I was a 16, almost 17-year old girl when I met my father-in-law, Stewart Irwin. I can honestly say the entire 29 years I have known him have been a pleasure. He passed away in the last hour of Sunday, May 5th at the age of 84 after a 3 ½-year battle with stage 4 lung cancer.
My father-in-law was a wonderful man. He was married to his bride and love of his life, Rainy, for 62 years. It was a beautiful love story to witness. They were always just content with one another. They radiated a true appreciation for one another. Playing tennis, taking long walks, sitting on the back porch with a good book, traveling the country and world or just agreeing for the millionth time that they were “cutting back on the sweets” together- that is how they lived life-together. Together they had seven children, four girls and three boys. They have seven more “children” through their children’s marriages, twenty-one grandchildren, one great grandchild and another on the way this summer.
In my opinion, Stew was a true Renaissance Man- he was well-versed on many different subjects. Art- not only did he appreciate its beauty, he was talented with his own pencil. History- he shared, read and enjoyed conversations on many facets throughout history. Gardening- he had a green thumb and enjoyed the beauty in the world around us. Baking- not only did he appreciate a tasty culinary creation, he made a delicious scone, perfect with a cup of tea. Music- he appreciated a wide genre of music with bluegrass and Doc Watson being a favorite, and he was self-taught at strumming on the guitar. Handyman- he could truly fix just about anything. If he didn’t know how, he would grab a few books on the subject and most of the time, he would resolve the problem himself. I loved to watch him tell a story or an occasional joke that tickled him; on those occasions, he would laugh with great abandon. He could be a man of few words, but when he spoke, you wanted to listen to his opinion and wise words.
As a granddad, Pop, there wasn’t a playground slide he wouldn’t ride, a tall pool tube he wouldn’t enter or a roller coaster he wouldn’t conquer. He would throw the baseball in the backyard (a favorite childhood memory of my husband David’s as well. His dad would come home from work, unwind and be willing and ready to toss the ball back and forth), build flying airplanes with precision, take nature walks and identify different species of flowers and animals, attend their sporting events and cheer, play kickball, hold their hands on a walk and help them dunk their cookies in milk.
He never made me feel like an in-law; I just felt like part of the family. From not letting me out the door to buy running shoes without first looking at a Consumer Report magazine to repairing something around our house, looking after our kids (yes, once during a particularly busy time of baby birthing in the family, he came solo and did dishes, laundry and changed diapers), listening to a story I shared or giving me high praise for a meal I had prepared, he made me feel like family, one of the gang.
We have a birthday tradition in our family where we go around the table and tell what we like about the birthday person. If you are at our home during a celebration or find yourself in attendance at our house for your own birthday, participation is a requirement. All of us loved when it was Stew’s turn to say what he liked. He would clear his throat with great flair and say, “Well, ahem, um, I’ m not sure I do like you!” Then with a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes and a mischievous grin, he would go on with a few concise but clear words about why he liked you. It was special, and you knew he meant it.
So Stew, “Well, ahem, um, I’ m not sure I liked you,” – I more than liked you- I loved you very much.