I thought I would post a copy of the eulogy that my mom, sister, and I wrote for my Dad and that I had the honor of delivering at his funeral. My brother-in-law, whom my dad loved dearly and who is a pastor, also did a beautiful eulogy weaved into the beautiful service he led about my dad.
This was the message from me, Mom, and Hannah:
Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Haley Heath, Duke Heath’s youngest daughter. On behalf of my family, I want to thank all of you for being here today to remember, honor, and celebrate my dad’s life.
On behalf of my family, I also want to thank the entire Wynne community, our many friends and loved ones from all over, and loyal coworkers for the way you have cared for our family. We have been truly humbled by the love we have been shown. We want to especially thank Virginia Johnson, Barbie Hodges, and Brenda Goatcher, who gave Duke excellent, compassionate care during his illness and whose kindness we will never forget. Part of my Dad’s legacy now is the goodness we have learned about humankind in the mercy we have been shown over and over from all of you.
Dad grew up here in Wynne. He played many sports for Wynne High, including throwing the discus and shot put and being a force to be reckoned with on the football field.
At age 17 he went on his first date with my mother, who was 14 at the time.
He loved my mother her whole life. They were truly best friends. And she felt the same way about him. She loved him and stayed by his side to the very end of his life, just like he would have done for her.
After graduating from Wynne High School in 1973, my dad went to ASU. He was offered a scholarship spot on the football team. Instead, he very quickly completed all the course work needed to enter dental school at the University of Tennessee. During dental school, he managed to play on five different intramural basketball teams at the same time. When he was studying, who knows.
Around this time, Dad got really into racquet ball, a hobby he would enjoy for many years. He and mom traveled all over the state of Arkansas going to racquet ball tournament after racquet ball tournament. Dad won the Division A racquet ball competition for the City of Memphis.
Mom and Dad had Hannah in 1982 and me in 1986. What Dad loved most in his life was his family. He delighted in his wife and daughters, and more recently, in his grandchildren.
One of our favorite family traditions included our beach trips to Destin, Florida, which holds a treasured place in our hearts and was home to many family memories. We often took friends with us on these trips. With Dad, every regular old day was an adventure, so you can only imagine what our family vacations were like. He’d take us parasailing and jet-skiing, but for him, the best adventures were just being together. We loved late nights playing board games and laughing together on those vacations.
Later, Duke also delighted in all of his grandchildren, and they loved their Duke Duke fiercely. He could make them laugh like no other and he made sure they knew they were loved. As his grandson Elijah said recently, “He’s the best Duke Duke in the world. He might be the only Duke Duke, but even if he weren’t the only one, he’d still be the best.”
Dad was kind and gentle and had a deep sensitivity for others’ feelings. If anyone had had a rough day or had gotten their feelings hurt, he would do whatever was necessary to make them feel better, which often included an elaborate joke, a homemade milkshake, or a late night trip to Sonic. He had a tender heart and could not stand to see another hurting. He would do whatever he could to help. For example, when my sister was little her favorite teddy bear got damaged. While a common response might have been an empathetic “I’m sorry” Dad took the bear to his dental office, did surgery on it to extract and replace the stuffings, sewed it up, and brought it back as good as new. When I broke a favorite ceramic decoration, Dad made replica after replica out of acrylic until I had a new one exactly like the one I had broken.
Dad had a gift for using his words to encourage others. He went out of his way to affirm others and always had an encouraging word ready. He was constantly ready to build people up, to cheer them on in their successes, and comfort them in their failures. He loved well and lavishly and made sure everyone dear to him knew they were treasured. When we would be away at camp, Dad would make sure we had multiple letters a day, complete with poems, elaborate jokes, and his love for us. We’d go to our mailbox for a five day summer camp, and have three cards per day from my dad. Hannah said sometimes it would be a joke starting on Monday that built up over the week, and you would not get to the punch line until the last day of camp. Sometimes it would simply be a piece of paper he cut out in the shape of a musical quarter note, with the simple message, written in his terrible hand writing, “just wanted to drop you a note.”
He also had a deeply generous spirit and loved to bring others joy. Christmases and birthdays at our house were the stuff of legend. Dad once built a log cabin inside our house so that it would be there for us on Christmas, only to have to disassemble it to move it outside. When we turned 16, Dad bought Hannah and me pretty cool convertibles. At that time he was driving a really old van, but he put us in the absolute works. He always put others before himself, and he was never happier than when he was making someone else happy.
Every single time my mom had a birthday, or on their anniversary, or on Valentine’s day, my mom would get a bouquet of flowers that looked like the center piece for a royal wedding. I grew up thinking that was just the norm. Because it was Dad’s norm.
My favorite gift giving story of Dad’s was one Christmas morning he kept saying I’m so upset I’m so upset, I can’t find this one present for Debbie. Can anyone find it? It’s was this little green box with a red ribbon. He had us all looking for it all morning. Once we had opened all the presents, he said well maybe I dropped it outside, let’s walk out and see. We walked outside, and there stood the single most giant box you’ve ever seen. He had bought my mom a new van and wrapped it in a giant box with a giant bow on our front yard. He worked on building that box for weeks. That was classic everyday Dad.
But his generosity did not just extend just to his family. He loved helping people and would drive hours to help a friend or family member at a moment’s notice, with no complaints.
He served as a dentist in Des Arc, Arkansas, an underserved area, for many years. He gave away hours of free dentistry year after year, and many people benefitted from his generosity. He was there to help them, regardless of what they could do for him or pay to him. He got to do a medical missions trip once, and it was an experience that was very meaningful to him, being able to do something as basic as pulling teeth for people in need. Many of his patients drove for miles to have him as their dentist, when other dentists were closer to them.
One reason he was so well loved by his patients was the same reason he was so well-loved by his friends and family. He had a dynamic sense of humor and would stop at no lengths to pull off a practical joke.
Once, my grandmother asked my dad to take a pair of shoes back to ASU with him to give them to my Aunt Millie, my mom’s sister, who was in college there. When Millie went to get the shoes, instead she found a note that said, follow the clues. She was led around the city of Jonesboro on an elaborate scavenger hunt that ended under a bridge, and there were her shoes. I’m sure my grandmother wondered why on earth the man couldn’t just follow simple instructions and deliver a pair of shoes.
You can’t talk about my Dad without talking about his great intelligence. You might not know this but there is in fact an international Mensa trivia competition. Dad made it his mission to win it. His first year, he and his team got second place. The next year they won. They won a trivia competition of all of North American Mensans. He was the Mensa-ist of Mensans.
Dad was a lifelong learner, with a curious mind, resulting in many hobbies and interests. When Dad got into something, he was all in. Over the years, his “all in” attitude covered many hobbies and interests, ranging from carving pumpkins to look like people he knew to cooking to painting with the help of Bob Ross.
One of Duke’s lasting loves was science. He loved tutoring students in physics. In the last week, we have received many notes from former Wynne High students saying “your Dad saved my GPA.”
He also loved storms. Not only did he enjoy sleeping during a thunderstorm, but he loved chasing tornadoes and, once, a hurricane.
He shared this love with his family, including his nieces and nephews who all recall storm chasing with Uncle Duke, sometimes on the back of his motor cycle.
Dad was in awe of the beauty of God’s creation. He could spend hours gazing at the ocean and even got into scuba diving for awhile. He also had a great love for astronomy. He taught us and many of our friends to recognize constellations from an early age and mapped out constellations on his ceiling with glow-in-the dark stickers. He loved using his telescope, and he instilled a sense of wonder and awe into his daughters as he taught us about the vastness of the universe.
Meteor showers were a household tradition, and one that many friends often joined in on—we would go out, night after night, for hours, cover up in blankets to keep the mosquitoes away, and count the meteors that we saw. Dad was certain they’d come best to the Rolling Stones, so we’d blast the Rolling Stones while waiting on the meteors. One year there was a special meteor shower, the Leonids, in the middle of November that promised 250 an hour. But it was cloudy. So he drove hours and miles all the way into Tennessee in the middle of the night on a school night. Meaningful experiences were always worth the extra effort to my Dad.
There was a soundtrack to our family life, and it was classic rock and roll. I can never hear a good classic rock song and not think of my dad. If it was good music, Dad loved it. He took us and our friends and families to concerts all across the country.
Dad was willing to give fully of himself, never hesitating to invest his time and energy in others. He made sure everyone he loved knew they were loved—He made people feel special with his words, his actions, and his full presence in each moment.
Over the last few weeks, we have heard story after story from people of different ways my dad helped them, doing his best to alleviate another’s pain or make them feel extremely special by giving his time and his concern.
Dad was over the top in every way. Over the top generous, over the top genius, over the top fun. He was true to himself and encouraged and allowed others to be also. He was beloved by all who knew him.
He was one of a kind, a true legend.
We are so glad he was ours.