My father Don Gregory died today. He was 80. His body failed him despite a strong spirit and a heart full of love for his wife Kaye and his children and grandchildren.
My Dad was a larger than life figure. Tall, with a deep voice and the grit of a guy determined to prove himself. He grew up in the Bronx, losing his father when he was just four. He always felt a void in his life because of it. He carried self doubts, but was blessed with charm and a great sense of humor. He liked to dream big dreams seeing his name in lights.
He moved to California seeking an acting career and later joined the Army stationed in Germany where he discovered friendships that lasted a lifetime and performed shows to make the troops laugh a little.
He made his mark in show business as an agent for the likes of Harry Belafonte, Bobby Darin, Frank Gorshin and Red Buttons. And as a Broadway producer. He successfully revived “Camelot” and “My Fair Lady” in the early 80’s and also produced “The Belle of Amherst” with Julie Harris as well as “Clarence Darrow” with Henry Fonda. He loved the theater: the buzz and fear of an opening night and thrill of a crowd on its feet roaring its approval for a production Dad had cradled from the beginning. New York, New York. Despite the ups and downs of Broadway, Dad made it there and carried that with him always.
Those are a few of the credits, but there was more to the man. The picture here is one my favorites. Taken at the All Star Game in Anaheim a few years back, we enjoyed a great night of baseball with my oldest son Max and Kaye. Dad and baseball are some of my greatest memories. He took my sister Stephanie and me to more Dodger games that I can count and indulged my relentless adoration for Steve Garvey.
Family was important to him. So were laughs, friends, travel, tennis, the sound of a grandchild on the phone, books about WW2 and his old movies which he watched over and over again (even on VHS). Nothing mattered more than Kaye, my stepmother and his wife of more than thirty years. Theirs was sweet romance.
In my book, How’s Your Faith, I wrote about the strains in my relationship with Dad as a kid and in my adulthood. Recounting those periods in the book brought us closer together because it allowed us to find a resting place for those memories and move on.
Dad was determined to fight as his body was shutting down but he also felt vulnerable and afraid. He grappled with the mystery of death and was hit, as with a blunt object, by the reality of it. But he found some beauty in the idea of being called home. He wondered whether he might see his parents again, his sister Diane, his cousin David, and his friend Dave Curtin. That was a pretty thought.
Dad wasn’t a religious man, but he grew more interested in my own faith path and felt lifted by our conversations about being open to God’s grace.
I saw him last as I was leaving him in Florida Wednesday morning and said I hoped to see him again, but if he died before I returned it was okay because my heart was full. I loved him and was grateful he was my father because he taught me so much about how to live. There was nothing left unsaid between us.
I held his hand and through our tears read Adon Olam from my daily prayer book:
“Into His hand my soul I place when I awake and when I sleep. God is with me, I shall not fear; body and soul from harm will He keep.”
Rest easy my dear father. The lights are still shining.