Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 86 today. He died of Alzheimer’s nearly 5 months ago on January 9th. I’d like to share his eulogy today as a way to remember him.
Sam was a loving husband of Barbara, father to four daughters and stepfather to one son, grandfather to nine grandchildren, great-grandfather to five great-grandchildren. He was also a friend to everyone he met. That last is no exaggeration—everyone who met him came to love him.
Sam was born in Los Angeles, California, June 4th, 1926, the oldest of Harry and Rose Stier’s three sons. Sam was just 10 years old when his mother died of tuberculosis. Before she left for the hospital that last time, she took her oldest son aside and told him, “Sam, be a good boy.” He took those words to heart after she died, watching over his two younger brothers, Irwin and Arnold, while their dad worked as a long-haul trucker.
When World War II broke out in 1941, Sam was too young to enlist, but felt a sense of duty to fight for his country. When he turned 16, he tried to persuade his father to sign the papers allowing him to enlist in the Navy. His father refused. Sam asked again when he was 17. This time his father relented. Sam served in the Navy from 1943 through 1946, mostly in the South Pacific.
One of his first jobs out of the Navy was as a TV repairman. He loved working with his hands and he loved electronics and figuring out how things worked. He was always thinking of better ways to do something, even when the “better way” took longer than the other way. In the case of his job repairing TVs, Sam just wanted to fix the TV right there at the customer’s house. Sam’s boss wanted those TVs brought into the shop so he could charge a higher price for repairing it. Sam was far too honest a man to go along with his boss’s scheme, so he quit.
Not long after, Sam started working at Space Technology Laboratories, which later became TRW. As a spacecraft technician, Sam helped build many a communications satellite. He traveled to Cocoa Beach, Florida numerous times to help with the launches. He enjoyed those trips to the East Coast, but at the same time hated leaving his family.
Over the years, he enjoyed a wide variety of activities. He was an avid skier and loved tinkering with cars. In the ‘70s he bought an Alfa Romeo, fixed it up, and raced it at the track in Gardena, California. He was a voracious reader, but also enjoyed outdoor sports like hiking and whitewater rafting. In later life, he took up woodworking, and did much of the work remodeling his home in Pollock Pines.
And throughout his life, Sam was an amazing father. He supported his four daughters in everything they did. He always let them know he loved them and how proud he was of them. He taught his daughters by example. They learned to be kind from his kindness. They grew to be generous through witnessing so many acts of Sam’s generosity. They became responsible adults because he took responsibility for his actions. Everything Sam gave his daughters, they passed down to their own children, raising another generation of loving, generous people who live by their grandfather’s example.
For many people afflicted with Alzheimer’s as Sam was, their personalities change. They become unhappy, sad, or angry. But Sam’s spirit was so strong that despite the theft of his memories by the disease, his basic nature never changed. He was just as kind, just as generous and upbeat throughout his illness as he’d always been. He charmed the staff at his care home, and they grew to love him as their own “Papa Sam.” And although it was difficult for his family to see Sam fade, to have him move farther and farther away from them with time, it was a great blessing that he never lost his loving nature.
I love you, Dad. Still missing you.