KEMP WILSON: A LIFE WELL SPENT
I’ve pretty much been MIA since my Dad’s funeral a few weeks ago. I’ve slowly been catching up with life and sleep. I did feel compelled to post the blog below this one since it was near the Pennsylvania primary. One of the things my Dad and I were very passionate about over the past year is Barack Obama and his run for President. So, in honor of my Dad and the country, I’m continuing to work hard to support Senator Obama’s nomination and place as our next President (I hope you Montanans reading this will vote for Obama in the upcoming primary! My father was an excellent judge of character and he saw the qualities possessed by Obama as those of someone who can make a significant difference and change in the current machine politics of Washington and perception of the U.S. to the world.)
My Dad’s wake and funeral were beautiful! Many friends and family from throughout his life attended and shared their stories. As I’ve said many times, my father was a kind, generous, and brilliant man. He was also determined to always better himself and provide support and guidance for those around him.
Eulogies at the funeral were delivered by two of my Dad’s closest friends — Judge Tom Olsen, who he had known since high school; and Rich Bruner, who he knew for almost 20 years as part of his close circle of friends in Red Lodge. I loved hearing their stories from my Dad’s past.
Judge Olsen shared his memories of the time he spent with my Dad at Montana State University as undergraduates and at University of Montana as law students. He recalled their time together as football players for the Bobcats and as members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. At the end of my father’s freshman year, he received his grades and given his love for social acitivities that year, it was no surprise that he received C’s and D’s. When it came time to present his grades to his parents, who had helped to pay for his tuition, he couldn’t provide them with a good explanation for his low academic performance. Their response — “You can work for the railroad if you need funds for college.” My father took this seriously and spent the following three summers working as a gandy dancer for the Great Northern Railway.
Judge Olsen was a year ahead of my father in school and my father followed in his steps to the University of Montana to attend law school. At the end of my Dad’s first year, Judge Olsen was present when my father received his grades. He looked over my Dad’s shoulder as he read them and what he saw was (and during the eulogy he named each class) every grade was an “A” with honors. He then looked at the column next to the grade and every one of them had a check next to it, which indicated that my father had received the highest grade in the class. My father graduated from law school at the top of his class, which is the reason he was awarded his position as a clerk to Judge James R. Browning of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Judge Olsen then conveyed at the funeral that while the vaults of the University of Montana’s Law School are highly secret, it is still believed to this day that my father received some of the highest grades ever given. My eyes (and many others) welled up with tears because I never knew any of this. My father was a man of great humility and never felt the need to show off his accomplishments.
Judge Olsen then went on to recall how my Dad responded to the news in the mid-seventies that he had high blood pressure (my grandfather died at the age of 52 of a heart attack). As Judge Olsen noted, most people would change their diet a bit and start doing some exercise at the local YMCA. Not my father. He started running…12 miles a day. And then he started training for marathons. My parents also became health nuts with regards to our diet and we went from my mother’s gourmet cooking and lots of wonderful fatty baked goods to homemade granola, homemade spinach pasta with homemade soy cheese sauce, and whole wheat flour cookies that seemed like they weighed a pound each. My father ended up running 6 marathons before his knees gave out in the early eighties and he had to have both replaced. But that didn’t stop him. He started biking…20 miles a day — to begin with. In the mid eighties my Dad and my Uncle Gary biked from Vancouver B.C. to Mexico in 16 days, averaging 100 miles a day, with 150 miles in one day at their peak (my memory was that this was a month long trip, but while my Dad wasn’t one to boast, he did love accuracy, and he corrected me on his last visit). My father was also an avid cross-country skiier, mountain climber, fisherman, and hunter (not for sport — for food — and he’d skin, gut, clean, and prepare every animal he killed) up to his final year.
Following Judge Olsen’s tribute at the funeral, Rich Bruner took the podium. I was both touched and felt a kinship with Rich by his need to bring out a huge handful of tissues. I had cried so intensely the night before at the wake that Rich shared that he was nervous about his eulogy the next day at the funeral. His homage to my Dad was beautiful and so heartfelt. He shared how he was there when my father received his diagnosis and my Dad actually had to calm the doctors down and let them know that it was okay. He also shared a story about my Dad that I’d never heard. Reflecting on my father’s kindness and the fact that my Dad didn’t expound much on his nature of being so good-hearted, Rich pushed him further and asked my father if there was ever an instance he could recall in which he had been completely selfless. My Dad sort of tossed it off, but then said well, yes, there was one time. He was driving home from work in Billings and saw an elderly woman with a bag of groceries who had slipped and fallen. He drove by, but realized he couldn’t not stop to help. So he did. He made sure she was okay and then gathered up her groceries and walked her home. She invited him in for tea. He followed. She asked him what she could do to repay him. His response was: “My daughter Megan is having a hard time right now, could you please pray for her.” Rich continued with his observation that it was so in the spirit of my father to ask someone for their help to pray for someone else as a way of helping him. Of course, this also hit me deeply since he was asking for prayers to help me.
I love you Dad… and that’s all I’ve got.
My Dad and his grandfather Harry Kemp.
Dad with his mother Jean and brother Sande
Dad on the far top left, his brother Sande on the far top right with cousins
Dad and his father Jeff Wilson
Sande, Kemp (dad), Jeff, and Gary Wilson
Dad — Red Devils football team
Dad — #86, Red Devils football team
Dad and Mom’s wedding — Gary Beisswenger (close friend), Sande Wilson, Dad, Reverend, Beverly (my mom’s twin), Gary Wilson, and Mom at desk.
My grandfather & grandmother Templeton, Mom & Dad, and grandmother & grandfather Wilson
Mom & Dad
Mom & Dad’s wedding reception
Dad’s father, Jeff, Dad, Dad’s mother, Jean
brother Gary, Father Jeff, brother Sande, and Dad
Dad, brother Gary, and brother Sande
Dad and Dougal
Dad and me
Dad, my brother Brad, and me
Dad, my brother Stewart (in arms), my brother Brad, and me
MyAunt Emily, Dad, My Aunt Gail, and my Uncle Sande
Me, Dad, and my cousin Trevor
My Uncle Gary, Dad, and my Uncle Sande
Dad and Linda
Dad and Linda’s wedding — my brother Brad in front
Dad and Linda at their wedding
Dad and his mother Jean
Me, my brother Stewart, my brother Brad, and Dad
Dad, my brother Stewart, brother Brad, stepsister Heidi, and me
Me and Dad at high school graduation