Annotated obituary of Richard Vieth

| January 25, 2011 | 11 Replies

Richard Vieth was my father. He died on January 14, 2011 at the age of 78, after battling cancer for the past few years. Two days ago I attended his funeral at the Hope Lutheran Church in St Charles, Missouri. The minister gave a detailed celebratory sermon.

The church was packed, even though there was no obituary; no arrangements had been made to publish one. I have decided to publish my own obituary here to make certain that anyone who wants to know about my dad can see that he lived a long active life, that he recently passed away and that he is missed by the many people whose lives he touched. I would also like to annotate this obituary with some personal observations.

At the time of his death my dad (who also went by the name of Dick Vieth) was married to Carolyn Vieth. They had been married for about 20 years and they had made their home in St. Charles, Missouri.  Monica Brown was my dad’s step-daughter (Carolyn’s daughter).  About a dozen years ago, they both adopted Lynne Bright as their daughter.  From 1953 through 1990, my dad was married to my mom, Katherine D. Vieth (formerly Katherine Wich), and they had raised five children. In order of birth, those children are Vicki Kozeny, me (Erich Vieth), Jan Vieth, Kathy Albers and Angela Vieth. My dad is one of four children; his sisters are Jeanne Mertens, Peggy Huston and Mary Malawey. He is survived by all of the above, and by more than a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

During his long career at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), Richard Vieth worked tirelessly as an aerospace engineer. He helped design cruise missiles and other highly sophisticated weapons. One of his early projects, back in the 1960’s, had been the Dragon anti-tank missile.  He took his job extremely seriously, working many evenings and weekends. When I was a teenager, I asked him how cruise missiles could know where to fly while they were traveling over water since all water would presumably look the same; he abruptly stated, “I can’t discuss that. It’s top secret.” He was deeply convinced that America needed to maintain its great military strength to stay safe, and he was proud to play a part in that effort. Upon his death he was recognized by some of his fellow engineers from McDonnell Douglas.

My dad was also a bicycle enthusiast. He made many extensive bicycle journeys here in the United States and overseas. He was an active bicyclist until a few years ago.

Richard Vieth (circa late 1960's)

My father characterized himself as a “conservative” on his Facebook page. He was especially outspoken in local Republican politics during the last few decades of his life. For instance, he was active with the St. Charles, Missouri Pachyderms.

My dad was also highly active with his church, Hope Lutheran Church. He wasn’t shy about singing loudly in the church choir nor about preaching to virtually everyone he met that they should accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Prior to his death, my dad wrote his own long eulogy and copies were passed out at his funeral (here is a copy). He wanted to make certain that the people attending his funeral knew the importance of accepting Jesus Christ.

As his only son, I can’t help comparing myself to my dad. He was a competitive extrovert, while I am an off-the-charts introvert. He was extremely religious whereas I am not. He loved to surround himself with people, including members of his family, in order to have a good time. That’s one reason the church was packed at his funeral. People took notice of my dad whenever he stepped into a room. I, on the other hand, have spent my life honing my skills at sneaking out of rooms filled with lots of people in order to recharge by reading a book, by writing or by playing the guitar.

Those who are familiar with my writings at this website might suspect that my dad and I often didn’t see eye to eye. That would be a correct assumption. We didn’t disagree about everything, mind you. For instance, we both loved science; we shared an interest in knowing how the world works and an interest in helping others to appreciate science (it did not surprise me that he donated his body to a medical school). But there seemed to be far more points of friction than accord. It started at an early age (for instance, I mention my dad in this post), and these disagreements continued to the end of my dad’s life. Most of these differences concerned politics and religion.

Looking back at how things went, it’s startling to see how often we were attracted to the same sorts of topics and activities, yet equally startling how often we ended up on opposite sides of issues. How did this come to be? I truly have no idea how we could have been so much the same and yet so different. That is probably the comment I most often hear from people who know us both: “You are so similar, you look so very much alike, you are interested in so many of the same things, you are both so opinionated, yet you are so different.” How much the same and yet different? Here’s a symbolic anecdote: My name used to be Richard Vincent Vieth, Jr. I changed it at the age of 18 because I wanted my own name. My dad was not pleased with that decision, but I’ve got to give him credit in that he directly told me that it was my decision and he “accepted it.”

Our differences mounted over the years to the point where I avoided spending time with my father for many years. I understand why I did this, but I’m not proud of it. Further, I’m certain that I hurt him with my extended absences. It was not my conscious intent to hurt him.

Dick Vieth (taken July, 2003)

But we did not end up at such a bleak impasse. A couple of years ago, after being prodded by several of my good friends, I reached out to visit with my father again. We met for lunch. He was truly delighted to see me, even after all of those years away. Following that lunch, we traded some emails. About a year ago, we sat down, just the two of us. He looked straight at me and asked me what I thought about religion. I told him a few things and he listened, then responded thoughtfully. And then an amazing thing happened. We proceeded to have a great conversation about religion and politics. We listened to each other like we never had done before. Where we disagreed strongly, we agreed to disagree. We respectfully showed a mutual interest in trying to understand each others’ world views.  We focused on what we had in common rather than on our differences. There was even a bit of humor in our disagreements.

We finally had broken through. That long conversation was better in every way than any conversation we had ever had before. Not that either of us converted the other. But maybe that isn’t the point of some conversations. As our long conversation ended that day, I looked forward to spending more my time with my dad, but I also knew that his time on earth was growing short.

My dad and I reconnected just in time and that was a fortunate thing. I hereby offer my story to others who might be struggling to get along with people they perceive to be their diametric opposites. The lesson I offer is a simple one. Don’t give up.

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Category: Communication, Friendships/relationships, History

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    The spam word was "wow!" QNS. My sympathies to you and yours. I'm very glad you had the chance to play catch with your dad.

  2. MikeFitz17 says:

    Hi, Erich: Sorry to hear of your father's passing. My own dad died seven years ago, so I know how hard this period of mourning can be and the adjustment you will need.

    Thanks for the terrific stories about your dad and your differences over the years on the topics of politics and religion. It's great that you two reconnected before he passed away, and that you will always carry good memories of that heartfelt conversation you described.

  3. My condolences on your loss, and my congratulations on your earlier reconciliation.

  4. Erich,

    If your dad was right, and he is in heaven now, I'm certain of two things: 1) he smiled to read his obituary written so eloquently by his son; and 2) he is really proud of the man you are, differences and all.

  5. TheThinkingMan says:

    I am sorry for your loss, Erich. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life of your father, and realize that he raised a very well-rounded and intelligent man as his son.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. It really helps me to appreciate the lives of the people in my own life, especially my father.

    Once again, my condolences.

  6. Karl says:

    I'm glad you have seen the value of open dialogue with one so close to you even though you once thought it very difficult to once do so. Your Dad and I have very similar perspectives so I can see why there was a strain upon your relationship for so many years.

    I try to make it a point in conversation about religion and politics to listen, and not to try to berate anyone with a fundamentally different worldview from my own.

  7. MikeFitz17 says:

    Erich: After reading of your disagreements with your dad and your later reconciliation, I'm interested in learning answers to the following questions:

    • Since your dad was an engineer, and therefore very fact-based in his work life, how did he deal with the logical and factual inconsistencies in the Bible? How did he deal with the idea of other supernatural phenomena? Aside from passages in the Bible, what evidence could he point to that supported his belief in an afterlife?

    • What factors led to your father's enthusiasm for Christianity and for Jesus? Your father, from your description, was extremely fired up about his faith. Why was that? Did he undergo a conversion experience earlier in life? Did he experience some sort of epiphany regarding Christ in his life?

    • Your father belonged to a Lutheran church. Did he ever talk about the life of Martin Luther? If so, did he acknowledge Luther's rabid anti-Semitism. How did he come to grips with it?

    • You wrote that you share a lot of things in common with your dad, yet you ended up maintaining views that were opposite to his. Do you think your views are, in some sense, a reaction to his, a form of rebellion? What personal observations/ experiences led you to become a non-believer? What personal observations/experiences led your father to become such a vocal champion of his faith?

    • What factors led your father to reconcile with you after so many years of disagreement?

    Thanks much.

  8. Karl says:

    Mike,

    If you read Erich's five part series "Mending Fences …" most of your questions are directly answered.

    http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/07/11/mendi

  9. Xtech says:

    So sorry to hear of your loss. That is a very thoughtful and candid remembrance. Parents and children have often very complicated love for each other; been on both sides of it now.

    Barbara

    PS Sometimes it seems to me that Jesus is like a team mascot of some sort

  10. Rick Massey says:

    Erich, I am sorry for your loss. Your dad must have lived an incredible life. He followed his passion and worked to contribute to things in which he deeply believed. I have had similar ups and downs with my mom. I am glad you were able to reconnect and grow in your understanding of each other. A lot of people never take the time to do that. I am sure he was very proud of you and the man you have become.

  11. Andrea says:

    Erich,

    I am very sorry for your loss. I found your story extremely touching, comforting and encouraging. Your dad sounds like a very interesting, hard working, intelligent man who lived a full life. I know he raised a son who is following in that path.

    What a beautiful way to honor him.

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