When Tommy Lerue Fairchild decided something was happening, it was. People say, “I’m going to do this, or I’m going to do that; I’m going to learn this; I’m going to build one of those,” and they don’t. That wasn’t Dad. It might not go smoothly, he might use a sledge hammer and a cutting torch when an end wrench would work just fine, but he’d make it happen. When I was a little boy, it almost seemed like he had the power to will things into existence. He turned a three wheeler into a four wheeler. I watched him mould raw steel into horse shoes. I saw him cast lead into weights for decoys. He introduced me to the idea that it’s often better to build something than buy it.
Dad grew up training horses. That life had mostly come and gone by the time I was in the picture, but I always got the impression from horse people that he’d had quite the knack for it. He’d found waterfowl hunting and was beginning into dogging. I can tell you that he certainly DID have a special ability to relate with dogs and was probably one of the more educated people in the world on the subject of interacting with working dogs. He cared deeply for animals, and sometimes wondered if he’d missed his calling by not becoming a veterinarian. I submit to you that, while Dad clearly had a special ability with animals, his true calling was with people.
He touched so many lives. Literally hundreds of people have contacted me in the last several days to offer condolences and assert that they’d always thought fondly of him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him go out of his way to help a seemingly random with no expectation of reciprocation. I grew up going to school in Tullahoma where he taught. The school system is small enough there (or it was then) that most all the teachers at all the schools knew each other. If I did something at school, he knew about it, and in turn I knew plenty of the kids who wound up in his in-school-suspension or alternative school classes. I’d see them in my classes, and they’d be disruptive, disrespectful, refuse to do their work or use a combination of these behaviors to conceal their difficulties with course work. One of these kids would ruin whole class periods for most teachers, but I would walk into my dad’s classroom, and there would be a room full of these kids quietly working and politely asking him when they needed help. His concern went well beyond the classroom, and I can think of several young men today other than myself who view him as a father. I couldn’t, however, even begin to wager guess how many hundreds of young lives he positively impacted during his teaching career.
Today, I’m speaking with you, and we’re living in a world where so many boys will grow into men without firing a rifle at a target, watching the sun rise over a swamp, rebuilding a carburetor, patching a hole in drywall, or even changing their own oil. I guess I live in that world now, but my dad would have never let me grow up there. There are things that a man does and knows. He taught me that I need to know where the distributor is and how to change spark plugs. I need to know what that tool is and what this one does. He taught me so much about mechanical troubleshooting and problem solving.
My dad taught me that sometimes the whole world goes the wrong direction, that “right” is “right” despite everything, and that I can find inside myself the will and understanding to accomplish ANYTHING. I’ve only recently realized that most people don’t grow up totally convinced that they could learn or do anything in the whole world. But, see, I grew up watching a special education teacher with a masters degree form things from steel, win physical fights with horses, and teach dogs to do amazing things
Most of you know that our relationship was volatile at times. Looking at that in the rear-view, I know I’d have a much less thorough understanding of what it means and requires to love unconditionally if our relationship had been easier. Two weeks ago, I noticed he’d kept for years on his end table in the living room a note from me written on scrap paper. After he passed, I wondered what was so important about that piece of paper—why he’d kept it so long. It must have been written a year or two after I’d graduated high school. I don’t recall the specifics; we’d had an argument about one thing or another, and mostly the note is me trying to find some logic in our irrational behavior. But, there on the fourth tiny page of chicken scratch, there were some very important things he’d taught me. I’ll finish with those:
Honesty is paramount: A man is only as good as his word.
Work hard at whatever you do.
Treat others fairly.
Lend a helping hand wherever you can.
Remember that your dog is your best friend and the best listener you’ll ever find.