat. He was an amazing man and a strong father. I don’t think that I fully realized this until I had my own child.
After his military career ended, he took a job with the Reynolds Aluminum company in Chicago, IL as Director of Human Resources – where he worked until retired. I don’t think he knew that that career choice would be a catalyst for the rest of his life; that job, as it turns out, not only challenged him professionally – but I believe it allowed him to spread his wings and help make a difference in many people’s lives as I will talk about shortly. But first let’s talk about love.
My father met my mother in Chicago, IL – at the Aluminum plant – which is one of the most unlikely places considering that my mom was born and raised in Hilo, HI. My mom, Mona, was a nurse from Hawaii and somehow she landed at the Reynolds Aluminum plant to provide care for the factory workers. I like to joke that my dad faked an injury just so he could go see the nurse – you know, something like a paper cut as he was a paper-pushing HR director, but that’s not what happened. Dad was a gentleman. He introduced himself and asked her out to coffee and donuts (and knowing my dad he had a Bavarian cream and a coffee so hot that is would scald most everyone’s lips). And that was that.
They married a short while later and in 1970 had their first son, my older brother Rob. Three (3) years later, I was born. In 1974 my father received a promotion and was asked to open the Reynolds Aluminum plant in Troutdale, OR – just east of Portland. So the family packed up and drove west with the setting sun in our faces (so I was told – I was not even 2 years old).
This is where my father really began to shine. In the years to come, he opened and managed one of the largest Aluminum processing and fabrication plants on the west coast, became involved in the local school district and was active in the United Way. My father worked hard his whole life; and life didn’t start out easy for him – but despite the challenges he faced, he didn’t back down. On the contrary, he stood tall and embraced the challenges he encountered. I can’t say that he excelled at everything or that he was just naturally good at everything he tried. I don’t think that was how it was at all – but what he taught me, ever subtly over years of observation: was to focus on your goals; to not be afraid to try new things; to be courteous, respectful and a gentleman in everything I do and to not do things alone – but to make friends along the way and recruit their help. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with.
My father had many passions in his life. He loved Jazz music, stamps, James Bond movies, a “sippin’ hot coffee”, milkshakes and family. When my father found out he was a grandfather to my daughter, he absolutely beamed and told my wife that I was “living his dream.” You see, my dad always wanted a girl. After two boys, my mother said “that’s enough” – but deep down he wanted a girl and upon meeting my daughter Sophie for the first time, I could tell that he indeed was living vicariously through me. Now, I need to mention that he also loves his grandson, Marc just as much – but maybe it is because he lived closer to me than my brother who is in Denver, CO, or maybe he just really wanted a baby girl in his life … I am not sure what it is, but I can’t describe it other than he simply loved his “Buttercup”. My father leaves behind two sons and two grandchildren.
During the last few years of his life, Dad, despite pain and other physical challenges that were taking a toll on him, would perk up, and almost become a different person around “Buttercup”. It was quite amazing to see and something that I will never forget. I know that this past year of my father’s life was one of his best – but it was also one of the hardest.
A year ago he had a stroke while down in Portland and we didn’t think he would make it. But, he is a fighter and he not only pulled through, but he prospered. After his stroke we moved him out of his house in Portland (my mother passed away 3 years ago and he was living in the great big house by himself – with his faithful companion Tori – a Cockatiel). That move was very difficult for him – and in all honesty, he did not want to go. But we found SilverCreek – that that was the catalyst of change for this fantastic last year.I witnessed my father overcome obstacle after obstacle in these past 12 months – and much of the success I fully attribute to both the staff and residents of SilverCreek – along with the deep friendships he has made along the way.
Within months of his arrival here, he blossomed just like his favorite flower – the gardenia. I watched him gain his strength back. I watched him gain his independence back. He was motivated and more active than I had seen him be over the past 10 years. His goal was to be “independent” and by golly, he was determined to be “independent”. And he accomplished that goal.
Yet, his battle with lung cancer, and the effects of several other ailments eventually took their hold on him and he passed away. But he was not sad, he was not scared. He was ready. He was comfortable, calm and in the presence of family and he knew he was loved.
I know my father loved it here at SilverCreek. He loved the staff – he loved teasing the staff and he thoroughly enjoyed being teased back. It made him stronger. He loved Bingo, trips to the Casino and getting to know several of you very well. And I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to each of you – the residents and staff alike for all you have done for my father – for being professional, for being a friend and for reflecting back to him the ideals he worked so hard to prefect his entire life. Thank you!
I mentioned that my father loved Jazz music, and as a gift from him (and our family) to you, we have brought a selection of his collection and invite you to take some of the music for yourself or a friend. So before you leave today, if you are interested, we have placed a basket near the door.
As I wrap up, I have just one more thought I would like to share. As I reflect on my father’s life, I can’t help but see a theme that I haven’t noticed until now. My father was born into this world and was essentially alone – he was a foster child with an uncertain future. But along the way he met people who helped shaped his life. He met my mother, had his two sons (he wanted to call me Tanya – but had to settle for Tim). He moved across the country and faced the unknown – but thrived again – where he met more friends. And in the final leg of his journey, once again he ventured into the unknown (maybe a little unwillingly along the way) and essentially created another “foster” family and he thrived again. Amazing!
Well, with that being said, I have put together a few slides set to one of my father’s favorite songs. Please enjoy with me a short program highlighting and celebrating my father’s life – Robert Pierson.