Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dick Whitaker

            Several hundred friends of Dick Whitaker packed the large patio area of the Toll House Hotel in Los Gatos for a celebration of Dick’s life this past Saturday.  As many of you know, Dick was a life-long buddy of mine. 

            I wrote a tribute to Dick and many friends asked me to post it on my blog.  I wrestled with this idea, because I know that many readers didn’t know Dick, but his escapades may bring a smile anyway.  For those who knew Dick and missed the event and for those who asked to have a copy of this, I decided to post it.             

*   *   *

            “Many of you have heard some of this before.  It’s only a small part of our tribal lore, but for those who haven’t - I think you deserve to know the truth.

            “I’m sure a lot of wonderful things will be said about Dick Whitaker, but most of you don’t know him as well as I did.  There’s another side to this lovable character. A slightly nefarious side.

             “Dick was an amazing guy, but he didn’t have magical powers, despite rumors to the contrary.  I remember the days we all worked picking prunes; back when there were orchards. I’m sure many “seniors” are familiar with prunes.  To demonstrate his miraculous powers, Dick once turned a rosy-cheeked teenage boy into a wrinkled old man in less than half an hour.  But it wasn’t really a miracle. The truth is that he did it by locking the poor kid in a prune dehydrator.  

            “How do you eulogize a guy who began his career by turning a five foot snake loose in the girl’s bathroom in the 7th grade?  Girlie screams of terror could be heard from Los Gatos all the way to east San Jose.

            “How the Principal knew specifically which two suspects to pull out of class I’ll never know. 

            “And what kind of a human being would light my little brother’s fort on fire when Tom was in the middle of a physical examination of his girlfriend?  And then, steal the stethoscope and wear it around his neck until his senior year of high school? 

            “Dick wasn’t dumb.  He learned to preface his later medical examinations by reaching for his stethoscope and stating reassuringly, “It’s okay.  I’m a doctor.”

            “What kind of twisted mind would cause a kid to toss a blanket over my little brother’s head, blinding him, as Tom went careening down a hill on our home-made wooden cart?  My poor brother ran off a cliff and ruined our best race car.

            “How would you like to have a 14 year old son who would steal his dad’s brand new van and take it for a terrifying race through the hills of Los Gatos, only to end up in a muddy vineyard, destroying what could have been fine wine and a nice van?  But what a ride!

            “Naturally, I was never a party to any of Dick’s misdeeds, but I faintly remember being called into Principal Ralph Berry’s office with Dick – but only because I was standing next to him when we were captured.  That was always a bad place to stand. 

            “Evidently our gang of pre-teens would beat up our adversaries in the orchard behind Louise Van Meter School.  But there was nothing else to do for fun during lunch hour.

            “Then there were our military exploits.  I can’t hide my complicity in this one.  I had a mock M1 rifle, not real, but a replica used by the army for training.  I put a firecracker in the barrel of the rifle and lit it.  Dick ran out into the street, pointed the gun at an unsuspecting driver and when the firecracker went off, the poor guy thought he was shot, lost control of the car, swerved into an orchard, and smashed into a prune tree.

            “We were both very compassionate kids, so we went over to check on the driver.  He was in a catatonic state.  He sat behind the steering wheel completely motionless, staring straight ahead, with a death grip on the wheel.  He didn’t speak, but he seemed to be alive, so we went back to get more firecrackers and continued our military exercise on a different street.

            “Time didn’t seem to temper our youthful indiscretions.  Ooops.  I mean Dick’s youthful indiscretions.  You have to grow old, but you don’t have to grow up.  Imagine if you were a grown man and had to jump into a melee to rescue Whitaker, who was being beaten by cops and bouncers at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans during a wild Super Bowl weekend.  I almost ended up in jail with him that night.

            “Living under an ominous cloud of possible incarceration or the fear that at any time I might find myself in the middle of a bar fight or something even worse wasn’t easy for me. Many of the men in this room shared the tension of living on the edge with Dick.  Some were left with facial tics, incontinence, and spastic colons.

            “When Dick and I finally grew up, or maybe I should say, ‘grew older,’ we did more mature things.  Things that sane people do.  Things like European travel with our wives.  Dick could never be outdone.  On one trip Dick brought two wives and his first girl friend.

            “Actually, I brought his first girl friend, my wife Gayle. During the entire trip Dick would brag that, in addition to his beautiful daughters, he was traveling with two wives and his first girl friend. 

            “The fact is that little ‘Cub Scout Dickie’ would come to Gayle’s house in his Cub Scout uniform and ask Gayle’s dad if she could come out to play. This qualified Gayle as Dick’s first girlfriend.  Dick tried this clever ploy years later, but failed, because his Cub Scout uniform didn’t fit.

            “There’s a reason that the name Dick Whitaker is known far and wide.  Like me, many of you have traveled to Super Bowls and other places with Dick.  We’ve been in airports where we’ve heard our friend being paged on the airport speaker system.  When we glance around looking for Dick, he could always be found on the white phone paging himself.  That’s why everyone in the airport knew Dick’s name.  Due to the vast number of foreign travelers, I’m sure his name has been translated into every language on earth.

            “I grew up with Dick Whitaker and I grew old with him.  During a span of over 65 years, I have enough stories to fill an entire library.  I know that many of his friends here have even more and better stories. I decided to tread lightly with mine.

            “So what kind of a man would emerge from such a misspent youth?

            “I’ll tell you what kind of a man emerged.  Dick was the guy who would always be there if you needed anything.  He was immensely generous.  He was a patriot.  He exuded love for his family and friends.  He had a heart as big as the planet.  He had charm, humor and charisma.  Someone said that it’s impossible to think of Dick Whitaker without smiling. It’s true.  If you knew him, try it.

            “Dick had a deep Christian faith that re-kindled and matured over time.  He lived his life fully and lived it in his own way.  He also left us in his own way – with dignity, with consideration for his family and friends, and with class.

            “There will never be another Dick Whitaker.  That’s a promise from someone who loves him like a brother. I know I’ll see him again, but there’s a hole in my heart the size of Dick Whitaker.”


  1. Well said Ralph and one I'll remember for a long time.

    Thank You!

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  3. I'm glad you posted your tribute to Dick again. Especially for those who have not heard it. And for those of us who have, it brings a smile to our faces, and a laugh down inside. As it did to so many in Los Gatos on that Very Special Day.

    1. It was great to see you again, despite the circumstances.