In Memory of Grandpa John

Speech delivered in honor of my Grandfather, John Kessinger, at his service on Saturday, April 21, 2013, in Decatur, Illinois.

One summer, my Dad, Brother Ethan and I met my Grandfather in Albuquerque and connected with his sister’s family there. Grandpa John did not enjoy flying, but had made an exception this time to meet us in New Mexico. In the airport before his plane departed he took out a deck of cards, which he always had handy, and dealt each of us the standard hand of 13 cards used in Spades or Bridge. He told Ethan and I to memorize our hands, and if we were ever dealt the same cards again, he would give us a thousand dollars. Grandpa John had given us an almost impossible task, and I was never able to collect because the odds are one in 6.5 trillion.

Much like a hand of cards, my grandfather was an ever-changing man, and I’m not sure that any two people he met saw the same side of him. In fact, I would bet that everyone in this room knew John Kessinger as a different set of cards. For me, I think some overriding qualities included his love of sports and games. He was a quirky gift giver and his note writing habits mirror no one I have come across. He played down being the smartest man in the room and his jokes kept everyone off guard. These things never left him.

He cared deeply about the well being of his family and made many decisions to avoid being a burden on all of us. Thinking about his influence in my life the past week, I thought specifically about our family. I think he was pleased with where his own children ended up. He also took great joy in each of his grandchildren’s successes; I see pieces of my Grandfather in each of us. However, much like a hand of cards, each one of us is unique, as if he were the dealer giving us all a few of his unique qualities.

So what cards did my Grandfather deal me?

I will graduate from college in a few weeks with a degree in journalism. Perhaps more than any other profession, connections are key to being a journalist. Whether it’s making pathways within the field or being charismatic to a stranger you are interviewing, a journalist must connect with people quickly, which was perhaps John Kessinger’s greatest strength.

I described my Grandfather on Facebook this week as, “the only man who could make a best friend out of a stranger in two minutes or less,” and everywhere I went with him, he either made new friends or was reacquainted with old ones.  I wonder if perhaps he would have been better suited for modern times. I could see a 21st century John Kessinger being the most popular person on Facebook and Twitter, sharing his sharp mind and pointed quips with the world.

You have to play the hand you’re dealt and I think Grandpa John was very pleased with the hand of cards he was able to play and the people he knew. I’ve heard a rumor that he spent his working life with the IRS, if that was the case, his clients must have found him to be the most personable taxman in history. We each have different stories about how John Kessinger entered our life, but I think he’d like you to know that he exited his life a lucky man.

At the start of the NCAA tournament, he put down $300 on a number nine seed from Kansas, by the name of Wichita State. Those Wichita State Shockers went to the Final Four and his initial bet turned into $9100. My Grandfather was dealt a lucky hand and he’d like for you to remember that he played it on his own terms.

John Kessinger’s Obituary in the Decatur Herald-Review