David Alfred Walsh

Volume 12, Issue 42; 26 Dec 2009; last modified 08 Oct 2010

9 June 1923 — 26 November 2009.

A man may by custom fortify himself against pain, shame, and suchlike accidents; but as to death, we can experience it but once, and are all apprentices when we come to it.

Montaigne

My father was born in 1923 in Babylon, NY.

He survived the Great Depression. An enormous tree blew over next to him as he walked home through The Great Hurricane of 1938; he walked away without a scratch. The glider born infantry took him to the China-Burma-India theater in WWII.

Shrapnel chipped a tooth, but he survived that too. After the war he went to Alaska.

My dad taught in Barrow and Nome. After putting out a chimney fire, he walked away from a two story fall off a frozen roof by the lucky stroke of landing feet-first on an oil drum.

He single-handedly built a one-room cabin on a ¼ acre plot in Fairbanks. (I think I remember seeing once a photo showing the scaffolding he built to get the roof beam in place.) He worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service in the summers.

He used to practice orienteering by walking into the Alaskan wilderness on a compass bearing and then walking back out again. On one occasion he stumbled across a downed single-engine plane containing the skeleton of its pilot. His boss laughed when my dad offered to lead a team back to the crash, assuring him that he'd never find it again. Dad's boss was right. There is a lot of wilderness out there.

On another occasion, my dad shot a caribou only to discover as he prepared to dress it that he'd left his knife back in the jeep. Leaning his rifle against a tree, he walked back and got his knife. An enormous brown bear greeted his return by standing on its hind legs and roaring. The bear got the caribou. And the rifle. And the knife, dropped during a hasty retreat.

That wasn't the only caribou that nearly got him killed; on another occasion, one attempted, unsuccessfully, to jump over his jeep. He woke on the side of the road with a caribou hoof protruding into the cab and a nasty gash on his head.

I'm lucky to be here.

When my dad left Alaska, he gave the keys to his cabin to a friend. Those keys passed from friend to friend for more than twenty years. In the eighties, the current occupant persuaded my dad to let him buy the cabin. My father signed the deed and mailed it, asking the occupant to please mail the check back. The check came back a couple of weeks later. And it cleared. Luck of the Irish, or something.

From Alaska, my dad traveled to Australia. My mom and dad met in Tasmania. They married in 1961.

I came along a few years later.

I remember my dad singing sea shanties when I was a small boy.

Dad was a naturalist, hunter, trapper, fisherman, scientist, teacher, draftsman, and surveyor. He made beautiful wood carvings. He tied knots. At one time or another, all of them. I have his leather working tools. The old sewing machine on which he made sleeping bags, tents, parkas, rain slickers, and bicycle paniers got lost somewhere along the way. He built two boats.

After 86 years, entropy won. Entropy always wins. My dad taught me that. And the first and third laws as well.

My father died in 2009 in Norwich, England.

Goodbye, dad.

Comments

Norm, what a moving tribute to a remarkable man. In your typical way, you expressed your love clearly and succinctly. The photo of him taken in September of this year shows him to be a man of great dignity and courage.

Please accept my deep condolences for the loss of your father.

—Posted by SheltieJim on 27 Dec 2009 @ 09:17 UTC #

Norm,

my sincerest condolences on the loss of your father.

From your wonderful stories and photos, it is clear that he lived a most interesting and fulfilling life!

Thank you for sharing such a moving tribute.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, as he will be well missed and well remembered.

--Scott

—Posted by Scott Hudson on 04 Jan 2010 @ 11:46 UTC #

David Walsh was a very very very nice man. He was my chemistry teacher in high school. The greatest lesson he taught me was the power of being gentle.

He was opposite the hall from another great science teacher, Mr. Couch -- an equally brilliant man. They had vastly different styles to teaching (and I would guess) to life. But they shared the same respect for each student (even if that respect was not fully earned).

Thank you for this tribute. It was a very nice reminder about life on a pretty difficult day for me personally. So that's very cool. God Bless you Mr. Walsh.

—Posted by Tom McFeeley on 14 Mar 2010 @ 09:55 UTC #

Norm, What an INCREDIBLE tribute to your Dad. It is quite a feat to be a favorite Chem teacher in high school to say the least, and he was a favorite of many. I still smile remembering his stories and your tribute brought back some more (smiles and memories both). Thank you for sharing your Dad in high school and again here with all of us. He will be missed and remembered fondly by many. - Sue McD

—Posted by Sue McDonald on 13 May 2010 @ 05:09 UTC #

Norm, I was so moved by this. I knew your father was a great man but I never really knew what made him the way he was. I'm so sorry for your loss. I remember homeroom with him and how I loved the way his whole face lit up when he smiled. He will be missed by many. Thank you for sharing this with us. Tina

—Posted by Tina Silha Struski on 13 May 2010 @ 11:21 UTC #

Norm, it was an honor to know your family, and it has been my honor to know your dad. I hope that you are well. Please visit if you come to Denver, there is much music, love and happiness. Virtus et veritas!! Rick

—Posted by Rick Wheeler on 12 Dec 2010 @ 06:36 UTC #