Master Sergeant William F. Burgess 1933-1999
Authored by Bill Burgess, December 27, 1999
When I was young I used to believe that funeral services were for the benefit
of the living. Now I believe that they are to honor those that go before us. My
father taught me this. When my grandfather died 10 years ago he stood before
a group of people much like I stand before you today. Many of you here
today were there. As I sat in the pews listening to the very moving eulogy
that he wrote and delivered with such strength I could not help but marvel
at his courage. I tell you that it is a difficult thing to do. Those of
you who stand up today will know this. Yet, he never paused and his voice
never wavered. This was no small feat, my grandfather, had been his friend
for more than 30 years. They shared their sorrows and joys together. It
would have been easy for him to be over come with emotion, to lose his
composure. But this was not my father's way for he was a man who held
himself to high standards, saw his obligations through, and remained loyal
to the end.
Others never imposed standards or obligations on him. He imposed them upon
himself. Equally impressive is that my father never held others to the
standards he imposed upon himself. Live and let live was always his motto.
He did what he thought was right but never imposed those beliefs on other
people. This is a common thread that ran through his life.
This is not to say that he would not be concerned or upset by another persons
actions or beliefs that were contrary to what he thought was right. These
things did bother him. However, his way was not one of direct confrontation,
rather subtle influence. He above all people knew that some one cannot
change until they are ready to change. Just a short while ago I told him
that I was returning to the church and the study of the Bible. He was
overjoyed and told me that it meant a great deal to him, after all it
was the center point of his life. But, through my many years of doubt
and questioning he waited for me to come back showed me the way through
example and subtle influence.
My father was a man who could simplify the most complex issues and make
others see things with great clarity. I think he knew he had this talent
and that is why he chose to become a teacher. I remember him as my 5th
grade Sunday school teacher living his dream before he made it a reality.
When he retired from the Air Force in his early forties, he put himself
through great personal and professional hardship to go back to College.
Yes, for a few years we were classmates. Houses had to be renovated cars
fixed, and the basic necessities of life provided. Times were difficult
and money was tight. But, like everything else he started he saw it through
and accomplished his goals.
Was he a successful teacher? Others who worked with him say that he was
exceptional. Perhaps they were being nice because I am his son? I've
never visited his classroom, but there is no doubt in my mind that he
was one of the best. I base this on one experience that I had with him
on a weekend day about two years ago. My father and I were outside his
house when one of his former students, a then 18 year old man, came up
to us and introduced himself as one of my father's former 5th grade
students. My father stopped and talked to him. Words cannot express the
amount of respect and gratitude I saw in that young man's eyes. His
body language, posture, and mannerisms were all tell tale signs. I thought
to myself to have made such an impact in a person's life that after
8 years and more than 40 teachers later, the look of admiration and a
desire to please is still there. The only time I have received a similar
look is from my young daughters.
My father was a man who always counted his blessings and realized there
are people in the world with greater suffering. Even at the end, he said
that no matter how bad he felt he said that there are probably people
who are worse off than him. Although sick and in tremendous pain he expressed
sadness at the recent tragedies befalling so many young lives. In fact
after his three day stay in the ICU he stated that he hoped no human being
ever got this disease. Never sorry or complaining for himself but concerned
for others who might follow him.
One of my father's greatest joys in life was working with his hands.
The disease took this from him. In his last days he remarked to me that
it was the thing he missed most of all from the sickness. He was a tremendously
gifted handyman who literally transformed his house upon his return from
Spain. I told him that he had a fantastic job and he said that he really
enjoyed it. Just a few words but said with such passion. I know that my
mother will enjoy his efforts for many years to come.
My father always knew how others were feeling and knew how to ease their
pain. I remember just two days before his death my Mom, brothers, sisters
were all with him by his bedside. It was a very emotional day as my parents
celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary and we thought we might loose
him that morning. At one point the tension was tremendous and no one knew
what to say. My father, just 2 days from his death knew this and broke
the ice with: "well, I hope you all enjoy your lives because I have
sure enjoyed mine." He was still there for us.
I am a person who believes that no idea is a truth until two people believes
it to be so. My mother said to me some years ago that you are not a true
adult until you loose a parent. I tell you now that this is a truth. Feelings
of loneliness and responsibility I have never known. I miss my father
more than words can say.
But, this above all else I tell you that my father was a man of faith.
He leaned on it immensely in his last days and he and I spoke of his love
for God often. Because of this I ask you not to mourn my father's
passing. I know that by today's standards 66 is a young age to be
told you have a terminal illness. Remember his life was a good life full
of learning, teaching, travel, fantastic experiences and the adorning
love of his children, grandchildren, friends, students, and wife. Yes
there was sacrifice and difficult times, but on the whole by anyone's
standards it was a wonderful life.
I know now that he waits for all of us in what will become. For my family
his passing is a reenactment of his life: shouldering the obligation of
going first. Ever the head of the family and ever responsible. He will
show us the way and teach us what we need to know to get there, in his
subtle way and with his loving guiding hand.
Authored by Phil Burgess, December, 1999
My Dad was an amazing man. My Dad loved the game of Basketball for all
the memories and excitement the game had provided him in his youth.
My Father and his hoop memories died on December 23, 1999 at 1:50pm from
Mesothelioma, a cancer caused exclusively by Asbestos. He died three days
after his 41st wedding anniversary. My Father died in his home with his
beautiful wife and wonderful daughter by his dying bed side.
My Father was taken prematurely by a disease that robbed him of his life
and his life with his Wife, Daughters, Sons, Grandchildren, and all his
friends. The worst part of this insidious disease was that it was preventable.
The makers and users of Asbestos based products knew of the havoc the microscopic
particles caused on the human body, but instead chose to ignore the fatal
outcome. My whole family is testament to the pain, horror, and death this
disease produces. Once a microscopic fiber gets logged into your lungs,
a simple cold or trauma can cause adequate agitation to begin the cancerous
My Father, a very tough man, decided to fight. He had one lung removed
and his ribcage totally rebuilt. His fight and the post surgical pain
that ensued was for naught. The cancer from his removed lung oozed into
his stomach and his extremities, eventually consuming a man who was in
the best shape of his life a short year earlier. The expected life span
of a person diagnosed with Mesothelioma, is a short 5-8 months, and these
months are filled with terrible pain, gasping for every breath, and a
family that is completely helpless and totally devastated. The makers
of these Asbestos products will pay, and they will know my Father like
we knew him.
They will know that he served two terms in Viet Nam, raised four children,
11 grandchildren, paid his own way through college while raising a family
and working as a librarian.
They will know that my Dad earned a Master's degree in education, and taught for
over 20 years, even after he retired from the military.
They will know that my Dad was a man of integrity, honesty and a person who truly loved
They will know that my Dad worked in a steel mill in his younger youth.
They will know that his country and the greediness of a few killed him.
They will know.
Here's to you Dad, the greatest Basketball player I've ever known.
*** POSTED JANUARY 20, 2000 ***