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Monday, November 13, 2023

It all went by way too fast


The Eulogy of Walter Thomas Gunn

August 3, 1936 – October 13, 2023

Delivered on Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I have been entrusted with the great privilege of delivering our father's eulogy. I have always been the comic relief of my family so I’m not sure my dad remembered that when he wanted me to write this, or maybe that is exactly why he wanted me to. 

It is impossible to encapsulate his 87 years and I could list his many accomplishments but all of the memories we each hold dear are nestled in the subpoints.  

When my dad received the news five weeks ago that he didn't have much time left, his response to me was 

"It all just went by so fast."

My dad's childhood was full of speed, heights, explosions, risk, and rebellion.  I didn't learn any of this until he chose to open this vault of information to his grandkids. He loved sharing stories of flying planes with his dad, spending months at the lake house with his sisters, and racing cars, go-karts, dune buggies, motorcycles, and well, anything that moved. By his own account, he passed the time with practical jokes like filling the cracks of the street with a mixture of gasoline and oil and waiting for a car to come so he and his friends could light it resulting in a wall of flames and smoke that would startle the driver and delight my father. 

My dad was named after his grandfather, Walter Thomas Gunn who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. His father was a lawyer and it was an unspoken assumption that being the only son he would follow in their path. But his true passion was in art and he got a BFA in Industrial design.  After college, he was drafted into the army and after that, he worked at a few different design firms before moving to Chicago. My dad had a keen eye for art and beauty, so it makes perfect sense that when he met a model named Nancy she would become his wife just 9 months later. 

She said he always loved to plan adventures. Most would require a road trip where my mom would drive and my dad would play the ukelele and they would sing ALL the way up to wherever they were going. My dad adored classical music so the songs with lyrics that they both enjoyed were limited, but when I asked them which one was their favorite, they simultaneously said "You Are My Sunshine." And after 57 years of marriage, I believe that to be accurate.

Their next big adventure was when they had their first baby, Natalie.

Two years later Nathan was born and after a long intermission, they had me, Noelle. In case anyone didn't catch on to the "N" theme, he punctuated it by giving me a doozy of an N middle name, Nannette, which he loved saying.

My dad's strength as a father was to highlight our individuality and encourage us to celebrate our uniqueness. 

He did this by spending Quality time with us. He would take months off of work every summer and plan family trips.  He enjoyed sharing "firsts" with us.  He had never been to Alaska so when Nathan was 13 they drove there and he taught him to shoot guns, fish, and camp. Another First was when he took Natalie to France, and England where they visited castles and art museums,  and had picnics with baguettes and chocolate.  We took a 5-week family road trip in a motorhome to Canada then down the East Coast. A few years later we drove to California.

He would take me on long walks to discover treasures in the woods.  On one of our walks, we stopped to look at a tree and he asked me what I saw. I explained the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. "But what else do you see?" he asked. That's it, I said. " But what about the space in between the branches? That is where you can see the light coming through!" We spent the rest of our walk calling out the newly discovered shapes I was seeing for the first time"

My dad was a creative soul, Always painting and sketching.  He would find inspiration in nature or the many many books he read from the comfort of his Charles Aimes chair. 

He rarely missed a game, performance, or graduation not only for his children but also for his grandchildren as long as he was able. 

In 2015 it was rumored that Walt Gunn was going to be the Champion of the senior pickleball tournament in Green Valley, Arizona,  when a serious accident occurred.  He had lost his footing fell off of his deck and broke his neck, which resulted in him being paralyzed. 

We were told he would never walk again or be able to use his hands again.   This was heartbreaking to anyone, but especially an artist.  

But my dad was incredibly strong and within two years, he not only learned to walk again, but he had an art show featuring all of the paintings he had done after his accident.

This is the artist's statement he wrote: 

As part of the intensive regimen at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, an artist would arrive every week to allow patients to take a class. After avoiding it, I decided to give it a try. My first attempt was a disaster. I couldn't pick up or hold a brush. I was devastated, and I gave up. 

But at the urging of Nancy, I tried again and with the help of a device that would attach a brush to my finger, I discovered that I could make simple paintings. I have been blessed that my wife Nancy has been by my side every day and night to the current day and I am truly grateful.

My parent's love for each other has been an honor to witness, especially in the very last moments, she never left his side. 

On one particularly difficult evening as his oldest granddaughter, Madelyn fed him ice chips, he openly reflected to her "I think when you get very old, you start to get very tired of dealing with it all.  But I'm not sure though,  this is my first time." 

It was then that it occurred to me, that in his last moments, he was sharing another first with us all. 

We were navigating this final first together.  Nathan read to him and when he asked what type of book he would like to hear he asked him to find one about courage.  In the final weeks, Nathan read over three books to him and when we thought he was sleeping, he would make a comment about a character or add a historical fact.  There was nothing he wanted from any of us, other than our presence.  I would lie next to him and we would discuss the shapes of the clouds passing over the skylights in their bedroom. 

 I witnessed each of his grandchildren sit with him multiple times and talk for hours.  Yet sometimes we didn't.  And the silence felt reflective and intentional.

My Dad recognized that HIS life's best days were now behind him. and he wanted us to know that some of our best days were yet to come.  

We have not yet seen it all, we have not yet felt it all 

and there are so many more "firsts"  and beauty that we have yet to discover and experience. 


But next time, he won't be able to able to be with us in person.


I recognize that it wasn't just about him spending quality time with us, but that he was teaching us just how precious time itself is.  

He will be with us in the moments we slow down, be present, and notice the light coming through in the vast empty space his death is leaving in our world.


This will be in 

the music we make, 

the art we create, 

the books we read, 

the poems we write, 

the ice cream we eat,

the nature we observe, and 

the laughter we hear. 

But especially when we all come together to spend time with each other and see what he did in his final days.  

The faces of the people he loved most.


His beloved Nancy, Natalie, Nathan, Noelle, Julie, Don, Madelyn, Jasmine, Jordan, Justin, Brandon, Dylan, Caroline, Brittany, Olivia, Nicholas, Colin, Parker, Finegan, Jack, Oscar and his new great-grandson Sutter Walter. His sisters, Andrea and Molly, his nephews and nieces, As well as the faces of his dear, dear friends.


You were right dad, it all just went by way too fast.

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