Eulogy to Kelly Jordan

Thank you so much to everyone here to honor the memory of my late father Kelly Jordan.

Today is bittersweet because we all know how much Kelly Jordan would have enjoyed his own funeral.

Since Kelly worked for Mr. Charles at this funeral home when he was in college, he had warned me to check his pockets before they sealed the casket.

We did look for a sawmill lumber casket, but the only one we could find was an expensive vintage version in Brooklyn. Kelly just wanted to keep Mr. Charles’s bill to the bare minimum. We called him tight. He said he was thrifty. Or as a merchant told him once when we were in Juarez, Mexico, on one of our glamorous family vacations: “Senor, you are el cheapo.”

Yes, today was a day he had long dreamed of as he crossed off names and substituted new additions to the evolving list of pallbearers he kept on a folded piece of brown paper in his wallet.

Hoyt was actually cut from the pallbearer list some years ago, but out of the goodness of his heart Kelly added him back on after Hoyt agreed to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Kelly even had plans for his tombstone. He also kept a sheet of paper with the Spanish translation, courtesy of a Cuban-American friend, of the phrase he wanted as his final words: “Lord, it was one hell of a party.”

Anyone who is here today and loved Kelly knows that nothing could be more true: his was a life fully lived every single day.

As a father, husband, and friend, he possessed a rare charm and spirit that made all of our journeys warmer, more interesting, and in general just a whole lot better.

Daddy was proud to live his life in Mississippi. As a child, he loved spending the weekends with his grandpa Jordan. During the summers, they would go around Benton County with his grandfather’s rolling store, selling hot off-brand cola to people in far reaches of the county where most cars couldn’t go.

My grandparents moved back to Ashland from Memphis when my father was in high school. His work in the pharmaceutical industry later took him all around the country, but there was no place in the world he loved more, or found more beautiful, than Ashland, Mississippi.

Ashland is where he took me and my older brother Russell every Saturday of our early lives. We’d play with ponies and ride horses and fish and generally run wild.

I remember him teaching my how to ride my bike without training wheels on the relatively un-trafficked Jordan Street in Ashland, and I still have the scars to show for it. I adored my father so much that as a little girl, I’d go around telling people, “My daddy is perfect. He’s the smartest man in the whole wide world. He never tells a lie.”

Kelly was an unflappable father. This story doesn’t reflect well on me, but it was his favorite so I’ll tell it. As a child and teenager, it frustrated me to no ends that I could never get a rise out of my dad. He could drive me crazy because I could never say anything that wounded him.

Then one day, when I was about 14, I told him I wouldn’t visit him when he was old and fifty-eight and in the nursing home. That finally got him. In reality, on the last night of his life, I begged him to let me stay at the hospital with him, but he sent me home with my mother so I could get a good night’s sleep. He wanted me fresh for the tax sale the next day.

That’s an example of how no matter how big of a monster I was, his love was unconditional. He loved his children so much that when I was in second grade, he even suffered through a New Kids on the Block concert.

Thank goodness he instilled in me his love of real music, like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams.

For a guy who cared a lot about the contents of his wallet, testament of his love is that when I got into Yale, he never questioned for a second that I would go or balked at the price tag. My entire life I never doubted for a second how proud he was of me, or his real favorite child, Russell.

As a husband, I frankly don’t know how his wife of forty-three years, my mother Susan, did it, but God bless her.

Kelly was very proud of the story of how they met at Jack Noudini’s pizza and beer joint and how he helped “protect” her when a fight broke out. It was probably one of the few times in his life he was unarmed.

Susan is a woman of infinite patience, like when she was home alone and the phone rang after midnight.

An ex-con out on parole apologized for the late hour but said it was the only time his mother wouldn’t catch him on the phone — he had an AK-47 he wanted to unload, and was my father interested?

Kelly searched for new toys to bring into their household literally til the day he died. He had me researching five-foot tall Remington horse bronzes at the hospital. Though he could never accumulate enough “prizes” that most people would categorize as junk, he was single-minded when it came to the love of his life, my mother. For 43 years, he was as faithful and true of a husband as there ever was. He loved his my mother so much, and Russell and I are blessed to have grown up with the example of such a loving, committed husband and wife.

As a friend, he was generous with his time, attention, and insults. One of the many things I always admired about my father was that he had so many friends who were all so different in so many wonderful ways. He had an eclectic group of friends who shared his numerous passions, from horses, to motorcycles, to old cars and tractors. Late in life, Kelly showed perseverance flying small planes even though his health precluded him from actually qualifying for a pilot’s license.

More than anything in the world, Kelly loved being a grandfather. Nothing gave him more joy than his beautiful grandchildren Ann Phillips and our new baby Boyce, named after Kelly’s father. He loved bragging about what a great mother Hillary was to his grandchildren, and how Russell had married up. I’m so grateful he got to know my fiance Mike, who asked him for my hand in marriage in the parking lot of Big Star right after the deadly tornado that blew through town two days before Christmas.

Ann Phillips is worried now about who is going to hold on to her when she rides horses. Yesterday, she put it like this to me: “PopPop and me had a great time playing. Horses and in the pool. We liked puppies and kittens and princesses.”

I’m grateful that Ann Phillips has those memories of her PopPop, because towards the end of his life he suffered so much.

This summer, during a long night of pain at the hospital, he said to me, “I’m sick of this stuff,” except he didn’t say “stuff.”

He had 25 stents, one bypass and lived through 9 heart attacks, but the tenth one killed him.

The only good thing that comes out of Kelly’s death is that he is no longer in pain. For that, I’m truly grateful — but selfishly, I can’t help but to feel robbed and wish we all had had more time with our father, husband, and friend.

We will grieve, because that’s all you can do when you love someone and your life was impacted by their larger-than-life presence. One thing I have learned about grieving is that at any given moment, someone around you is hurting. We never lose by offering up the kindest, best versions of ourselves as a legacy to those we love.

And that’s a reminder of Kelly’s lasting legacy, and how I hope his memory stays with me each and every day, as a presence that lights up a room even after he’s departed this world for another.

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