The First Day of Spring

After Kim and I dropped Fiona off at a birthday party, we drove down to Greenwich to attend a memorial service for David Hale Roberson, who died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago at the young age of forty-two. Although Kim has been fighting a cold and my allergies have been acting up a little, it couldn’t have been a nicer day for a drive. As we left Fiona at the party we saw plenty of crocuses poking through. The sun was shining. Traffic was light, only slowed down at times by construction crews still cleaning up after last weekend’s storm.

It had rained heavily in Woodbridge last weekend, and we had gotten high wind warnings, but the storm had passed without much damage. As we headed down the Merritt, we saw a different story. Crews were everywhere cleaning up the wreckage. Friends had been without power for days and some schools were closed for several days running.

In Greenwich, it seemed that everyone was out enjoying the weather after the long week of cleaning up after the storm, many without power for much of the time. We arrived at First Presbyterian Church around half an hour before the service. Already it was very crowded and we nodded solemnly to various friends that we saw sitting in the church.

Sitting near the front was an old friend, David A. Stevenson. David and I knew Dave through politics and both of them were helpful to Kim when she ran for State Rep back in 2004. In turn, we helped David in his 2008 State Rep race. David had used Fanfare for the Common Man as his campaign theme, and I chuckled as I saw that it was the final piece of music in the prelude to Dave’s funeral.

People chatted in hushed tones during much of the prelude as the ushers tried find space for everyone who was attending. Dave was only forty-two when he died, and I was struck by how many of the people were so much older than he was. Yes, you expect some of that when someone is taken far too early, but it also reflected Dave’s impact on the community of Greenwich.

As the timpani sounded at the start of Fanfare for the Common Man, a hush fell over the congregation. The majestic music in a beautiful church, celebrating the common man was very appropriate. There was nothing common about Dave, including his commitment to help common people.

After the Greeting and the Call to Worship, the congregation sang “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”. It is a wonderful hymn. As I looked searched for the lyrics online, I found a note: “This hymn was sung at the funeral of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, 1965.” Somehow, that seems appropriate as well.

There was a Prayer for Illumination followed by a lesson from the Hebrew Psalter. It is that wonderful version of Psalm 91, “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wing, bear you on the breath of the dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”

There was supposed to be a tribute to Dave’s life of service by Congressman James A. Himes. However, Congressman Himes was busy doing what Dave had fought so hard for Jim to be able to do. Congressman Himes was in Washington working on health care reform.

In the video, Congressman Himes spoke about the ‘moral dimension’ of the health care debate, the understanding that at the core of that moral dimension is the belief that we look after our own. Dave Roberson epitomized looking after our own. It was his personal cause, and it led him to eventually become chair of the Democratic Town Committee in Greenwich, CT.

Yet there was another side to the story. Dave did not have health insurance. He had a heart condition. I don’t know if the heart condition was what prevented him from obtaining health insurance. I don’t know if the heart condition is what led to his fatal crash after speaking at the Representative Town Meeting in Greenwich that fateful night. If we had a health care system that better reflected the moral dimension of our country, and our belief that we look after our own, then perhaps, Kim and I would not have needed to go to the memorial service today.

So, Congressman Himes stayed in Washington to fight the good fight and sent an aide to read his statement on the life and work of Dave Roberson. The aide was also close to Dave and choked back tears as she read Congressman Himes’ statement.

After a musical offering and a couple lessons from the Christian Scriptures, The Reverend William A. Evertsberg offered a brief homily. It was humorous and touching and reflected years of discussions that Dave and his family have had as members of the First Presbyterian Church with the senior minister.

Dave was a rare breed; a brilliant scientist, a science fiction writer, and a man on deep religious faith. There were jokes about sending your kids to Sunday School at First Presbyterian so they might grow up to be rocket scientists like Dave was. There were comments about how Dave’s first words when he meets his maker are likely to be something like, “Are you registered to vote?” It was a brilliant homily.

After another musical offering and a Prayer of Thanksgiving, the congregation sang the closing hymn, “For All the Saints”.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.

These words seem to capture Dave in many different ways.

I grew up a Congregationalist, not far from the Presbyterians in theological outlook, and there was something comforting to me about the reception following in Fellowship Hall after the service. The stalwart Church Ladies set out plates of heaping food as old friends ran into each other and reflected on Dave’s life.

Nancy DiNardo, chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party was there. Gubernatorial candidates Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy were both there along with various staffers. One expressed the politically correct reservations about talking politics at the memorial service and Kim just rolled her eyes. If ever there was a memorial service where politics should be discussed, it was this one. Dave would have been honored as well as in the thick of the discussion.

Another person commented on attending memorial services and finding out so much that they never knew about their departed friend and wishing they had an opportunity to speak with the dearly departed in the light of the new found common interests.

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.

Kim and I bid are farewell to old friends and headed back to Woodbridge. Outside, the streets were crowded with many enjoying the beautiful first day of spring, seemingly unaware of the passing of such a great man. Now I have my moment to reflect and to write. Rest In Peace, Dave.

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;

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