Eulogy - Joel Reuben Hitt

12/30/1916 - 06/02/2003

Radney Funeral Home, Mobile AL
06/07/2003 10:00 AM

On behalf of my brother and our families, I thank you each and all for your presence today. We were saddened and grief-stricken on Monday when Dad slipped away, just as our dear Mother had preceded him in death on yet another Monday just 16 months prior.

But in the moments that follow I wish not for us to share our grief and sadness alone. For to give due honor this morning to the true spirit of this man, we more aptly join our voices in celebration! We offer up our thanks that we knew Joel, let him touch our lives, and that in our releasing him we are so much the richer for his having come our way.

Or as is the case for Richard and myself, we were blessed to have come his way. For in those early years of our relationships with Dad, he became our childhood Hero in the truest sense.

Our Hero taught us the value of family. Our parents were married 65 years. Wed in Clinton, Mississippi in 1936, our parents' relationship was forged in the fires of the Great Depression recovery period. They knew the value of money, the sustaining power of family, and the need to locate one's happiness in something other than material acquisition.

Perhaps it is out of these influences that one of my most comforting childhood memories of Dad emerges. The memory is of how good it felt to connect with him over a simple game of catch. Requirements: Just 2 baseball gloves, one baseball, and 20-30 minutes of daylight after supper. Results: a chance to debrief at the end of a day, and have some mild exercise in doing it. Rewards: that ball, in its rhythmic arc from one to the other and back, reassured me unconsciously of my connection to my Hero and of his respect for me. His games of catch extended even in recent years to his relationship with his grandchildren. Even as his mind increasingly dimmed and his body weakened in the past 6 years, he could still be easily persuaded to engage in a group game of seated toss in Derek's and Teagan's home. Of course the ball may have been larger and softer than the baseball of our youth, but the same principles applied.

Our Hero taught us the value of achieving goals in life. He loved his work passionately, a dedicated Special Agent with the FBI. With his wide-set jaws and handsome features, he looked the part, too. Some of his earlier FBI photos in shirt sleeves and business hat look like he had just walked off the movie set of "The Untouchables."

My brother in the Mobile Register this Thursday and Friday chronicled the more conspicuous of Joel's personal accomplishments expertly. While neither Richard nor I have achieved anything resembling this list of our father's, his living example empowered us, as well as so many others, to move toward our own goals more confidently.

Our hero also enjoyed the lighter side of life. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." To be sure, our father's name was anything but "Jack." To know Dad was to know his infectious laugh that could literally fill a room with cheer and merriment. He could laugh at himself without hesitation, and he could laugh others late into the night.

That said it was sometimes a challenge to feel laughed "with" when one was the recipient of one of his myriad pranks. One especially well-known example over the dinner table involved a question designed to elicit the unwitting victim's curiosity and sympathy: "Did I show you where I skinned my knuckle?" he would ask. Dad's exposed hand would be held forward as the unwitting victim leaned in toward it, and at the last moment, quickly withdrawn to reveal a cocked thumb in the fist of the alternate hand. Instantly the "trigger" was released, leaving the victim's targeted nose the recipient of a wadded-up paper napkin, a most startling but harmless ballistic missile.

What I could never fathom as a child was how, having fallen for the Skinned Knuckle Trick on several occasions already, Richard and I would continue to fall prey to it in one or another form, every so often, when we least expected it!

And finally, our Hero was a man who knew how to love, and bore no shame in showing it. A close friend of my father's commented last night at the wake how he always heard Joel talking about others, but seldom about himself. I think that Dad's self was about others. He always pointed outward rather than inward, so to speak. He never met a man or woman that he didn't come away from liking something about, with the possible exception of politicians from Washington.

As a child I used to dread our rest stops on the road on family vacations. I knew when he went inside to pay for gas it would be awhile, sometimes a long while, before he emerged to resume our trip. I never could figure out how he could learn what people he knew in common with an anonymous clerk in the middle of Nowhere, USA. He truly and simply loved people.

He found in the Christian faith (or, perhaps, it found in him) the perfect expression of love. He took the Great Commission of Jesus of Nazareth literally and seriously, and spent many discretionary hours in his lay Christian service, whether within the walls of Dauphin Way Baptist or beyond them. He loved his church, his young people's department, his deacon's board and his Sunday School class.

And to all those who knew him I ask today, "Are we not so much the richer for having loved Joel Hitt, and having been loved by him?"

And thus it is that the inevitable happened Monday morning. Another life well-lived came to an end on this earth. So Good-bye my Hero, Godspeed Dearest Father, & you once again lay claim to the Peace That Passes All Understanding, a peace so fleeting for you in these latter years.

Joel R. Hitt, III
Lawrenceville, GA