My father, William Campbell Orr, died early this morning. He was 88 years old and, until an accident ten days ago, he was active and engaged enough to play tennis regularly. He was a chemistry professor, a university administrator, and a devoted husband to my mother and, after her passing, his loving second wife Nancy.
My father was a true gentleman, as any number of well-wishers have been quick to remind me. More than that, he was a truly gentle man. My signal memory of him from childhood is of his kindness toward the field mice that occasionally invaded our home in rural Connecticut. My mother, reasonably enough, advised that we deal with them using spring-loaded traps. But my dad insisted on capturing them unharmed and releasing them--a feat he accomplished, incredibly, by stalking, cornering, and trapping them in an old shoe box he reserved for the purpose. It is only as an adult occasionally beset by mice in my own home that I realize how unfathomably difficult a task this is, but my dad accomplished it on several occasions before my own excited eyes, drawing on reserves of patience and dexterity I have not been lucky enough to inherit. Once he caught the mouse, he and I would escort it to the bottom of the hill behind our house and release it at the edge of the woods. More than likely, the mouse made it back to the house before we did, but that did not deter my father from his quiet missions of mercy.
It is commonplace to say that he will be missed by all who knew him. But in this case it is also uncommonly true.