Honoring Paul Farmer

Today we celebrated the life of a great man. Paul Farmer was a patriot, a public servant, a coach, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, where he was a multi-sport athlete, he spent his military career as an aviator in the US Marine Corps. During a training exercise in the 1970s, he was forced to eject from his aircraft. Despite his parachute failing to open, he managed to land on his feet, breaking his back but saving his life.

During his hospital recovery, he began courting one of the nurses, Kathy, who soon became Mrs. Farmer. They were married 46 years before Paul died, and during the last 26 of those years, they played a very significant role in my life. I learned a great deal from him about sports, food, wine, and life.

Paul was laid to rest this morning with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a very moving ceremony with scores of troops, a full Marine Corps band, and, of course, a 21-gun salute. The reception at the Navy Officers Club on base was a real joy. A plurality of Paul’s Academy company-mates joined us, as did many of his colleagues, and the stories shared were truly worthy of the exceptional life we were celebrating.

Following is a transcript of the remarks I made at the reception:

I’m Bryan Guido Hassin, and I’m Paul Farmer’s other son. Those of you with astute powers of observation may note that my last name is not Farmer and that I don’t resemble Paul or Kathy or Nick or Jocelyn. Well spotted! No, I wasn’t born into the Farmer family. I met Nick in 7th grade, joined his baseball team – coached by Paul, of course – and we began spending a lot of time together. Throughout middle and high school, Nick’s and my friendship grew into a true brotherhood, I played out the rest of my baseball career on teams coached by Paul, and I spent so much time at the Farmers’ house that they began calling me “Son II” while I called them “Mom and Dad II.”

So I’ve spent the vast majority of my life calling Paul Farmer “Dad II” but, when I first met him, I called him “Coach.” To paraphrase a movie from around that time that Nick and I both loved, Coach is the name for God in the lips and hearts of young boys. Indeed, as most of us didn’t have a shot at playing professional baseball, our coach’s primary responsibility wasn’t to develop us into top prospects; it was to help us develop into young men.

Coach Farmer took to that responsibility like a fish to water – not by sitting us down and saying, “Here’s how to be a man,” but rather by example – and what an example he was: a world-traveled, meat-eating, wine connoisseur, fighter pilot, athlete – what a man!

But you never would have known most of that as he didn’t wear much on his sleeve. Mr. Farmer conducted himself with a quiet, determined humility, which is what he taught us on the field: keep your head down, work hard, do your best, and you will achieve your goals.

This applied doubly so in the classroom as it did to the baseball field for Mr. Farmer was one of the smartest, most learned men I’ve ever known. I have fond memories of sitting around his table playing Trivial Pursuit. It wouldn’t have been much fun for him because he knew all the answers. Instead, he relegated himself to asking the questions and giving us clues that were so clever, they could only really be appreciated once the answer was known.

And yes, I include in my list of examples of Mr. Farmer’s intellectual prowess another of my favorite memories: the time he was summarily ejected from one of our baseball games he was coaching for arguing with the umpire. As soon as we returned home, we looked up the rules and, of course, Coach Farmer was right – he was always right. 

While that memory stands out to me because it may be the only time I ever witnessed Mr. Farmer, the consummate officer and gentleman, really get riled up, he wasn’t arguing with the umpire because he wanted to win; he was doing so because had strong convictions about what is right. You don’t do something to gain some reward or to avoid some penalty; you do it because it is right.

That strong sense of conviction and duty made Dad II one of the most gallant men I have ever known – a true modern day knight. When my Mom I was seriously ill in the hospital, Paul and Kathy visited her regularly and helped her get better. When my wife and I suffered a devastating pregnancy loss, Dad II was among the first to send us the sweetest, most heartfelt note of condolences.

On the surface he could be stoic and reserved, but underneath was a tender heart and a man who was incredibly thoughtful. They say with icebergs you only see the 10% that’s above water but the 90% below is what’s really powerful. I find that describes Dad II very well – all the more so because his aviator call sign was Penguin!

You were one of a kind, Paul Farmer, the best of the best. The Force was strong with you in life and it is even stronger with you in death. You leave behind a legacy of a country that thanks you, friends and colleagues who respect you, and a family that loves you. You live on in all of us who remember you and through your lessons which we are now passing on to the next generation.

I’d like to send him off with a slightly adapted poem, the subject of which was near and dear to Paul’s heart since practically the day he was born.

Oh somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright.
A band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
Somewhere men are laughing, somewhere children roam.
But there is no joy in Mudville, for Paul Farmer has gone home.

Semper Fi, Penguin.
Semper Fi, Coach Farmer.
Semper Fi, Dad II

Published by Bryan Guido Hassin

These are the musings of a global cleantech entrepreneur. This blog began as a way to document my experience during the IMD MBA in Switzerland and now is the place where I publish eclectic thoughts on business, politics, fitness, entertainment, travel, wine, sports, and . . . whatever else is top of mind.

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