Donald W. Gross 1925-2018

Donald W. Gross

Thoughts of Dad

To say Dad was a true Old Style Gentleman was only scratching the surface. I don’t know when our relationship went from Father & Son to Man / Man, Adult /Adult, but during that time, he became my Best Friend. A day could not go by without a phone call, a visit to his house or a lunch date. Some days it would be just a quick hello, other days we’d talk about everything. If I had a busy day and I didn’t get to call him, he would call me and say, “where’s my call.” We didn’t always agree but the respect was always there. Some days he would change my mind and other days I would change his. But one thing was certain, we always had a laugh.

Dad was … where do I begin. Don was true to himself from the moment he woke up in the morning till he put his head on the pillow. Very fixed in his ways and at times almost ridgid. But you always knew where he stood. Loyal, kind, generous, faith-filled and loving are only a few of the adjectives we could use for this man. When he saw something he felt was off, he spoke up. Whether it was with the family, the Barclay’s Condo Association or the St. Mary’s Mens Prayer Group, he felt he needed to step up and be heard. And most of the time, he was right on with his assessment. Dad was incredibly insightful and intelligent. As many have said over and over, “We never heard him say a bad word about anyone.”

His Catholic faith defined Dad. Daily mass, St. Mary’s men’s prayer group, the Magnificat, the Rosary—these just showed the face of the depth of his devotion to our Lord. He dedicated his life to living his life as Christ did. St. Mary’s Parish, Inisfada, and the Passionists Retreat House at Our Lady of Florida—he loved them all. His Grace before dinner was always so full of the spirit. When he missed daily mass due to health reasons, he always felt something missing in his day.

Dad’s family was everything to him. He loved bragging about his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If you got him started, he could talk your ear off about what each of them was doing and he couldn’t be prouder. But when you sat with him, he also became the great listener. He wanted to hear what was going on in your life. His generosity knew no bounds. He strived to be fair with his whole family with the gifts that were handed down to him. His vision for our future well-being was his priority. He was there for everyone, even helping his brother’s children and grandchildren when he saw a need.

Marie was the love of Don’s life. Marriage Encounter, pre-Cana and the unwed mothers they helped. They had a very full life of family and friends. When Mom got sick, Dad devoted his life to her care and well-being. He had the house enlarged so that Mom could stay home, on one floor, throughout her last years. During construction, they lived in various houses so that the work could be done and he cared for her every day through that whole process. He hired nurses and aides to care for Mom in her last years. And in the end, she was loved and remembered with his words at her funeral like no one else.

But in the months that followed, Dad was lost. We saw depression, loneliness and a loss for the reason to live. Then suddenly, he became the man we knew again. Dad met Mary Nottingham. They would go out for lunch, then dinners. And Dad was given new life. I’m sure Dad would not have lasted another 14 years if it hadn’t been for his Mary. We can’t thank her enough for her friendship and being there for Dad.

Dad had many personality traits that we all knew well and loved. His immaculate penmanship – the swoosh of his hand as he signed his name as only he could. His signature sports coats. I don’t know what his favorite was but the Baby Blue was up there.

His love of the SURPRISE! If he could pull it off, he’d love it. He loved being around pretty girls. Speaking to some store owners in town, they all laughed how he perked up when a pretty girl was around. Not in a bad way, but he was funny like that. He had an obsession with planning & organization. Whether it is an address/phone list for Strickland Place or the Barclays, an updated birthday list for all his relatives, or his own funeral plans, he was all over it. There weren’t many family members that didn’t get a birthday card from Uncle Don. He was like clockwork getting those out.

How many days did I enter his house to find him sitting in his chair at the kitchen table, listening to classical music, scouring over the sports pages or working on the NY Times crossword puzzle. He enjoyed balancing his checkbook and paying his bill the old fashion way. I could never get that guy to do it on-line. And in the last years, his written checkbook never balanced. We would just laugh and make an adjustment. His generosity to the many causes and his church were admirable; St. Mary’s, Marionists, Jesuits, Youth for Christ, Catholic Ministries, and of course Regis, Holy Cross and Dominican. He felt strongly that we have to give back out of our abundance and he did.

Dad loved to read and when he found a particularly interesting book on faith or family, he had to buy multiple copies to give out to his loved ones. He was throughout his life a golf fanatic and Nassau Country Club was his home away from home. We have great memories of our time at Pinehurst, numerous golf outings and PGA tournaments. In his later years he would just ride along as we played just to see the course. He became quite astute at the art of the email. He would converse with his family back in Germany and with family as far away as California. Then Facebook became part of his life as he connected with his friends and family through posts and pictures. Dad loved to hear from everyone. And he would share his correspondence with me with glee.

Dad did have some quirks as we all know, especially when he grew tired. Don’t try to help him with anything for you might get smacked away with an “I can do it.” Losing his driving ability was one of the toughest to lose. But when he did drive—Look Out! He could get a little testy. I wonder where I got it from. And as a passenger, you were fair game. How many times did I hear not to roll through a stop sign because of the cops in Munsey Park. I just laugh thinking about it, because that was Dad.

His final days were a celebration of his life. One loved by so many. His family was around him, singing, pouring out our love on him and laughing. He never lost his sense of humor. He sure knew how to crack a joke or make you smile even during those last hours. Marie was sure to meet him at the entrance to eternal life with one of her famous hugs.

My question is how do I go on without hearing his voice on our daily phone call? Who am I going to meet for lunch? How do I fill the hole in my heart? I know he is here with me still and I will pray to him as my new guardian angel! I love you Dad and I’ll still make that phone call every day through prayer. May God hold you in the palm of his hand.


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