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In Loving Memory of

Raymond Thomas

Amazing Grace

Today we gather to remember and to celebrate the life of Raymond Thomas, who has been our father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and our friend. He has fulfilled these and other roles in his life, including son, grandson, husband, student, professional colleague, and artist. Corresponding to these diverse relationships are the many endearing names by which we have shared in the grace of his life—"Red," "Honey," "Mr. T," "Boyfriend," "Dad," "Grandpa," "RT," "Ramblin’ Ray." Six generations have known him by these names and yet in the mystery of who he was and continues to be to us—in the place from which his spirit originated and to which it has advanced—we likewise know that none of these roles is able to render an exhaustive or totalizing view of his identity. As much as his life was an open book to us, the complexity of his person meant that much about him remained mysterious to those around him and likely even to himself. This mystery has been a sign of grace, an indication that even until his last day among us none of us had finished discovering who he was. Despite a long and difficult illness that incrementally took him from us—faculty by faculty—he never stopped learning how to live and his courageous response to the physical and mental debilitation he faced and its inevitable consequences marked a steadfast resolve to enter eternal life the way he lived this life: with his virtues intact, especially the virtues of love, benevolence, fortitude, and an abundant faith.

In my brief recollection of this remarkable man, I want to propose that the mystery of how he has lived, died, and lived again is emblematic of the original model for all love relationships, the Holy Trinity of a loving and provident Creator, a beloved Redeemer who endures trial and sacrifice, and the loving Spirit between them that invests this sacrifice with the possibility of meaning and redemption itself. Just as the procession of the Divine Persons is the fountain of the grace that makes the virtue of faith possible, Raymond’s proceeding through life in these three roles has offered occasions of grace for those who knew him.

The Creator

Raymond was an integral part of the complex chain in the circle of life.  One of 13 children, all of whom survived infancy except for his sister, Christine, he was born and grew up in a loving home in Hallstead, Pennsylvania.  His father, Ira, ran the Hallstead Herald and befriended many of the paper's contributors, including Mark Twain, who, in his last years visited the Thomas home and held the young Raymond on his lap.  With this laying on of hands from such a venerable authority, Raymond himself was destined to become an American classic.

This life-this story of Raymond Thomas-has been at once so long and so brief.  His life has been the story of the twentieth century, but to us it has been even more.  When he was born on 24 September 1904, Theodore Roosevelt was president and powered flight was less than one year old.  When the Titanic sank, he was not quite eight.  He was a young adolescent at the end of World War I.  He attracted the envy of many of his neighbors in Hallstead with his Ford Model T-the town's first-in which he drove to high school in Binghamton and collected newspaper subscriptions for his father.   At the age of 21, he left home to study commerce and mathematics at the University of Cincinnati. During the emotional stress and financial uncertainty of the Great Depression, he and his young wife, Ann, watched several of his colleagues at Procter & Gamble undergo layoffs, wondering whether the lessons of discipline and hard work which they had learned growing up would be sufficient to see them through such an unprecedented socioeconomic calamity. (They were.) Through a massive flood in 1937, the complex psychological conflicts of German Cincinnati with its own cultural heritage during World War II, American military, economic, and cultural ascendancy in the post-War world, and the lurking dangers of the Cold War, the two of them raised their beloved boys and their darling daughter to appreciate and inherit the blessings which this changed world could offer and to steel themselves against its evolving challenges.

Raymond forged a dual career as an accountant and a photographer. In both capacities, he contributed in important ways to the continuing development of what even at the beginning of his career already had become one of the world’s great corporations, the Procter & Gamble Company to whose shareholders, customers, and employees he remained fiercely loyal to the end, not out of a small-minded parochialism but because he genuinely cared about these constituencies and wanted only the best for them. When I visited him in the hospital in May, before beginning to apply mouthwash gently with latex gloves to cleanse the dry skin from his lips I paused to apologize that the substance in question was not from a politically correct source. With clenched teeth—but parted lips—he consented for me to carry out this holy work with less-than-holy tools. I was not sure that I had his attention on the matter until some time later when, while making conversation, I apologetically explained that in Belgium they use Tide Detergent also, but they call it "Teed." Out of nowhere, that familiar deep-voiced laugh poured forth to fill the hospital room, signaling that he was with us much more than his physical condition would suggest.

As a photographer for more than 60 years, he crafted the art of rendering the eternity of the moment with a single click of his shutter. With sometimes shaking hands—but a steady eye—he recorded all these moments, traipsing into our homes with large briefcases of photographic equipment that mesmerized us as children, sometimes made us impatient and bored while posing as adolescents, and made us all glad as adults for the memories that he diligently made timeless. He spent a lifetime looking through his lens, learning to see and appreciate more clearly those whom he loved. We must follow his example and strive always to see one another as he now more perfectly sees us and as God sees us all.

The abiding enthusiasm he manifested for his art has been an example to all of us in the family as we have moved from boxy, vertical-view cameras, to the 126 and 110 formats, and from 35mm to the JPEGs, GIFs, and PICTs that now race through the Internet. The joy we all take in photography has continued to generate grace in extraordinary ways. For example, it was because of my interest in him and his art that in 1989 I found myself at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. viewing an exhibit on early photography and coming face-to-face with the elegant Belgian smile that has become the most enduringly beautiful work of art in my life.

With the partnership of his young sweetheart, Ann, Raymond shared a love that many only dream about, a core of integrity and committed intimacy that ultimately sustained a marriage of 57 years. This love began with the innocence and passion of a young couple in courtship who entered their life together with eyes wide open as much from the grounding of their own self-knowledge and mutual respect as from the awe for how much they had yet to learn about one another. It was this mature capacity to educate desire to beauty that sustained them through a never-ending romance. Given the tremendous changes in our society over the almost 100 years of his life, it would be a mistake to underestimate how countercultural such devotion and unconditional self-giving have become. In keeping faith with Ann and with himself, especially as he cared for her during her long illness, and in their joint expression of love through their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, he has shown forth the creative love of God.

The Redeemer

Just as Jesus, Raymond lived in history. He lived among us and shared the consolations and the desolations of the spirit. Just as on Christmas we sometimes forget to think of the infant Jesus as an adult and in the mysterious season of Jerusalem, Gethsemane, and Calvary the infancy of Bethlehem rests at the distant edge of our awareness, so too, our feeble memories strain to recollect the Raymond who was—in the words of Psalm 139—loved even in his mother’s womb, the Raymond who learned to walk and talk, the Raymond who played with his brothers and sisters, the Raymond who developed his moral sense from his parents and others around him, the Raymond who looked at his options for the future from the vantage of a young life in a young century, the Raymond who left home to go to college, the Raymond who fell in love, the Raymond who entered into lifelong commitment on his wedding day, the Raymond who learned he would become an employee at Procter & Gamble, the Raymond who experienced the loss of family and friends to disease, war, and old age, and the Raymond who realized for the first time that he was going to be a father.

All of these sublime thresholds—these stages on life’s way—really happened and they have constituted integral elements of the story of Raymond Thomas. These moments were just as real as this moment we are sharing together—right now. In all he ever saw, all he ever thought, all he ever felt, all he ever believed, and all he ever was, Raymond was an ever-living sacrifice and gift to us from the Creator. He has been our Eucharist, our occasion for thanksgiving for the wonder that anything exists at all. And so we bring this gift of Raymond before you, O Lord, we ask you for your continued blessings of holiness upon him through the power of your spirit, so that through him we may become one body, one Spirit in Christ. From 1904 to 1998 and beyond, you have gathered Raymond, his family and friends, and all your children to yourself so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name. Lord, may the sacrifices he has made for us and you and the offering of his soul that we return to you now be occasions of grace that help to kindle and advance the peace and salvation of all the world. Today, as we gather together, we do what we do in remembrance of Raymond, of Jesus, and of you. The pain we feel at Raymond’s leaving this world is real—for death is real—but our faith teaches us that, just as Jesus, he has been reborn into everlasting life. His suffering and death have led to redemption and resurrection, as they will for each one of us when our time with history is through.

The Sanctifying Spirit

The spirit which formerly rested in this temple arose from the spirit that moved across the abyss, that instilled courage in Abraham and Moses to form and lead the Children of Israel out of the bondage of sin and subjugation, that aroused Isaiah and the prophets to recall God’s people to authentic relationship, that announced the coming of the Savior to the shepherds and the Magi, and that came to rest on Jesus at the time of his baptism, when the majesty of God became manifest in a voice from heaven and the gentleness of a dove in flight: "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased." This is the spirit that Jesus promised would be with us until the end of time and that Raymond manifested in his life, in its gentleness and its fervor.

This spirit sustained him through the demands of helping to raise a family while working at a corporate job during the day and running a photo studio at night. It gave him the strength to be a responsive caregiver to Ann in their old age and it brought him back to his youth by inspiring him to take on the responsibility of raising a mischievous German shepherd at the young age of 81. This is the spirit that helped him to endure the incremental debilitations of his illness without surrendering his dignity. This is the Holy Spirit that flowed through him and which, as his faculties slipped away, shone forth as the core of his identity through an emphatic need to repeat over and over again that he loved those around him. What a miraculous gift it is to find all of one’s pretenses and defenses stripped away, with only the capacity to profess a boundless love remaining, a love that supersedes the pain and vulnerability of the human condition and that pours itself out in a ceaseless hymn of praise for the source of all love and life. This was Raymond’s love for us and through it he became a vessel for God’s love for us as well. This was divine love because he wanted to communicate it with the same fierce and relentless intensity that God does. This love stays with us eternally as Raymond’s spirit continues to watch over us, repeating the refrain "I sure do love you. I want to be with you always." May we strive to live our lives in such a way that the last words on our lips in this world—and our first words in the next—can be only such words of abiding love.

Commendation of His Spirit

Just as the time came for Jesus to offer up his spirit to you, O gentle and loving God, so we now commend Raymond to your loving mercy. We know that the time of hunger, thirst, and weakness in body and spirit no longer burdens him. His heart no longer is restless, O Lord, because it has come to rest in you. Hold it gently to your heart and welcome him back into the abundant wonder of your love.

Raymond—Grandpa—we ask that your spirit continue to watch over us. Pray for the forgiveness of our sins as we pray for the repose of your soul. We promise to keep faith with you and not to let this temporary distance keep us apart. Above all, please keep us alive in your memory as we promise to keep you alive in ours. Remember us as you enter the Kingdom of Heaven, to gaze face-to-face upon all the persons of the Holy Trinity, with choirs of angels ready to greet you; with Mary, the Virgin Mother of God whose assumption into heaven in incorruptible body and spirit we celebrate on this liturgical feast day; with the apostles, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Thomas, and all the saints, on whose constant intercession we rely for help; with your mother, Minnie; with your father, Ira; with your siblings; and especially with your beloved, Ann, who patiently and providently has been waiting to share your love eternally so that you both might be complete.

Yours has been a life well-lived. You have made it so, with the grace of God. You have run the good race, you have fought the good fight, and you most assuredly are God’s own beloved son, with whom God is well pleased.

Goodbye, you gentle, gracious, and loving man.

Lester A. Myers

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Saturday, 15 August 1998

Raymond Thomas
Born: 24 September 1904
Married: 5 May 1928
Reborn into everlasting life: 10 August 1998
Text by
Lester A. Myers
Grandson of Raymond Thomas

Page by
Lois Ann Thomas Evensen
Daughter of Raymond Thomas

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