My father, Dr. Terry David Bilhartz (1950-2014), passed away suddenly of cardiac arrest on Friday, December 12, 2014, at the age of 64 years old. Cause of death was found to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, two conditions that I manage frequently in my own clinical practice. At my dad’s memorial service, I gave the eulogy. I have received numerous requests to reprint the text version of the message for those who were present in spirit, but physically unable to attend. It follows below.
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I know that none of us really want to be here today.
But, I am so proud of my Father. I am so saddened by his loss. However, sudden as it was for all of us, my Father’s impact here on this earth was far from short-lived.
My Father was an extraordinary role model. I got nearly all of my ideas from him. I got my fiery passion from him. I got my gift of teaching and lecturing from him, although perhaps today, I’ll get a pass on this one, as I didn’t willing sign up for this speaking engagement.
But, the truth remains that we are still here today. And, as per my Father’s own wishes, this must ultimately become a day more of fulfillment and not emptiness, a day of celebration of a life lived and not despair of life lost.
My Father was born and grew up in Dallas, Texas. He was the middle child of five children born to Skipper and Joy Bilhartz in 1950. My Dad was always short in stature, but never lacking in energy and excitement.
My Father excelled in both academics and athletics. He was a high school varsity letterman in football and baseball, and as you will shortly see, memories of playing sports with him are some of my most cherished from childhood.
My Father lost his own dad related to complications from a brain tumor when my Father was only 18 years old. My Dad would live for nearly five more decades without his own father. I feel so blessed to have had the last 37 years with mine.
My Dad would graduate from Kimball High School, in South Oak Cliff, Dallas. He attended Texas A&M University for two years of college, but ultimately would finish his undergraduate degree at Dallas Baptist University. He returned to Dallas, in part because he began courting, at that time, the eldest daughter of the senior pastor at Tyler Street United Methodist Church in Oak Cliff. The beautiful young woman’s name was Patty Ann Morell, but I know her best as Mom.
My Dad married Patty Ann in 1972. They would move several times over the next few years as Dad completed his Master’s Degree at Emory University in Atlanta, and his PhD at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I would be born in Washington, D.C. in 1977, and after a couple of short-lasting positions in the northeast, my Father accepted a full-time position as a history professor at Sam Houston State University. We moved to Huntsville in 1979, and my sister would be born at the hospital down the road in Conroe one year later, completing our immediate family of four.
American sportswriter, Rick Reilly, once described the late UCLA college basketball coach, John Wooden, with these following words, but they are amazingly just as applicable to my Father. My Dad was “loyal to one woman, one school, one way; walking around campus in his sensible shoes.”
Throughout the 1980s, as I was growing up in Huntsville, you would have frequently found my Father at Kate Barr Ross Park, coaching and watching all the sporting events of my sister and me. In the fall, he would have been the head coach of my soccer team, along with the late Van Brock and Leroy Ashorn. In the spring, he would have assisted Leroy as the coach of my little league baseball team.
In baseball, my Father typically coached first base while our team batted, and then coached the outfielders when we were out in the field. At the early levels of little league in our era, you should be reminded that the outfield was often a place of boredom, as the ball would rarely be hit that far. It was also difficult to keep the little league outfielders engaged in practice and the games. But, my Dad did for the outfielders what he did with everything that he taught or coached in his life. He made it exciting. He wasn’t one of these over-bearing, out-of-control, little league coaches. He was a perfect blend of controlled enthusiasm throughout his entire life.
Many of you here today, played with me or against me and my Father in those little league games. You will remember when I tell you that my Father was perhaps best remembered at the baseball park for one word: HUSTLE. Yes, hustle.
You see, when you played for our teams, and you stepped across that chalk line onto the field of play, you hustled. That’s what you did. You hustled to first base when you hit the ball, no matter how well or how poorly you hit it. You hustled to your position in the field at the start of the inning. You performed your job to the best of your ability there, and then you hustled off the field. Always. “Hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle,” my Dad would chant to motivate you. Every game. Every practice. Every time. Win. Lose. Succeed. Fail. Make a fantastic play. Make an error. It did not matter as long as you were hustling.
They say that you need to accumulate over 10,000 hours in an activity to become an expert. Well, I’m here to tell you that I calculated it last night, and in the 1980s alone, I accumulated 11,680 hours preparing for, practicing, and playing those games, predominantly all with my Father.
He was literally always there. If he wasn’t a coach, he was a spectator, or he was my basketball rebounder at our house on Oaklawn Street for hours after the sun went down. For hours at night he’d rebound for me, often approaching midnight, as I’d work on my jump shot. I’m not exaggerating. I literally think that my Father made it to 99% of all the sporting events that I ever played in. And, trust me, I played in a bunch. In fact, I still remember, long after my real athletic career had ended, heading to an “intramural” college flag football tournament. This was not varsity level. This was not a competitive club team. This was an “intramural” event–a recreational game–a flag football tournament in New Orleans. It was over the winter break. I had no job, no money, and was eating the free crackers at Joe’s Crab Shack for nutrition prior to the start of the tournament. Then, out of nowhere, Dad just shows up. He drove to another state, unbeknownst to me, to watch me play a recreational game. I’ll never forget that after he arrived, he took me to eat Chicken and Biscuits that night, and he paid for my meal.
My Father was not just my motivator in sports but he was my cheerleader in life and education. He worked with me relentlessly on mathematics and my other studies. I always believed that I could beat anybody in the classroom in that old “around the world” game of multiplication tables, not because I was necessarily the best, but because my Father always made sure that I was the most prepared for everything that I did. He even got me to write a book this year, because he founded his own publishing company, in what would become the last year of his life.
But, I want to share with you the thing that is most amazing about my Father. In these last 96 hours, which have mainly been a whirlwind of every human emotion for me, the thing that I’ve come to realize the most, is that all this time, I thought my Father was just doing all these things for me. [Pause] He was doing them for EVERYONE else too. The outpouring of support that we’ve received regarding my Father, from even a myriad of sources previously unknown to me up until the last few days, only confirmed to me all the work that he has been doing for God’s Kingdom all along. Helping this person get through an addiction, mentoring that individual spiritually and emotionally, motivating another person to perform some incredible feat.
You see, all this time, I thought he was just doing those things for me. But, he was also doing it for everyone else. And, he didn’t even tell me about most of these things, because it had become so commonplace that it was as natural to him as breathing. He literally found a way to get the most out of everyone and everything that he touched. And, I am so proud of him.
Joseph Campbell once made the following statement: “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of BEING ALIVE.” My Father LIVED ALIVE. Which is why I think it’s so hard for me now, that I can no longer see him here.
But, I take solace in Paul’s words, written in his First Epistle to the Church at Corinth. I’ll paraphrase.
Paul writes that he does not speak with the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom Paul speaks of deals with the mystery of God–basically God’s plan that has been previously hidden–because the rulers of this world just cannot understand that plan.
Paul goes on to write, and I absolutely love this part, that: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
You see, Paul is letting me know that Dad is doing just fine right now! It’s my own job, or rather our job here, that we must focus upon. We must all find a way to LIVE ALIVE. You see, our time is our most precious commodity. We can’t afford to waste it. So when you get done here–or better yet, just do it right now–go hug your little son or little daughter. Go hug your BIG son or BIG daughter. Go be a friend to someone who needs a friend. Hustle, hustle, to do those things, because time does not wait on us. Time does not pause. If your life were to be measured in breaths, make every one count.
In the words of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” But, in the words of my Father: “Hustle, hustle, hustle, for his Kingdom.”
Dad, [Looking Upward] thank you for all the blessings you have left me. Thank you for leaving so much of you in me. I will strive to always LIVE ALIVE. I just hope that one day, my own boys will be just as proud of me as I am of you right now.