I recently experienced for the first time the death of a close family member. My grandfather, Daniel Dustin, passed away a week ago. He was a Christian, a faithful husband and father, and a great Grandpa to his five grandchildren. In the following paragraphs, I remember him. Those who can read it all will catch a brief glimpse of what made him great.
Daniel Dustin—Grandpa to his grandchildren—was a great man.
I will remember him by reflecting on his life through my role as grandson.
When visiting the brown home in Lincoln in my childhood, I was always filled with joy.
Grandpa and I stormed down the driveway on the mudbuggy, shot baskets together, and talked about serious matters like the Red Sox pennant chase.
Our talks and activities might sometimes have driven my grandmother a little mad, but I also saw her often smile in bemusement.
I know she smiled when Grandpa donned a bandana, an old t-shirt, and painters’ shorts and played a game of soccer with his grandson, as he did on one occasion, or when he gamely pitched
to me in the summers at Sheepscot Lake.
With cousins and family all around, those were memorable times.
Grandpa was at the center of them.
Grandpa could be a very serious man, and we grandkids knew that he did important things, but we never really figured out what, and he had no interest in a lordly demeanor. He commanded respect and affection, but he rarely did so by the exercise of his will. His gentle nature with us was shaped by marriage to a strong, servant-hearted Maine beauty named Rachel and then by raising three spirited New England women. By living understandingly with Grammy, Grandpa learned how to love Donna, Melissa, and Cynthia. By the time he had grandchildren, he knew just how to draw us out, how to say the right word, how to suggest the right activity. He was the man of his home, but he was a man whose heart had been touched by God, and thus his headship was strong yet gentle, assertive yet tender.
Grandpa made my childhood special. He took me to Revolutionary War events, including the Battle on Lexington Green reenactment each year. This sparked a love for history in me that is strong to the current day. Grandpa took me to my first Red Sox game. He surprised me with the news at breakfast one day on an “alone visit” in Lincoln. A car ride, my first train ride, and a long walk later, we were at magical Fenway Park. I got Tom Brunansky’s autograph, the Red Sox won, and a grandfather had given his grandson a memory for life. And who can forget the trips to “Nineteen and a half?” Any reflection on the Dustin family has to include that strange discount store and the thriftiness that drew us to it. Grandpa had his quirks, to be sure, but they only made him more special in my eyes.
The years wore on, my life grew busier, but I always loved my grandparents, and I treasured Grandpa’s letters. He wrote to all of us, and he wrote sweetly, with a sweeping grasp of details and a desire to guide and assist those whom he loved. Through his letters and other means of contact, he loomed large in my life. Indeed, in recent years I have learned that my grandfather truly was a great man. By asking many questions—questions necessitated by Grandpa’s humility and unwillingness to talk about himself—I’ve discovered that he managed thousands of employees at an MIT laboratory, met regularly with the Secretary of Defense about top-secret matters, and made huge contributions to United States defense technology. The same man who tended his roses and who was kind to all his neighbors was the man who caused thousands of talented employees to whisper after he walked by, “That was Daniel Dustin.” Today, we do the same. That was Daniel Dustin. He was a great man.
We must ask, then, why was Grandpa a great man? Was it talent, or charm, or luck? No, the central reality of Grandpa’s life was that he was a sinner saved from hell by a majestic God who commissioned him to speak the gospel and live the gospel in a darkened world. Grandpa was a faithful husband and father; he was a successful worker; but he was fundamentally a man who worshipped a great God and who lived to see others do the same. Like my own father, he served his church so faithfully that it is not too much to say that it in some sense rested upon his shoulders. His service to Grace Chapel did not proceed out of duty or formality, though, but out of love for Jesus Christ. It was for this reason that he taught Sunday school, served as an elder, gave generously to the church and to many missionaries, and raised his family to do the same. Grandpa was a great man, but only because God loved him and made him great. By the Spirit’s power, Grandpa walked with the Father by faith. Now he walks with God by sight. Now he sees Him face to face. Though there are tears here on earth, there are none there in heaven. Grandpa is home.
Grandpa and Grammy had many wonderful years together, and Grammy served Grandpa so well. She was a model for me in looking for biblical character in a wife. When I heard of my grandfather’s condition, I asked my sweet grandmother to say just one thing to him, to whisper it in his ears: Grandpa, I love you so much, and I am honored to be your grandson. He heard those words. Now I say them again, though this time they are whispered to God: Thank you for my grandpa, Lord. I was honored to be his grandson. May we who now remember him love You as he did. When our days, swiftly passing as the ships, are over, may we walk with You as he now does. Amen.