Saturday, August 14, 2010
Eulogy for James F. Ross
Seamus Ross kindly posted the following below my recent post on the death of his father James F. Ross. I re-post it here so that it gets the attention it deserves:
Dear Edward Feser and Blog Readers,
I saw your appreciation of my father and thought perhaps I might share with you the Eulogy from his funeral mass at The Church of St Sebastian, Providence, RI (17 July 2010).
Eulogy for James Francis Ross, d. 12 July 2010
Our universe is wondrous, splendid, and startling. It is a multi-dimensional enigma that offers the inquisitive and reflective mind fertile ground for contemplation. James Ross dedicated his life to pondering its nature, who made it, why it came to be, and to educating the rest of us to wonder about it, even if despite all his efforts we could not develop the capacity to think about it with the same richness, depth, and intensity he did.
When our mother, his wife, Kathleen, died seven weeks ago, Jim lost his life-long companion; that loss hit him hard. As was true for Kathleen, it was true for Jim, that their children were at the center of his world. Once fishing with one of his young children, another amateur fisher turned to Jim and said 'Can't you tell that boy to stop talking?' Jim said, 'No, I love to listen to my children.' The time he would devote to conversation seemed limitless and his children, students and colleagues, often acknowledge the benefit of this gift. He encouraged discourse and Socratic-style dialogues. His engaging smile and twinkling eyes were a tapestry of these conversations.
An ardent user of public libraries, Jim was a voracious reader. He marveled at the expressive possibility of language and took pleasure in it and in trying to explain how it worked. He encouraged all of us to think broadly when seeking explanations. He did this as a philosopher and as a father, for instance, in a casual conversation a couple of weeks ago, he illuminated Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" for me. He did so by thinking beyond convention.
Jim relished nature's beauty; green fields, long sandy beaches, and vibrant foamy ocean waves. He had a discerningly appreciative eye for the beauty made by people whether a well built stone wall, a building, a poem, a piece of prose or a work of art. The beauty lay in simplicity and aesthetic harmony. His love of music was typical of this: he enjoyed listening to it, playing it, thinking about it, and explaining it. For Jim reflection produced solutions: whether he needed to figure out how to fix the washing machine, grow a better vegetable garden, handle legal inconveniences, or do philosophy.
Jim had the capacity to perceive the potentiality of the unrealized, the unformed, and the unnoticed. He was creative in thought and action. In his summer home, he suspended a minimalist, but recognizable, statue carved from a nine foot long piece of driftwood Jim had hauled up from the beach; the mitered saint had emerged as he carved. The statue is St. Anselm, a thinker he admired and a saint he felt inspired him.
As a fervent supporter of the ideals of a liberal, democratic, and socially considerate society, Jim was concerned about individual rights and freedom, and profoundly perturbed by what he saw, over the past three decades especially, as the narrowing of the American spirit and mind.
For Jim, learning lay at the essence of being. Every day was a chance to acquire new information and to find meaning in it and interconnections that led him to create new knowledge and wisdom. The legacy of Jim's scholarship is not for the intellectually faint of heart; it reflects an awesome breadth of knowledge, deep thought and inspiration. He had many maxims but six come to mind today: do not force it, ponder the world around you, take pleasure in attempting to understand it, share your knowledge with others generously, maintain your integrity and the courage of your convictions, and always remember that the well-lived life is, in the Aristotelian sense, a life focused on the pursuit of excellence.
17 July 2010
(Delivered at The Church of St Sebastian, Providence, RI.)