Music and Eulogy for Uncle Rixie

I promised that I would post audio clips of Trish singing at Uncle Rixie’s memorial service on Wednesday up at Stanford (thanks for the help, Greg).  Life has been such a blur and is at times so overflowing with the emotions of this journey that it wasn’t really until about Friday that some of the reality of Uncle Rixie not being with us anymore sunk in.  So, while it might be a bit off-topic for this blog, I’m including the eulogy I gave at the end of the service after six others had captured him so well with their tributes.  Rudy is understandably the focus of so much of our emotional energy right now, but I don’t want the passing of someone so significant to get lost in the blur.

The audio tracks might take a few seconds to buffer, but wait and enjoy.  It’s worth noting that Trish sung these without a mic–the acoustics of that place were amazing!

It is Well with My Soul

All people That on Earth do Dwell


I am so grateful for the way those who have shared have remembered important spheres of Rixie’s life with such vividness and warmth.  We were planning this service and thinking about how special it was to have it in this church on this campus that Rixie loved so dearly, and now having sat through it, I can’t help but think how much Rixie would have loved to be here in person.  Like no one else, he would have received these tributes with such graciousness and quiet pride.  In his own trademark way, he would have made each of us feel like we were the person he was most honored to have in attendance.


Rixie was unique in that he was so consistent.  We have a tendency to take on different personas as we move from realms of public and private, but whether he was with close friends, family or interacting at some of the highest levels of academia, Rixie was always his winsome and endearing self.  He endeared himself to people of great importance, but also to people of more modest station—like students, secretaries and some very fortunate kids.  In 1947, my father was one such student and I became one of those fortunate kids.  Rixie and Elliott became surrogate grandparents who brought joy and creativity into our lives.


·             At one of the first meetings I can remember when I was about five years old, I proudly entered our living room in my cowboy outfit and greeted Rixie with a “Howdy, Pardner!”  From then on, he decided we should adopt the monikers of “Big Pardner” and “Little Pardner”; which is how we addressed each other regularly for the rest of his life.


·             Around the time I was eight, I had just gotten my first pack of football cards and was showing them to Rixie.  He was immediately concerned that I did not have any players that had graduated from Stanford, so the next morning he asked my mom to drop us off at Woolworth so we could get a couple of packs of ten.  We ripped open the packs out on the sidewalk and found no Stanford graduates.  So Rixie kept sending me in with quarter after quarter until we had bought at least a dozen packs and got us a Bob Moore and a Jim Plunkett—not to mention six sticks of gum each that we put in our mouths all at the same time and sat on the curb chewing until Mom came back to pick us up.


·             While I know Stanford gave Rixie an office for other reasons, to me it was where he went to write me letters and I always got excited when I got something in the mail from my penpal at Bowman Alumni House.  His letters were always creative and they forced me to be the same—at first it was Big Pardner writing to Lil Pardner about life on the trail, but after a few years we started publishing newspapers—his was the “Governor’s Gazette” and mine was the “Post House Packet” and we exchanged our information via articles in our newspapers.  I remember there were items about what the fruit trees were producing in the garden on Governor’s Lane; travel reports from the Danube or the Delta Queen; the sports section was devoted exclusively to Stanford sports and the editorial page usually included some erudite diatribe about Cal.


·             As my grandparents lived overseas or were deceased, Rixie was attentive to me and invested in me over my lifetime like few grandfathers would have.  He encouraged me and I suspect would have been supportive of any course I chose, but there was probably some subtle coaxing in the Stanford t-shirts I would get for every birthday and Christmas.


·             Rixie said I got into Stanford on my own, but as wonderful as I may have been, I suspect it was hard for Dean Fetter to overlook the letter from a certain predecessor that got attached to my application.  And in my years on the campus, I always looked forward to Tuesday nights when the orange Rabbit would pull up in front of my dorm and Rixie would take me out to dinner just like he had taken out my father 40 years before.


In his own understated way, Rixie was very proud to live one hundred years.  He saw a lot of things and was able to remember astounding details about people, places and events and, as a historian, was able to provide context so that you came away feeling much smarter than you actually were.  Rixie and I were tickled during one of our last conversations over the fact that he was retired almost all of my life.  But that doesn’t mean he stopped being a professor; he may not have been grading papers or giving lectures, but he never stopped teaching.


The text Rixie asked that Schaff read from the Apostle Paul (ICor13) elaborates profoundly on the concept of love.  They say that one can have a full life, rich with experiences and possessions, but without love there is emptiness.  Rixie was a loving person and if we look at his life, he gave us profound lessons about love:

·             He taught us that a deep love of people can reward one with an expansive and close extended family even if one hasn’t any biological children.

·             He taught us that love—expressed in interest, genuine concern and warmth—turns co-workers and colleagues into lifelong friends.

·             He taught us that love, in the form of diligence, wisdom and service, can be the bedrock of a tremendously successful and visionary career.

·             He taught us that love, manifest as winsomeness and warmth, can actually be more effective in influencing people than brashness and assertiveness ever could.

·             He taught us love, lived out in a lifelong devotion to an institution, can and will continue to impact thousands in ways unimaginable for years to come.


The professor never stopped teaching, my hope is that I’ll be a good student and never stop living out what we’ve learned from him.




Missing Rixie and Four Great Kids

We’ve come to accept that, as Rudy’s stay in the hospital keeps extending itself, the demands of life and needs of our other kids  are such that we can’t be with him around the clock.  Even with that, it does feel surreal for both Trish and I to travel out of the area.  We’ve had two places to check in on by phone over the last couple of days and are glad that kids in both places seem to miss us, but are doing well thanks to friends and professionals serving our family so generously (thanks Pammy and Robin for sitting with Rudy; thanks Sherry, Lisa and Emily for being so sweet to the Goleta three).

It would have to be a very rare person and relationship that pulled Trish and I away from Southern California right now.  Uncle Rixie was that kind of person and we participated in a wonderful celebration of his life on the Stanford Campus.  It was a beautiful afternoon and Memorial Church was lit up with the afternoon sunlight coming through the stained glass windows.  It made me think of the times Rixie would walk with me through the church and, ever the historian, would tell of how Jane Stanford used to probe the carvings  during construction with the tip of her umbrella to make sure the workmen were making them deep enough.  Most touching was rediscovering his favorite quote carved into the West Transept which from then on became my own:

There are but few on earth free from cares, none but carry burdens of sorrow, and if all were asked to make a package of their troubles, and throw this package on a common pile, and then were asked to go and choose a package which they were willing to bear, all would select their own package again.

Your heartaches may be great, burdens heavy, but look about you, and with whom would you change?

Kind of fits with most seasons of life, but particularly this one.  I don’t want anyone else’s problems.  I’ll stick with my own.

We could have had a service that lasted for hours, but representative speakers did a great job capturing Rixie and the tremendous impact he had on so many lives and the University in his trademark way.  One of the highlights (and Rixie would have LOVED it) was hearing Trish sing like an angel from the choir loft accompanied by the huge 1901 organ.  Two amazing sets of pipes!!  When I have more time, I will try to figure out if I can post recordings of her singing–it’s soooo cool!

Back at UCLA, Rudy is holding steady.  Most comforting to us is the fact that he is resting and calm instead of being fussy.  The team is keeping him sprinting and he’s making it through three 3-hour sprints a day without problem.  The chest Xray looks very clear, so we’ll wait and see if they want to pull the tube again and give him another shot or if they want to get more clarity on why there were such secretions in the lungs last time.  So glad we’re in the era of cellphones so they can keep up apprised as we drive back.

Portrait of Dr. Rixford K. Snyder
Portrait of Dr. Rixford K. Snyder




Happy 100th Birthday, Uncle Rixie!

Perhaps this is a bit off topic, but if there’s anyone worth making an exception for, it’s Uncle Rixie.  I think there are only two people in the world who can actually claim him as a legitimate uncle, but dozens who claim him as a surrogate uncle, parent or grandfather.  Long story, but when my father came to the US to attend Stanford as a freshman, he was taken under the wing of his Western Civ professor.  Dad became one of many people who learned that Rixie and his wife, Elliott, were very poor at keeping acquaintances, but very good at adoption.  With no children of their own, scores of fortunate people became their family.

I had Rixie’s big day noted on my calendar for some time and without question thought I’d be in the Bay Area with him to celebrate.  But not only do our circumstances make that difficult, but Uncle Rixie’s own health is such that he declined any celebration and isn’t feeling well enough to talk on the phone.  There’s so much good to say about him it’s difficult to know where to start, but anyone who has had the priviledge will understand my need to make mention of him. 

If you’ve lived one hundred years, you remember life before every family had a car or telephone.  You lived through two World Wars and saw 19 different US presidents (starting with Teddy Roosevelt!).  In Uncle Rixie’s case, the 100 years were filled with meaningful service to Stanford University and thousands of students in the classroom and as Dean of Admissions (how do you think I got in?).  While the milestone he’s achieved in his lifespan is impressive, more so are the scores of friends he’s made along the way.  I’m certain I am one of many who lament that we can’t celebrate him en masse today.

So tonight I no longer wish I could be in two places, rather in three.  It’s hard to beat sitting here in Santa Barbara listening to the unbridled laughter of three incredible kids, but I’d give an awful lot if I could have just a few minutes to be with Rudy at UCLA or to sit with Uncle Rixie in his apartment in Palo Alto.  Happy Birthday, Uncle Rixie!  Congratulations and thanks for everything!  I sure would love to work out a way to squeeze in a trip to the Bay Area.  But given the challenges we’re facing I didn’t want this incredible milestone for an incredible man to pass without some mention.