In Memorium, Hilary Thomas Masters (February 3, 1928-June 14, 2015)

It goes something like this…

Let me tell you a story of a man who went down to the sea in ships, of an imaginary knight who took to the sky, of the struggles and joys of a man possessed by love and all things worth living for…

I knew my father.  I knew him as only his son and friend can.  As father and son we attempted to fly, to join up.  But it was as comrades and friends that we finally earned our wings.  As an only child in what would today be called a “dysfunctional family” he came to us with whatever he had learned from his grandfather, an old 19th century cavalry soldier: deep morality, sense of duty and a set of standards to which perhaps even he could never rise.  Hard work was forever its own reward.  This was sometimes bitter and angry when mixed with his love for us, yet that never stopped us from loving each other, as only great and deep friendships can attest.  He was, after all, my father.

He was a sailor, a skier, a swimmer, a writer, a newspaper man, an historian, a photographer.  He learned how to build with wood, cement, paper, plastic, paint.  He drove his Morgan Plus-4 with joy and calm excitement.  His love of history and adventure drew him to the stories of the great aces of the First World War, an age of modern chivalry when derring-do flew hand-in-hand with honor and comradery.  He became Dilly O’Dally, the Irish ace of the skies over the Western Front in 1917.  He was, after all, my father and I knew him for 50 years.

Writing was his real work, although he taught for many years to pay the bills.  “One must always work,” he would say to me.   This ethos kept him laboring, pushing, grinding away at his desk every day, word by word, sentence by sentence.  I do this now, but in a different medium, as do my sisters.  He was, after all, my father and I knew him for 50 years as he taught me of these things.

When I saw him just a month or so ago, he said to me, “Tell your mother that I love her…”  Despite a painful and long separation and divorce, he asked about my mother often.  Maybe some regret plagued him, a guilt that only he could really ever know.  Or perhaps not.  I think it was just love bubbling up from below, or a memory of love, a memory of green trees in the Hudson Valley or a beach on Cape Cod, of three children and a home, a family unlike the family he had known as a child.  He was, after all, our father for well over 50 years and we loved him in the only way we had ever been taught.

Like Greek drama, there is no surprise finish.  At the end of the story the great ace of the skies, the sailor, the man who loved life ends the struggle and, running low on fuel and mortally wounded by the betrayals of age, banks his delicate spruce and canvas craft and heads west.  He was, after all, my father and I loved him and knew him for 50 years.

HTM, 2006

HTM, 2006



4 Responses to In Memorium, Hilary Thomas Masters (February 3, 1928-June 14, 2015)

  1. Catherine June 17, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

    Lovely, John.

  2. Pam June 17, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    Beautifully felt and expressed, easy to receive, joy in the lives described so well.
    Well done, John.

  3. Euphrosyne Doxiadis June 17, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    My Dearest John,

    my sincerest condolences for the loss of your father. Your “In Memoriam” text is rarely moving and beautiful. Very few texts can move me to tears nowadays but reading the beautiful goodbye to your father I read it progressively through tears that flooded my eyes. What a lovely text! What a great piece of writing. Powerful, genuine emotion propping it up making it the unshakable monument you have built for your dad. He sounds like a wonderful man and you have paid him here a magnificent tribute. God bless you, my dearest John. As we say in Greece: “May you live to remember him!” By writing about him you also make him immortal. Thank you for sharing these feelings with us.

    With love always,
    Euphrosyne xxx

  4. William June 22, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    Your portrait of Hilary is wonderful to read. He was my teacher each of my four years at CMU and we stayed in touch over the years after I left Pittsburgh. Hilary was always so generous of his time and talent, always interested in the lives of his students, forgiving and pushing simultaneously. The photograph of the dog on the street in your banner reminds me very much of one of Hilary’s photographs — or perhaps it was yours all along and I didn’t know it. Thank you to you and your sisters for sharing Hilary with so many students over the years. Much peace and love to you. w.