Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Twenty-one years ago on this day, we celebrated my father’s forty-fourth birthday. I can’t remember exactly what we did that day—maybe we went out to eat at one of Dad’s favorite restaurants: The Old San Francisco Steakhouse (where we’d ooh and aah over the girl swinging to precipitous heights), Red Lobster (where we kids would squirm and squeal over the aquatic creatures), or perhaps it was Traildust (where Dad delighted in wearing outrageous neckties, knowing they’d be cut off and displayed there). Maybe he wore one of his infamous Hawaiian shirts that night, and maybe he teased our waitress with a grinning, “Tell you what: I’ll flip a coin; double or nothing.”

One thing I know for sure: on that day—January 21, 1989—we had no idea that it would be Dad’s last birthday here on earth. Two weeks later, he had a sudden and massive heart attack that ushered him into the presence of Jesus—much sooner than we wanted, but exactly on time according to God, who numbers our days and calls us home at exactly His appointed time (Job 14:5; Psalm 37:18).

My younger sister, Heather, was only eight years old when my dad died. (Note: I have an eight-year-old daughter, and I realized anew today just how young eight years is. Very young. Much too young to lose a father forever. Oh, God, You alone know best.) Concerned that Heather wouldn’t remember much about her father, my mom asked a few of Dad’s friends and business associates to write a letter to Heather, sharing a memory or thought about Dad.

The result, as anyone who knew Brian Haney would have guessed, is that the floodgates opened, and letters poured in. I have a file folder brimming with letters from friends, family, members of the Sunday school classes he taught over the years, business associates—people from all over the nation eagerly contributed to the patchwork of letters woven with remembrances of my dad.

Every year, on the anniversary of Dad’s homegoing, I pull out that file folder and reread the letters, to remember. Twelve years ago, I shared them with my then-fiancé Brett, handing him the bulging folder and saying, “Here, I’d like to introduce you to my dad. You would have loved him.” And no doubt, he would have loved Brett. And my kids. I can’t wait for him to meet them in heaven.

So today, on what would have been Dad’s sixty-fifth birthday, I’d like to share just a glimpse of these letters with you. I can’t possibly share them all—there are far too many!—but I can at least introduce you to the man who had a lifelong impact on me, who taught me to love the Lord and His church, who showed me how to have fun, and demonstrated a life of faithfulness, integrity, and joy.

Jan and girls,
We can never tell you enough what you have all meant to our lives. We miss Brian terribly! Your encouraging words to us as newlyweds and then as young adults have meant more to us than you’ll ever know. But most important, you and Brian taught us that Christianity is a lifestyle and begins in the home! Thank you for that. Brian, of course, showed us that the Christian life is fun and to be shared. Thank you both for sharing!

In Him,
Scott and Brenda Jackson
(church friends)

Dear Jan and the girls,
The first time I met Brian, I knew he was a winner. There are a few people you meet in your lifetime who you immediately know are someone special, and Brian was one of them. He was self-confident, sincere, and had a special presence about him. I knew he was a person I wanted to become associated with.
Brian was the first salesman hired in the Dallas district, and without question, the best. Brian’s customers saw the same thing in him that I did and he was tremendously respected in the grocery industry.
I worked closely with Brian throughout our nineteen years of business and personal relationship. When I became Regional Manager in Lever’s Personal Products Division, the first person I asked to join our team was Brian. As usual, his district won every award.
When I was promoted to National Sales Manager, I tried to persuade Brian to relocate to Los Angeles, as a Regional Manager, and later to relocate to New York to head up our National Accounts Department. Brian refused both promotions for personal reasons.
The personal reasons were his family. His family always came first, which I greatly respected. I could have learned a lot from Brian in this area.
I never met a person who could balance his business, personal, and religious life so well. I never once saw Brian in a situation that his family would not have been proud of him. Brian led by example, and he made many other people better for having known him.
One of our most fun times was when I opened my own company, and Brian became my boss. Brian used to love to kid me about how everything comes full circle. Brian was very instrumental in helping me get my company off the ground. He worked with us as if he were a member of our team. He was very patient and helpful as we strived to reach his high standards. Brian was the first and only person ever on my company’s Board of Directors. . . .

I was shocked when told of his passing. There have been few times in my life that I have cried, and that was one of them. He was one of my very closest friends, and I would have done anything for him.
The funeral was a tremendous tribute to Brian. Hundreds of people attended from all over the country, both personal and business associates. I have never been more impressed in my life.
There are very few Brian Haneys that come along in this world, and the “Haney Ladies” had the greatest guy I ever met. Brian had a major impact on my life, and I will never forget him.

Dan Womack
(business associate)

Dear Heather,

Brian was a very special man to us. We looked up to him and thought the world of him. We knew him a long time. He touched our lives the most when we were newly married. He was the director of young adults at Lakeland then. Every Sunday we would come to church and we knew Brian was there, because he rearranged the chairs every week. I guess it was his way of keeping things exciting, and that it did. Brian loved Sunday school parties, so we could play some of his games. His favorite was pushing a peanut across the floor with our nose. We did this relay style. Brian got as much kick out of watching us as if he were playing himself. He loved games, and we would beg him to let us think of the games the next time.
Brian always had a smile on his face where ever you saw him and a jolly little laugh. He was a good teacher of the Bible and a leader. Brian was our dear friend, and we loved him a lot.

Tony and Teresa Thurmond
(church friends)

Jan and girls,

I learned more about values and priorities from Brian than from any man I’ve ever met. A lot of people state that God and family are important in their lives, but Brian lived that belief every day of his life. With that kind of peace of mind, it is easy to see why he was such a cheerful, confident man.
The question of “Why Brian?” is one that I and many others are asking at this time, but as he told me on the golf course last week, “I’ll be there . . . my slate’s clean. I’ll see what I can do for you guys if I get there first!”
His sense of humor, willingness to always help others, and his unabashed love for God and family are just a few of the traits that I will miss, but never forget. . . .
The services at Lakeland, aptly titled “A Celebration of Life,” were as moving and inspiring as any I have ever witnessed. Our group got together afterward for some “good ole Texas barbecue” as Brian fondly called it, and reminisced of our many happy experiences with him.
Dan Murphy
(business associate)

Dear Beth, Jennifer, and Heather,

Brian meant a great deal to me as a Christian brother, friend, and fellow deacon. There were some characteristics that he had that I hope you each will take as your own. They are as follows:

1. He loved people.
2. He was always positive about everything and believed God would give positive results.
3. He was always willing to help others in their time of need.
4. He was willing to listen to us.
5. He loved Jesus and reflected that love.

There were two times that were especially fun times with your dad that I will always remember. They are as follows:

1. One evening, we had a meal at your home for our supper group, and we had to eat our meal in courses and only with certain pieces of hardware to use.
2. The weekend we had Western emphasis at church, he had all the different games such as seed spitting, water balloons, egg throwing, cow chips, etc. He enjoyed directing it and it was a day enjoyed by everyone, especially me.

I miss your dad very much. . . . May God bless you all in the days ahead.

In Christ’s love,
Carl Welch
(fellow deacon at FBC Highland Village)

Brian Haney was undoubtedly one of the most unique individuals I have had the privilege of knowing in my lifetime.

As a coworker in Lakeland Baptist Church, Brian understood and practiced the fine art of organizing and motivating people in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the church. He was an eternal optimist and a contagiously enthusiastic person. His priority and emphasis was always on people. He was a great communicator. He dearly loved people and knew how to show it. He was never satisfied to maintain the status quo. Brian was, without a doubt, the most effective lay Sunday school worker I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
As a businessman, I had the opportunity to relate to Brian in the cold, sometimes cruel, world of buying and selling as a buyer for the A&P Food Stores, when he was a salesman for Lever Brothers Co. For approximately eight years, we experienced the challenge of making a profit for our respective companies in a highly competitive market. During this time I learned that when Brian promised something, you could count on it being done as stated. He was a man of his word.
As a friend, Brian was a person I knew I could call on at any time, day or night, without apology, and he would respond. . . .

Brian was much more than this, but space will not allow a record of who and what he was. He was a man of God. He was my good friend, and I miss him very much. I know we will meet again in Heaven!

Wayne Galbreath
(church friend and fellow deacon at Lakeland)

Brian Haney was such a special Christian friend to me.
There are many things I could write about, but a few stand out as being very special.
I remember that several years ago, he would come by the church many times after work just to say hello to us and see how we were doing. Knowing that I was a widow and having difficulty getting by financially, he came by the church at Christmastime and brought me a huge box of every kind of soap, toothpaste, etc. Juts things he knew I needed, not realizing the full extent that he was helping me. I shall always be grateful for that ministry.

He loved Jesus so much that all he did was just an overflow of that love. He could not help but share it with others in ministering to them.

Yes, he was a very special man and he loved his family so very much. You were the most important thing in his life, with the exception of Jesus.

Please don’t think of how young he was when the Lord called him home—just think of how much living he did in those years.

My best to all of you,
Ava Flanagan
(church secretary at Lakeland)

Dear Jan and girls,

Very simply, Brian, in the short 13 months I knew him, had the greatest impact as a human and Christian in my life, outside my wife of course. He was a joy to my heart at all times. He allowed God to “shine” though him. He was at all times an inspiration to me and all those he came in contact with. He never failed to say to me how much he valued our friendship and thanked me for helping him with my time in business matters! I, of course, was quick to point out the fact that his spirit, clarity, and wit were not only a breath of God-given fresh air to me and my wife, but also to all of his fellow workers at Ragu. When I think of how our Lord wishes us to “sow” seeds of salvation and treat our fellow human beings with the greatest of commandments, “love,” Brian our (my) friend is number one.

One time we had to share a room together at a business function due to the fact that the hotel was short of space. We shared thoughts most of the evening. I told Brian that I was wrestling with a problem about witnessing and being what God wanted me to be. As always, he cleared the thought process right up for me. He said, “Jim, just reach up and hold His hand as a child would and just walk beside and with Him. He wants you to be just you; that’s why He created you the way you are.”

Once again the Lord puts in place those necessary people in each of our lives to get the job done. Brian was that kind of Christian and friend. In business matters and meetings, he insisted that everyone get their egos out of the way and deal from a position of truthfulness and constructive thoughts that were not only good for the spirit but good for the body (business) on the whole. When Linda and I think of Brian, it always brings a smile to our faces and a warmness to our hearts.

What a great legacy to leave. . . .

Our love and prayers to you always,
Jim Pagliaroni
(business associate)

Dear Heather,
I remember your daddy as a friend beyond comparison. He was a man of compassion, a man of dedication, someone you could always count on, and in short, a man I was always proud to introduce as my friend. For over 20 years, we knew each other, and my feelings for him are today as loving as when we first met.

There are few people on this earth that I person can honestly love. I think a dad would always love his wife, his children, and his family. Beyond those, a person has acquaintances that they can enjoy each other’s company and be friends with for a time. But there are a few that you would always be friends with and that you enjoy their company even when you’re doing nothing. These friends go beyond the norm and a deeper feeling develops. That feeling is the same as a person would feel for his own family and is simply love. That was the friendship your dad and I had for each other. I will always treasure our relationship.

Your dad was very human. In time and maybe even now, you will remember him as someone who could do no wrong. Well, your dad could do less wrong than most men. So, your remembrances will be justified. . . .

Your dad was a wonderful optimist. He always knew his golf score was going to be good, that the fish were really going to bite, and that even some bad Lever product was really good. (He never had many bad ones though!) People like that, you like being around. I heard it said his laugh was infectious. That means, when he laughed, it made others happy and they felt like laughing too. His whole being was like that; his giving of himself made others want to give too, his desire to excel helped others excel, his faith gave others hope.

He had a personal relationship with Christ so we who also have that special relationship know your dad is with Him. But the effect your dad had on others changed lives for the better, and I think that’s the best thing that can be said about a person’s life. . . .

In time, you will hear it said many times that a person lives on through those whose lives he touches. Your dad touched your life and he touched mine. We will both carry that relationship throughout our lives, and we will both be better people for it.

I love you!
Lem Smith
(longtime, dear family friend)

All through life, you meet all different kinds of people. Some are casual acquaintances, some are close friends, and some are special friends. Brian was one of those special friends to me.

I first met Brian in the fall of 1980. He welcomed me to the Personal Products Division of Lever Brothers Company at a meeting in Dallas. Right from our first meeting, I could sense that Brian was a very special person. He had a way about him that put everybody at ease. Brian would make sure that all of his employees understood that he was willing to help them out with any problem they had whether it was business or personal. You did not have to be around Brian long to see where his strength came from, because he would tell you that Jesus was the center of his life.

In a very short time, I grew to love Brian as a boss and especially as a very good friend. He was not only my boss but he soon developed into a big brother to me. Many times I was in need of someone to talk to and Brian would always invite me into his office and close the door. He would say, “I’ve got big ears, what do you need to talk about?” I knew that he really did care and he was not just trying to give me lip service.

When Brian would work with me in the field, he would expect me to give it my very best. I always worked hard and smart (as Brian would say) for him because of the respect I had for the man. . . . .

Brian was one of the top performers at Lever Brothers. He was very well respected not only for his achievements but also for his beliefs in the Lord. No one kidded Brian about his faith, they just knew the Lord was #1! Brian would always let everyone know that his success was due to “his team,” not just Brian alone. I remember at our national sales meetings, he would always have us dress alike so everyone would see that we were a team. When he was awarded any awards, he would have us come up on stage along with him because he was such a team person.

Brian was always concerned about everyone’s faith in the Lord. When people around him were hurting, he would let you know that there was one person you could turn to—Jesus! Brian would on occasion, quote Scripture to people who were hurting. During these special times, you were able not only to grow close to Brian, but you grew close to Jesus, which is what Brian wanted for you to begin with.

Brian was a very fun loving person. He loved to tell jokes (clean ones, of course!). Many times, he would tell a joke and he would be laughing so hard he couldn’t finish it. His laugh was a classic! When he got started laughing, he couldn’t stop and neither could the people around him. Most of the time, we would be laughing more at Brian than at his jokes. He would always play practical jokes on his friends Joe Haley, Terry Worlds, and Tom Gentry. They always seemed to get even with Brian though.

Brian simply lived life to its finest extent.

After Jesus, the most important thing in Brian’s life was his family. His eyes would sparkle as he talked about any one of his girls. Each of you were so special to him. He was so proud of all his girls’ accomplishments. Usually, the first thing he would talk about during our Friday meetings was his girls and what they had done during the week. One thing that he let us know was that he would never remove his wedding ring. He said that once he stated his vows, he was not to take his ring off. The ring represented that he and Jan had become one. . . .

It has taken me quite a while to write this letter because of my love for Brian. I know how it hurt each of you to lose your husband and father, but I also lost one of my very best friends—my “big brother.” I can’t wait for the moment when I get to Heaven and meet up with Brian again. I can picture it now—Brian and St. Peter fishing, eating bar-b-que, and telling Aggie jokes!!!

God bless you all,
Dan Abram

Well, there are dozens of other letters I could share with you, but time (and tears!) will not permit it. I just wanted to share a few of them with you today, in memory and honor of my dad.

Happy birthday, Dad! We miss you and love you!

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