Notes on Love and Courage: The Eulogy of a Very Important Man
By Nate Thayer
January 22, 2014
In recent days, I have been perusing through files and papers while organizing the final details of preparing my book, Sympathy for the Devil, for publication.
Today I came across a handwritten eulogy I wrote which I delivered at the memorial services for my step father, Ivor Leclerc, held at the National Cathedral Church in Washington D.C., after he died in May 1999.
I was living in Bangkok at the time of Ivor’s death, and I flew the long transcontinental flight back to attend the memorial services where I gave the church eulogy, at the request of his wife, my mother, to a man I loved very much. I arrived the evening before and, the following morning, prior to the church services, I sat in my mother’s back garden in the crisp spring air and thought what Ivor Leclerc had meant to me and what kind of man he was. I wrote down the below words during those 30 minutes sitting in the garden which I delivered as his eulogy at the altar of the church a couple hours later.
“My name is Nate Thayer and I am Ivor Leclerc’s stepson and, like those of you here today, I loved him deeply and I would like to tell you some of the reasons why.
Ivor, as you know, was a brilliant man. His intellectual prowess was truly astounding and that is part of his legacy which lives on forever through his books and the scholarship he imparted on a lifetime of students and colleagues.
But that is not why I loved him. To be honest, I didn’t understand what the hell he was talking about most of the time. I tried, through hundreds of hours of conversations where he would often skip from centuries and academic disciplines while the rest of us mortals would be relegated to the day’s headlines.
I play a little game sometimes and open up to any page in any of his many books and try to find one page where I understand the meaning of every word on it. I have never succeeded.
I had breakfast with my brother this morning and he related a story from a conversation he had with Ivor a few weeks ago. Sitting in Ivor’s room, my brother mentioned that Ivor’s effects were imminently arriving from England, with his beloved books and papers.
Ivor was very lucid and excited and said what wonderful news that was, that now he could get back to his writing and book.
Gently, Robert inquired as to, after a lifetime of work, that perhaps now was a time to reflect on life’s achievements. “Oh No!” said Ivor adamantly. “There is just too much to be done!”
He might have felt that, but I would like to reflect on what Ivor had already done, for me and others.
If Ivor had chosen to, he could have been very intellectually intimidating, but he wasn’t. But he was intimidating in another, very gentle and positive way.
Ivor Leclerc was a profoundly kind, loving, forgiving, encouraging, and gentle man, and the utter beauty—indeed starkness—of these qualities made those around him absorb them and take them on as their own.
Without ever uttering a word, he could exorcise the shallow, or mean-spiritness, or judgmental, or selfish or hurtful behavior that we all sometimes exhibit, and, like a magician, make it disappear. One simply felt guilty to behave badly in Ivor’s presence. I think it made him sad to see people not be loving.
Ivor was one who utterly lacked pettiness, but had an infinite capacity for forgiveness of it in others.
And, I can assure you, when I came into his life as a particularly insufferable and confused young teenager—a very unpleasant species indeed—I must have tried his patience. But he never, ever said anything.
Through the normal swirl of bickering and complicate rancor that at times erupts as a family grows into adults, Ivor would sit quietly and listen—never offering a comment or joining the fray. Once the juvenile or petty or selfish or hurtful behavior subsided, he would rejoin the conversation as if it had never happened.
You knew he disapproved simply because he refused to participate. He would sit silently and observe.
Ivor taught by example. One changed when in Ivor’s presence, one simply improved. One saw that his approach to life was better. It brought more joy to all.
I can say with certainty that, in 25 years, I never had an encounter with Ivor Leclerc where he didn’t offer a kind word, words of encouragement, and a compliment.
I am a better person because I was blessed to have had Ivor in my life. These gentle and loving lessons were to impact the very foundation of how I, and I am sure many others, decide to try and conduct our lives. And as I grew, It was Ivor’s goodness that would often guide me in the way I tried to treat others.
This is the extraordinary and beautiful legacy of an extraordinary and beautiful man who lives on inside the spirit of many of us here today.
If we could each take a lesson from Ivor’s ways towards other human beings and make them part of how we conduct ourselves, how we treat others, how much brighter the world would be. I know he would like that. And perhaps we, too, could change for the better, ourselves or another precious and insecure soul.
It is this, this extraordinary and beautiful legacy of this extraordinary and beautiful man, which will always live on, and guide us, in our own spirits.
Because of him, Ivor Leclerc, the world is a better place when he left us than when he came into our lives.
And that we should celebrate while we mourn.”
Ivor Leclerc was a Philosopher, a Metaphysician, a Professor, and an Author who was a noted authority on the works of Leibniz and Alfred North Whitehead. He was the Fuller E. Callaway Professor Emeritus of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He died from Alzheimer’s disease, age 84, May 16 1999 in Washington. He retired from Emory in 1982 after 21 years at the University. He was born in South Africa as a British citizen in 1915 and joined the South African army during World War II. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa, his master’s from the University of Cape Town and his PhD from the University of London King’s College in 1949. He spent 11 years at the University of Glasgow and then three years at the University of Bonn before coming to Emory. He was noted for his work on Whitehead and the philosophy of nature.
His books include:
Whitehead’s Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition; The Relevance of Whitehead: Philosophical Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Alfred North Whitehead; Whitehead’s Metaphysics; The Nature Of Physical Existence; The Philosophy of Nature; The Philosophy of Leibniz and the Modern World; The Nature of Physical Existence, Volume 2; among others.
In addition, there was a book honoring him with the published works written by some of his colleagues titled “Metaphysics as Foundation: Essays in Honor of Ivor Leclerc.”
“The essays in this book examine the proposition that an interpretation of subjects and subjectivity from the ontological perspective, first outlined by Alfred North Whitehead and elaborated by Ivor Leclerc, provides the foundation that is essential in order to develop a philosophy of nature and human action.”
Ivor Leclerc also published many scholarly articles in academic journals. One, Whitehead And The Problem Of God, was published in 1970. An academic colleague reviewed it with the following:
“Surely one of the more significant thinkers in the philosophy of nature at this time is Ivor Leclerc. First in The Nature of Physical Existence and more recently in the Philosophy of Nature, he has reviewed key concepts of the discipline (for example matter and motion, space and time, extension) and come to the conclusion that they are outdated in terms of contemporary development in the natural sciences. Consequently in the latter half of these books, he sets forth his own understanding of these concepts. For the purpose, he by self-admission is heavily indebted to I Kant in his precritical period, G.W. Leibniz, and, above all, Alfred North Whitehead, even though he himself espouses a modified Aristotelianism in these matters.
Leclerc freely admits that he is heavily indebted to Alfred North Whitehead both for his interpretation of Leibniz’s Monadology and for the dynamic understanding of Aristotle’s substantial form. But, says Leclerc, there is a major difference between his own understanding of substance and the Whiteheadian notion of “society”, that is, a spatially and temporarally organized group of “actual occasions.”
I found stapled to my handwritten three page eulogy an excerpt from one of my favorite books: “Notes on Love and Courage” by Hugh Prather. I don’t remember when I attached the two documents, but they fit seamlessly, it seems to me.
It reads: “We need other people, not in order to stay alive, but to be fully human: to be affectionate, funny, playful, to be generous. How genuine is my capacity for love if there is no one for me to love, to laugh with, to treat tenderly, to be trusted by? I can love an idea or a vision, but I can’t throw my arms around it. Unless there is someone to whom I can give my gifts, in whose hands I can entrust my dreams, who will forgive me my deformities, my aberrations, to whom I can speak the unspeakable, then I am not human, I am a thing, a gadget that works but has no ashes.”
I miss Ivor Leclerc and I thank him for making me a better man than I was before he graced my life when I was a boy and, through his actions, helped guide me into being a more worthy adult. He was a man of both Love and Courage.