Claude Darius Alexander
West Point, 1969
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Meg Alexander on November 1, 2007:
Several people requested that I post the comments that I spoke yesterday during my Father's funeral service, so I've posted them below.
My family and I were so moved by your kind words. Also thank you to everyone who sent kind notes or attended Dad's services. He would've been very touched.
EULOGY FOR MY FATHER, CLAUDE D. ALEXANDER, CLASS OF 1969:
What a task to try to summarize the life of oneís father. And I feel that this task is infinitely more challenging because my father wasnít anyone, he was Claude Alexander.
Itís hard for me to think of my father as just my Dad, because he was more than that. He was a role model to us all; a remarkable son, brother, uncle, Army ranger, lobbyist.
As Iíve reflected on my Dadís life over the past week, Iíve thought about many things. He came from a fourth-generation farming family in Ulysses, Kansas. He grew up playing with his younger sisters Susan and Karen and his dog King on the family farm. Dad was the apple of everyoneís eyes, particularly his older siblings who often helped care for him. From what Iíve been told, it was evident, even in these early days, that he was a special child with an insatiable curiosity for learning and reading.
Dad learned how to speak Russian in high school, a point that always impresses me considering he was in rural Kansas in the middle of the Cold War. It was during this time that he acquired a life-long appetite for speed, with a gift of a corvette from my grandfather on his 16th birthday. It also began a life-long hatred of highway patrolmen and speed traps.
Upon graduation from high school Dad enlisted in the army and a year later he was home on leave when he learned he was accepted to West Point. While Iíll let Colonel Adams speak to my Dadís military accomplishments, I can say that the Army opened doors for my father. The life as a soldier and an officer suited him, and it opened an endless horizon of potential and possibility, which was perfect for someone like Dad, who was eager to seize that promise.
Even though he medically retired from the army after losing his leg and some hearing from combat injuries in Vietnam; the life he learned at West Point was always with him. In his mannerisms, in his determination and his stoicism. Also in his table manners which he enforced rigidly on Philip, Kevin and me ---- and any of our friends who came over to dinner. These friends often discovered Dadís insistence on dining etiquette the hard way!
But in seriousness, my Dad took to heart the principles of West Point --- DUTY HONOR COUNTRY and carried them out through his life. Though heíd never articulate it verbally, I can tell you that he deeply loved his friends and his days at The Point.
He went on to pick up at Masters in IR at Columbia and developed a life-long affection for New York City (for the few of you who arenít familiar, I'm being sarcastic. Dad actually hated NYC; in fact he disliked it so much he would drive 4 hours before dawn to bring me what I needed for my apartment; and spend 15 minutes with me to then turn directly around to drive back to Virginia. Although he always supported me in my career there). After Columbia he went on to work for Senator Dole. He learned a lot from you Senator and he always had a deep respect for you. I know he saw you as a example of a soldier that overcame war wounds to accomplish great things. Like you, he also tried to live by example, particularly to the recovering servicemen he visited at Walter Reed over the last few years. Incidentally, it was you, Senator Dole, who sponsored Dad to attend West Point when you were still a Congressman. That was nearly a decade before he joined your office.
Iíve been told by many that Dad was a force to reckoned with on the Hill. He was determined, unabashedly confident and was definitely unnerving to be with on the road in his Porsche. As we all know, those things didnít change with age!
He met my mom in these days and made life-long friends. Heíd be happy to know that many of you are here today.
Dad went on to work at Ralston Purina and Energizer, where he worked on a variety of issues including one close to his heart and interests --- that was opening trade relations with the Soviet Union. Philip and I enjoyed these days because it meant cool gifts when he returned from trips to Moscow, and a variety of new and intriguing foods like Caviar when dining with his Russian business associates. It was during one of these memorable dinners when Philip nearly caused an international flap when the Caviar he ate came back up rather unexpectedly in the middle of a meal with the Soviets.
I think anyone who interacted with my Dad knew that he was an accomplished self-made man. He pursued every opportunity for advancement whether it was learning to ski with one leg, taking me to a new art exhibit, or teaching himself and our family an appreciation for fine cuisine Ė including a forced introduction to sushi. He was also generous to everyone, putting their comfort ahead of his own. No one wouldíve known when he walked into a room that he had one leg. And he worked harder and was stronger than most men with two.
But what I really mean to share with you today is what Claude Alexander was like as a father. I can tell you that Dad loved my brothers and I deeply. He was not the kind of sentimental guy that would show how he felt in a Hallmark card sort of way Ė rather he always showed his love for us through his actions. For me, it was encouraging my art lessons at a young age, driving me to the Corcoran School of art on Saturday mornings and more recently giving me advice about my next career move. It also often meant doing something for us that was out of his comfort zone. As a case in point, he joined a YMCA father/daughter group called Indian Princesses when I was eight. One of the more absurd responsibilities of this group entailed wearing a plastic bear claw necklace and having to discuss wam paum during our weekly tribal meetings in our neighbors den. Although this was not up Dadís alley, he played along for me. In fact he broke his only heel in one of these adventures shaking apples out of a tree for me. That break forced Dad into a wheelchair for a few months, but typical of my Dad, he would not stay in that for long and was walking by New Yearís Day when Kevin was born.
He was at Philipís every soccer game, cheering, and occasionally doing pull-ups on the sidelines during breaks in the game. Everyone wanted to know, "Who was that guy?" Dad and Philip shared an appreciation for fast cars and auto races. I never understood the appeal of watching cars drive around in circles, but it was special for them. They even made an occasional pilgrimage to Florida to watch the Daytona 500 together. Dad always liked meeting up with Philip and Kevin for a good meal, which included such fine establishments as Colvin Run Tavern, Buffalo Wild Wings, the Capital Ale House and the Olde Brogue. Philip, you and Dad understood each other perhaps better than anyone. You shared his love of adventure. He was proud of you. He knew how much you loved him, and he loved you that much too.
Kevin, when you were born, you were an unexpected joy to Dad and us all. Your lightheartedness always made Dad laugh. And I think Philip and I would both agree that you fared better in Dadís propensity to generous gifts in the later years. Dad was proud of how hard you worked on both the soccer and football fields. I think he made it to every Friday night game. You were the only kid who could break the rules at the dinner table and get away with it, because you made Dad chuckle.
Most of all Philip and Kevin, Dad wanted us to do our best and be happy. I know he would want us to remember that and live by it. He was proud of the men he saw you becoming.
Colonel Lonnie Adams (Class of '69) said it best the day my Dad died. He said, ďClaude, You lived and led by example, always from the front.Ē Dad you were determined, hard-working, generous, loving, and a deeply sensitive man. You leave a larger-than-life legacy for Philip, Kevin and me to carry on. You may finally rest Dad know that you were a good man, a wonderful father. You did much for many, never letting a challenge or impossibility stand in your way.