The followingtext is reprinted courtesy of Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, who delivered these remarks Saturdayto introduce his father, Ray Durkin, at the Annual Christmas Award Luncheon by the St. Patrick’s Guard of Honor of New Jersey. A former State Democratic Party Chairman, Ray Durkin received theGuard of Honor’s”Irishman of the Year” award.
It is an honor to have this opportunity to introduce my father…my best friend.
My father was born and raised in Vailsburg. The “Burg” as he would call it. And growing up I would hear stories of this fantasy neigborhood come to life.
When I was a little boy my father took me to the funeral of a legendary Irish politician. The funeral was at Sacred Heart Church in Vailsburg on South Orange Avenue. As we were sitting in the pew the priest rose to eulogize this man. He pointed down and said there lies a great politician and an honest man. I tugged on my father’s suit jacket looked up at him and said, “how can they fit two people in such a small coffin?”
I don’t want to talk about Ray Durkin as Politician. I would like to talk about Ray Durkin as father. My father has 5 children who idolize and love him. And growing up in our household my parents had different jobs around the house.
My mother’s jobs were to pay all the bills and to perform all the manual labor…she mowed the lawn, she moved the furniture and she painted the house. And my earliest memory as a child was when I was 5 years old and my mother was 8 months pregnant w/ my sister Maureen and she was up on a rickety old ladder painting our house and the mailman came to the front door and asked to see my father. He said to my father I can’t believe you have your wife 8 months pregnant up on a rickety old ladder painting your house. So the next day my father went out and bought my mother a new ladder.
My father would take his 5 children to church every Sunday morning at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in South Orange…11 o’clock mass.
He would also do the food shopping every week w/ his 5 children.
And he would get us ready for school every morning and we would line up outside the bathroom from oldest to youngest…my sister being the youngest. And we would walk in the bathroom one at a time for my father to brush our hair for school. I can tell you that my sister has changed hairstyle since.
In our house the discussions and arguments were on 3 subjects. Sports, history and politics. And my father passed on his interest in newspapers to his children. First it was the Star Ledger and every Saturday night we would drive to the stand on South Orange Avenue for Sunday’s First Edition. And then it was the NY Times and then as my brother Tim would say for some sanity and some balance the NY Post.
And because of my father…by the age of 10 my brother Tim could easily navigate the Obituary Section.
Our friends would often seek advice from my father and when I was a freshman in college I brought a friend home with me.
My friend sat across from my father as my father sat in his recliner chair…remote control in the left hand and cigarette in the right.
My friend said, “Mr Durkin…I need some advice…I think I want to quit school.” And my father said, “why would you want to do that?” My friend said, “i want to quit school because I want to travel…i want to travel across Europe because I want to find myself.” My father took a puff of his cigarette he turned and looked at my friend and said, “kid, when you find yourself…you’re not gonna like it.”
My father never let us forget just how blessed we were to be living in the greatest country in the history of the world. He taught us to treasure our Irish heritage and to celebrate our Irish traditions.
My father has been blessed to have had a couple 2nd chances in life. And the mark and the measure of a man is what he does with his 2nd chances. My father has been the bearer of many a kind word and many a kind deed.
And at a trying moment in my father’s life he handed me a poem. This poem says a lot about the Irish and our fascination with both life and death. And I think it’s a poem we can all live by and it goes like this.
The clock of life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour
Now is the only time you own
Live, Love, Toil with a will
Place no faith in time
For the hands may soon be still
I give to you…my father..Raymond Michael Durkin.