May 16, 2024

In Memory of Her Father, a Life Well Lived and Over Too Soon

At his core, my father was a man who needed only 43 years to become a legend.

This week, I don’t want to get political. I’d like to talk to you about someone who is more important than the sum total of the occasional outrage I can muster up for strangers.

Don’t worry, the outrage has no expiration date, and will be useful for another set of Sundays. There are elections to predict, wars to fight, candidates to prosecute and probably even a few more porn stars to tolerate. But not this week.

Forty-two years ago my father, Ted Flowers, passed away.

He had just turned 43, which means the world has been without him for as long as he was in it.

I was 20 when he died, so I’ve lived two-thirds of my life remembering what he looked like, what he sounded like, what he loved and liked and hated.

He was flawed in the way that men of that era were flawed, spending too much time in their offices and too little playing with their kids, being short-tempered and demanding and sometimes even overbearing.

But at his core, at that part of his being that was formed in the womb and then forged in the streets of West Philly, he was a man who needed only 43 years to become a legend.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through clippings and papers from the last year of his life, a time when he still harbored a hope that science would bring the miracles that his renewed Catholic faith promised.

The things that touched me the most were his hand-written notes, the germinal signs of a planned memoir, where he talked about his difficult childhood, his desire to rise above the obstacles of his youth, and his satisfaction at beating the odds.

He hadn’t ended up in jail, or in a dead-end job, or wishing he’d taken the road less traveled.

He took that road, and it landed him at the pinnacle of the legal profession in 1970s Philadelphia.

My friend Nancy, who worked at his firm a few years after he died always tells me that he was still talked about in reverent tones. She called him “The Lion of White and Williams.”

The thing he seemed proudest of, though, happened before he even started at the firm.

It was that time he spent in Mississippi in 1967 registering Black voters and defending Black defendants in courtrooms that were only a few years removed from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” But don’t take my word for it.

Listen to him:

“The courtroom reminded me of the Scopes monkey trial that I’d read about. There was no air conditioning, the only ventilation being the lazy movement of some old overhead ceiling fans. His honor was a Justice of the Peace, who was a farmer.

"To make a long story short, my 37 objections were overruled, my points for charge were completely ignored, the District Attorney in his opening and closing remarks created reversible error, and I almost got cited for contempt.

"My clients were convicted.

"When it became apparent what the verdict would be, I seized the opportunity to give the Negroes, who were packed into segregated courtrooms, a show for their money. All the while, a contingent of state police, the District Attorney and even the judge glared at me.

"After my closing, there were a few ‘Amens’ and I resumed my seat.

"After the verdict was in, the defendants thanked me for my efforts, and went away with the Sherriff until bond could be raised.

"I don’t believe I have ever felt more useless in all my life. I had done everything I could, and it wasn’t enough.”

Someday, I will finish the story for my father.

It deserves to be told, mostly because that last sentence of his is the only thing he ever wrote, or did, with which I can disagree.

It was enough. Everything that he did, that he struggled with, that he fought for was “enough.” It was more than enough.

Like most men of that era, and many before but very few since, my father lived his life guided by an invisible but steady compass.

Honor, duty, courage and a refusal to give up even when the inevitability of your destiny is staring you in the face, are the hallmarks of that sort of person.

My father died on May 8, 1982. But make no mistake, his memory will always be a blessing.

Copyright 2024 Christine Flowers

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