Grandpa Harry: June 27, 1905 – March 30, 2011

Harry Reese Gillespie

June 27, 1905 – March 30, 2011

My grandfather Harry passed away this week and I am devastated. He was 105 years old and while I know this is the normal course of life, this is an enormous loss for me and anyone who knew him. He was kind, thoughtful, generous, insightful and has been an integral influence in my life.

I have many fond memories of him throughout my childhood, but it is our adult relationship that perhaps means the most. I never got to have a fully adult relationship with my mother — I was in college when she passed away — but I did get to cultivate that with Harry (her father) and I cherish it. He was a man of integrity who had a healthy dose of pride and even though I was 72 years his junior he always made me feel that he valued my opinion and ideas and actually asked for both almost every conversation. He was an incredible person and has been a source of strength for me, especially since losing my mother and since Gwendolyn's SMA diagnosis, continuing to give me perspective and guidance up until he became ill a few weeks ago. I feel so honored and truly fortunate that he was my grandfather.

This is a post I wrote in 2009 about who he is and why he is so special. And below is a video of when we drove 5,000 miles in an RV from California to Mississippi to introduce Harry and Gwendolyn. The video is of that very first meeting. Bill and I had visited Harry many times as a couple, but because Gwendolyn cannot fly it was literally a dream come true for our family to make that “Sponsor-A-Mile” trip. It was life changing for us and I know it meant the world to Harry to meet Gwendolyn. The big introduction day was so meaningful, as were the days that followed of just being by his side, watching him hold Gwendolyn, and seeing her light up in awe of him. And I will never forget how boyish Harry was when the Mayor presented him with a “Distinguished Citizen” award. I loved how young at heart he always was — even at 105!

I visited him again last July by myself and when my sister called that he wasn't doing well a few weeks ago I had the chance to spend a few days with him one last time. I needed those visits so very much and I think he did, too. I know he knew how much I appreciated him and adored him, but having the chance to tell him once more helps me as I search for healing. I am holding on to his words very tightly today and I know I will need them as I struggle going forward:

I need you to know that no matter where I am, I love you.

I love you too, Harry! Thank you for being you!