Eulogy for Eric
Our friend Martin (Stan) Roberts, '66, on his lifelong best friend, Eric Yoder, '66, who passed away recently.
[NOTE: To learn more about Eric's life and times, and to leave a comment, click on IN MEMORIAM, and then click on his name.]
First of all, I would like to apologize to Eric for the inadequacy of my remarks. It is impossible to do justice to Eric in a few minutes. It would take a novel. Maybe someday I might write one….entitled “My Friend Eric.” I am sure that some of my remarks will also express what is in your hearts.
Those who knew Eric didn’t just like Eric. They adored him. He drew people to him. His sense of observation…his intellectual brilliance…his unequaled sense of humor. We can all pretty much agree that Eric should have lived decades longer. But for time he was with us, I can tell you that he was the happiest, the most self realized, content, well meaning, and gentle person I have ever known.
Every once in a while in a person’s lifetime, if you’re lucky enough, in the perfect moment, when the wind kisses the trees just right or the moon is properly aligned, you may meet another human being who will forever impact, color, beautiful, empower, amplify and indelibly change your life forever. Such was my friendship with Eric.
I met Eric when I was a freshman in high school, and I will tell you that rarely more than 2 days passed since then that I did not talk to Eric once, twice, maybe even three times a day. No matter what I was doing…no matter where I was, when Eric’s call came in, the slate was cleaned. When I called Eric, a U.S. Senator would be told to wait just a moment. I was Eric’s alter ego, and he mine.
There are actually many people who never met Eric, but felt like they knew him intimately through my stories. I quoted Eric like one would quote a renowned poet or visionary. But unlike many great men who came up with a profound statement or joke once in a while, for Eric, it was natural. Eric was a walking, talking genius, whose everyday comments and commentary could bring you to a sobbing fit of hysterical laughter or immediately cause you to rethink some truth, or view that you held forever dear in an entirely different light. And let me tell you why…He was visionary.
That day in high school, Eric came over to me and bought my entire black and white photographic series of the Beatles performing for the first time in the United States on the Ed Sullivan show. My father had showed me how to photograph the TV screen. The images of the Fab Four on the rounded screen captivated Eric. He started a feeding frenzy in school. He was my first client.
I immediately had my mother get a note from a doctor explaining that I was intensely allergic to grass as a reason why I could arrange to hang out with Eric in a special physical education class throughout high school.
We reveled in the arts together. We had our own acoustic guitar group that opened to a packed, massive school assembly where we got the standing ovation, and Jackson Browne didn’t. Jackson came up to us shaking our hands saying, “You guys are great.” Yes, we were. We did only our original music with our original lyrics, including a cover of the song “La Bamba”, that went something like this. “Cay yeah bomba…cay yeah bomba”, for which we inserted our words. “Come into my store boy…buy some booze, Spanish fly, velvet paintings of Jesus.. “ It was politically incorrect. We were led from the stage by the principal of the school who had warned us. But we were too popular to suspend. I am still reminded of this performance by friends who were there.
Eric and I took a bus trip across the lower United States on Trailways. Our moms arranged this for us and gave their permission…very vanguard at the time. We got in a fight in Texas, so Eric turned back home, and I ended up at the destination of my family in Mississippi. My bus arrived to a sea of black demonstrators led by a man who just had his national holiday…Dr. Martin Luther King. My family said he was just a guy who was stirring up useless trouble. I didn’t believe it. Neither did Eric who went on to stir things up in Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential candidate office in Orange Country. Not exactly politically correct. Such was our time.
Throughout that era, our love for music expanded. We traveled together and with friends, some of whom are here today, to see the greatest rock musicians that ever lived. Live, first time appearances of Hendrix, Joplin, Cream, Blind Faith, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton -- the list goes on and on. We recognized the moment… From San Francisco, to Manhattan…no great concert was out of our reach. We denied ourselves nothing. Such was our time.
We progressed in our lives. Nothing changed our friendship. Not when I hardly earned a dollar. Not when he graduated from USC and went to work for the Senator S. I. Hayakawa in Washington DC. His position with the senator was extraordinary. Hayakawa’s tenure was punctuated at every step by Eric. Eric not only lived in his home but crafted much of his policy. Not exactly politically correct.
Eric went to work for Congressman Duncan Hunter in almost the same capacity. Today this Presidential contender would definitely attest that he relied on Eric for much of the behind-the- scenes political work. Eric was also encouraged to be a political candidate himself.
Eric called me once from Washington DC after some of my cousins came back from a Washington tour conducted by Eric. Eric told me, “You wouldn’t believe what your cousin Jamie and your Aunt Mill told Duncan Hunter” “What?” I asked.
“They told the entire hysterical office about my having a fight with one of the Three Little Pigs at Disneyland!” Eric said.
“Here I am in a professional work environment, wearing a suit, and well respected, and Mill says to the Representative, ‘Did Eric ever tell you how he tapped the Disneyland pig on the nose and the pig fought back swinging his small little arms as he punched Eric and pushed him up against the cartoon theatre, screaming you fat bastard, etc. etc.?’:
Personally I will never get over the trauma of the incident, as the irritated pig was led away by a handler still cussing and looking back at Eric. I couldn’t believe a Disneyland character was beating up my friend. I never laughed so hard in my life. This story became legendary. Wherever Eric went his humor preceded him. And I was largely his biographer.
As Eric became very financial successful, I shared in the excitement. He would confide in me about a huge check he got .. and I would be thrilled. “Not even the Vanderbilt’s children get this!”, I would exclaim. “That’s ridiculous!” Eric would say. “It’s just a little something.”
As I made my way, he was equally thrilled for my successes, which he shared with everybody.
Eric moved in the Imperial Water District where he personally crafted the negotiations between Washington DC, the Los Angeles Water District and the Colorado River agreements. He flew back and forth to Washington continuously and all around the country. I called him Boss Tweed after a turn of the century political boss. “That’s kind of rude,” Eric would say.
When I saw Eric a week and a half ago, he told me a story that I shared this week with June. He said, “ My mom was in here visiting me and was having a spirited verbal discussion with the physical therapist about the progress of my rehabilitation. So I asked her, ‘June, when and exactly where did you get your degree in physical therapy?’”
“Eric!” I said, “you didn’t say that to your mom!”
“I sure did.” he said. “And you know this crying thing that women occasionally do…It’s just a self defense.”
Whenever Eric would say something that was a little excessive, I would, counter by saying “Eric!” That inflection started in the school days and virtually everybody in this room has used it with him one time or another.
Did you know that many people knew Eric by the nickname “Daddy”? This came from a phone call I had with him years ago where he said to me, “Excuse me, the dog and cat are driving me crazy. Lucy and Ethel! Daddy will be off the phone in a couple minutes and give you treats.”
“Are Daddy’s little girls giving Daddy a bad time?” I asked.
“They sure are!” Eric said, “Daddy’s going to have to tie a little nylon around Lucy’s snout! “No honey I’m just kidding baby, daddy loves you.”
With anyone who spent more than ten minutes on the phone with Eric, the animals were intensely jealous From that day on whenever I called Eric I would say, “How’s Daddy and Daddy’s little girls?” And Eric would respond, “Daddy’s fine, but the animals are beginning their internal clocks.”
So one day I’m at the beach and I get a cell call from Eric.
“Daddy!” I yelled out in joy. Everybody on the beach turned around and looked at me like I had completely lost my mind. I must be a grown man that still calls out to his father like a child would.
Daddy told me that on the way home from 7Eleven, he encountered a woman that rode his bumper. “So I realized that now was a perfect time to give this woman a proper driving lesson. For each of the next stop signs for my entire ride, I came to a complete stop and the turned my head slowly from left to right before carefully crossing the intersection. Just like I was taught in Driver’s Ed. When she passed me, she flipped me off and I countered with an overly gregarious friendly weave and a blown kiss.”
Eric asked me once if I ever noticed that when you passed another car it created a magnet force that actually caused the other car to speed up and not allow you to get back in.
Eric told me that if you put enough ice in a glass of scotch, it turned into a health drink.
Eric said that while in line at the convenience store, an overly exercised-out woman who was sweating and holding a sports drink tried to butt into line in front of him, so he said to her, “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m also in a tremendous hurry, to get a Twinkie.”
Eric knew I knew nothing about sports, and had no sports gene, so he continually tried to rope me in to discussions about the various games by making up some phony sports team names. He’d ask if I were rooting for the Boston Bullweavils or the New York Neanderthals.
“Eric,” I would say, “that’s kind of rude.”
“Well, I was just curious,” he’d reply.
Eric’s humor could be very slashing. As most of you know, since Eric retired he had a very leisurely lifestyle for a few years and so he was somewhat critical of how hard I worked. Eric said that I worked so hard that I had the lifestyle of a poor Chinese coolie. “Eric!” I would say.
“Can’t you just relax!” he said, “Haven’t you made enough money?” he would ask. “You’re no better than that mattress salesman on television…You’re killing me, Larry!” and then Eric broke into the song about the lifestyle of a Civil War slave, “The Old Man River.”
Many people didn’t know, but Eric swam laps in his own backyard pool for many years. Which, in my opinion, is probably how he actually lived as long as he did in spite of his lifestyle habits.
“Is there any law that says one can’t drive through two fast food restaurants on the same night?’ Eric would ask. “Eric!” I would say. You can’t eat like that!”
“Well look, I’ve been good, I only had fruit today and I like the shakes at Jack in the Box, the fries at Carl’s and then I thank I’ll drive over and do Wendy.”
Is there any doubt in anybody’s mind that Eric lived exactly the life he wanted to live?
If you ever met Eric, he told me a story about you…and from that moment on, you told a story about him.
Eric makes me believe in Heaven. It is inconceivable that that his great spirit will not reverberate throughout time forever.
Certainly for me I will measure my time as one does for another visionary, B.C. or A.D., only in my personal date line -- A.E. standing for After Eric left us, in our time.
Wow, I will miss you Eric…we will miss you, Eric so much.
Would you join me in giving Eric a standing ovation for his life well lived?