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Another Perspective

A Tribute to Merlin Olsen

My father died on a Wednesday in March of 1984. He was 71. His final day was a perfect one for him. He'd played golf, then signed documents to purchase a new home to be built on a golf course in Rancho Mirage. He celebrated the events of the day by going to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant with his wife of six years and some friends. After dinner he left the table to use the restroom and on his way dropped dead, literally. I've alway felt badly for the people having dinner at the restaurant that night. I know having someone die while I was eating would ruin my dinner.

My last contact with my father was the weekend before he died. He did something for me he'd never done before. He babysat my three daughters while their mother and I went to Arizona where I performed a wedding. During that weekend he played with my girls in silly ways typical of the little boy in him. For example,he drove my youngest daughter, Sarah,who was 8, in his golf cart to his neighbors' homes. The two of them would sneak up to the front door, ring the doorbell, then run back to the golf cart and drive away before the door could be answered. Sarah said they laughed and laughed and then they did it again. Sarah told me how much she treasured that weekend with her grandfather. I imagine they are still being silly together in heaven.

When I returned from Arizona to pick up the girls, my dad drove me in his golf cart out to the site where his new house was to be built. It reminded me of the times when I was a teenager and he'd drive me into the Hollywood Hills to show me where future housing tracts were going to be carved out of the hills then covered mostly with sage. He was good at foreseeing land development, especially ones financed by the mortgage banking company he headed. I always had mixed emotions about the beauty of the hills being replaced by tract homes. From the seat of the golf cart that Sunday afternoon he pointed out the views that would be seen from the yet-to-be-built house, the one he signed the papers for on the day he died.

Because my mother had Multiple Sclerosis, my father became President of the Los Angeles chapter of the M.S. Society. At one of their fund-raisers he'd introduced me to Robin Williams, who was helping to raise money that night.

Another person who helped my father raise money for M.S. was Merlin Olsen. Mr. Olsen at the time was a retired defensive tackle who had played 15 years for the Los Angeles Rams. He's a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During the 80's he teamed with Dick Enberg to broadcast football games on television. He was a spokesman for FTD Florist and later had a career in acting. I am sure he was good at raising money for the M.S. Society too.

Following my father's funeral, Mr. Olsen drove many miles through Los Angeles to stop by my father's house so he could express his condolences in person. He was one of the few who made that effort. I recall shaking his hand. It was quite large and thick and it engulfed mine. His presence not only honored my father but helped to brighten a gloomy day. I will always hold a warm place in my heart for the special effort he made when my family and I were mourning.
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