Fourteen years ago, Rick and I were driving home from Chapel Hill when we saw a shooting star. We both noticed it. The next morning (a Sunday) we got a call that Rick’s father had died in the hospital in California. Dad had gone in for a routine procedure and as best we can tell may have died from aspirating food. Such a sad, sad day. The flowers we were planting out front when we got the call will always be “Dad’s flowers.”
Despite the gloomy beginning, this post is really a celebration of a wonderful man and father. Dad raised his four children as a single father after his wife left when Rick (my husband) was six years old. I met Dad much later (1982) at an Italian restaurant in Washington DC. It was one that he remembered from his sabbatical in DC in the ’70s. I had met Rick less than a year earlier but we both knew we had found the person we were meant to spend the rest of our lives with. I remember being nervous and Dad did his usual intimidating questioning. (Dad had quite an intimidating presence.) But somehow I always knew that Dad loved me and he was happy that Rick and I had found each other. It made me proud to do things that made Dad proud of me.
For as long as I knew Dad he was first and foremost a dedicated radiologist who was extremely driven and focused on his career. Even after he was forced to retire from USC when he turned 70, he started a new business – the USC Advanced BioTelecommunications and Bioinformatics Center (USC-ABBC)- that linked remote locations to topnotch medical centers where diagnoses could be made using a complicated computerized way of sending images. His focus was on MRIs and PET scans (I’m sure my lack of medical knowledge is not doing justice to what he really did) and he was a pioneer in the field. An article about him appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, which for the life of me I can’t seem to find even though I know I kept a copy of it.
But for his children, more important than his professional credentials, Dad was the glue that held his family together. Although he didn’t remarry until his children were grown, he raised the three children of his new wife as his own. Some of the best memories of our time in California were the family gatherings at Dad’s house – his four children and the three Johnson children who knew him as their only father. There are so many wonderful memories of being with Dad and the family that he worked so hard to keep together.
Frederick William George, III was the first child born to Frederick William George and Evelyn Clark. We don’t know how they met, but we know that they both grew up in western Pennsylvania and eloped to West Virginia to marry. Soon after little Freddy arrived in 1923, he was followed by a brother Richard. From what we know about Dad’s early years, his parents fought a lot. Dad was born in 1923 and by 1930 Evelyn and her two children (six-year old Dad and his brother Richard) were living in Santa Monica, California with Evelyn’s younger sister Grace. Perhaps that is when Dad’s love affair with California began. Dad LOVED southern California and never wanted to live anywhere else. His time in the Navy was spent largely in San Diego and Coronado, which is where my husband Rick and his three sisters grew up.
Although Evelyn and Frederick William George reconciled briefly in the early 30s (as evidenced by the birth of a third son, Jerry John, on December 8, 1931) their marriage failed. Dad was raised by his mother Evelyn and his stepfather, Ben Williams, with very little contact with his father. By 1933, Dad’s father had started a new family and his first son, James Collin George, was born on June 2, 1933. Dad never told us much about his father’s side of the family and we wonder if Dad even knew he had half siblings. Fortunately for us, we are in contact with Dad’s youngest sister – Lynnette George Burnett. Oh how I wish they could have met each other.
Dad went to Grove City College for one year and then transferred to University of Pittsburgh where he completed undergraduate and medical school on an accelerated pace. He joined the Navy and rose to the rank of Captain before retiring in 1967. He joined the faculty at the University of Southern California and thus began a family’s love affair with all things Trojan. Fight On!
This is getting long and I doubt I have really captured the essence of the man I was proud to call Dad. I will try to post some pictures of Dad in the coming days. On this anniversary of Dad’s passing, it seems appropriate to write about him and the wonderful legacy that lives on through his children and grandchildren. We love and miss him very much.