The following is a copy of the Eulogy I gave for Clay on February 17, 2020. Clay (63) died on December 6, 2019 after a 3 year battle with heart disease.
This is the 3rd Eulogy I have written and given in my life. The first was for a close friend in college who was tragically killed in an auto accident. I remember my father helped me write it and he coached me as I practiced my delivery. The second was a Eulogy for my father. I wrote that one on my own, and it was difficult to distill my feelings of love for him, and what he meant to me as a father into the 3 minutes of time I was granted by my Stepmother, Leslie at Dad’s memorial service. Less than 2 years later, another Eulogy to give- for my brother. While I am honored to remember him, I do not like this ritual of age.
My brother, Clay and I were born 8 years apart. Clay is the oldest. Our parents, Alan, a young Ensign in flight training and Sue, a fresh college graduate and new elementary school teacher had a sense of adventure and they were excited for their Navy life together when their beautiful ginger-haired son, Clay was born.
Clay was a happy child. Our mother taught him to read. Our father taught him to swim at 3 years old, an athletic skill Clay excelled and enjoyed all his life. Dad’s Naval career took them from Pensacola, Florida to Beeville, Texas, from Jacksonville, Florida to Patuxent River, Maryland, from Long Beach, California back to Jacksonville, and finally to Houston.
What do I remember about Clay from our childhood? We didn’t spend much time together. I guess there were too many differences; age, gender, and interests between a brother and a sister. We never shared the same teachers or attended the same school. Our daily lives seldom intersected. There were no mutual friends between us. Mostly I recall how much he teased me.
So I pulled out our old family photos; Clay and I playing with our dog, Clay hugging me before we drove to the Apollo 12 launchpad, the both of us laughing and swimming in the backyard pool, and a funny picture of 9 year old Clay after winning the 4th of July hot dog eating contest. The family album tells a different story than I remember, and maybe, it is the real one.
I started to think about our relationship in a new way, not what were our differences, but what were our similarities? What bonded us together?-the Ragsdale nose, the Murphy freckles, Nanny Bean’s pies at Thanksgiving, pony rides on Grandad’s knee, our German Shepard, She. Mom’s evening rings of the dinner bell outside our kitchen door telling us Dad was home.
Both brother and sister were strong-willed and independent-minded. Clay was more of a Maverick than me- an outsider, a non-conformist. He wore his hair long (which was the subject of many arguments between Clay and Dad during high school), raced motorcycles, never missed a moment for fun-Clay lived life on his terms.
Being the only son of an Astronaut, a Moonwalker is a tough act to follow. My father was training for spaceflight during Clay’s formative years. He became a rebellious teenager, a parenting phase Dad did not handle well. Clay’s struggles drove them apart. Their distant relationship was painful for them. Dad talked of Clay often, and I encouraged him to visit, especially after Clay became ill. But Dad unexpectedly died. It was too late. He remembered Clay in his Will leaving him his most personal things; his watch he wore on Skylab, his jewelry, his car, clothes, models, books. Our stepmother, Leslie, is cruel. Even though Clay was sick, she refused to give them to him. Clay never received those final expressions of our father’s love.
There is one person who made a difference in Clay’s life more than any other, and that is our mother. When Clay’s illness surfaced in college, Mom took him to doctors. She provided opportunities for Clay to build his self-confidence by sending him to Florida for flight school, Hawaii for scuba-certification. Clay tried. When Rose was born, Mom helped the family move to Austin. Carmen worked and Clay found his purpose as a stay-at-home father. Clay loved Carmen. Together for 30 years, Carmen was an understanding partner, friend, and the loving mother of their children, Joyce, Rose, Angela, Ian, and Theodora. Clay was proud of them. His children were his moon and stars.
Etched on the front of Clay’s Urn is an eagle, the majestic bird he admired. A symbol of strength and courage, a fierce protector of his young. The eagle solitarily soars high in the sky with ease and freedom. Clay we miss you. We remember you with love and hope the wind lifts your mighty wings towards the sun.