Deceased April 30, 2008
When my father started at Amherst, he intended to become a small town doctor, but pre-med wasn’t his thing, and he ended up at Duke law school and spent most of his professional life as an attorney with Consolidated Natural Gas Company in Pittsburgh, PA. He was good at his job because of the qualities that also would have made him a good country doctor: he was thorough, and patient, with great foresight, and a monster work ethic.
He was also eccentric. At the height of his success professionally, he drove a rusty old Chevette, the reason being that he loved cigars, and in winter, he could drop his cigar through a hole in the floor of the car rather than having to roll down his window. He had an enormous jar of rusty nails he’d inherited from my grandfather, and for a couple of years, he spent his evenings in the basement, cleaning the nails with a Brillo. It helped him relax and collect his thoughts. He watered the lawn with a hose, never a sprinkler, and he used weed killer only as a last resort, much preferring to weed by hand. Our lawn was an acre-and-a-half, but this was how he did things.
As a father, he reigned supreme. When I was eleven, I went to camp in Vermont for eight weeks, and by the fourth week, I was dying of homesickness. I wrote to my parents and told them I wanted to come home, and the following weekend, my father showed up at camp. He explained that he’d had a business trip in Boston and just decided to stop by. We went out in a canoe, and he told me that he thought I should stay the full eight weeks, thought I should finish what I’d started, and I did. Years later, I found out there hadn’t been any business trip. That weekend, he’d driven thirty hours, from Pittsburgh to Vermont and back, so we could have a half hour conversation in a canoe. He thought it was important, and he was right.
My Amherst graduation was one of our happiest moments as a family. Marching outside Frost, I heard my father call my name. I turned and saw him waving frantically with both arms—behavior I’d seen from game show contestants but never from my dad. He was drunk on pride. He’d ditched Mom to get a better view of the march, and he and I found her after the ceremony, sitting on the platform, in a chair that had been occupied by John Updike only minutes earlier. “It’s still warm,” she said.
My parents were married for fifty-three years, and my father spent the last four years of his life caring for my mother, who had cancer. He devoted himself to her completely, serving as nurse (excellent), cook (very good), and housekeeper (no comment). He was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks after his eightieth birthday and succumbed two months later. During that time, he remained a voracious reader, an eager and able storyteller, and a loving husband, father, and grandfather. I grew up knowing there were two people in this world who would throw themselves in front of a train for me. One of them is gone now. Hopefully, he’s holed up somewhere nice, with a generous supply of rusty nails and a really good cigar.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret; three sons, Edward III (Susan), John ’83, and Gustave; and three grandchildren, Rachel, Alexandra, and Edward IV.
John Rieck ’83