Dad always told us if a space ship landed and he could get on it that he would go–even if there was chance that he couldn’t return.
Mom, upon hearing this, would call out from somewhere in the house, “No you wouldn’t!” and he would look at me, nod, and say, “Yes, I would.” And I knew that he would. So I selfishly hoped there was no such thing as UFOs.
Dad’s favorite movie was Apollo 13. We jokingly found a lot of uses for the line “Houston, we have a problem”.
Of all Dad’s travels, one of his favorite places was the Cape Canaveral Space Center. His eyes just danced when he talked about that place. He told me that he could spend a week there just looking at those spaceships. “That place is just incredible, INCREDIBLE” he would say.
Dad could tell you exactly where he was when the first astronauts landed on the moon. He could tell you exactly how far they traveled to get there, the speed at which they traveled and how long it took them.
The hardest I ever saw Dad laugh was when I was about 10, watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind together. To this day the only thing I remember about that movie was how at the end, after the guy had spent nearly a lifetime trying to prove that there was life on other planets, a space ship finally lands and he forgets to turn on the video camera because he is so absorbed in the experience. That struck Dad as so funny that he literally cried.
For years afterwards I would bring that scene up to him just to watch how hard he would laugh. It worked every time.
Dad could, and did, tell us just about every numerical fact there is to know about the solar system, the universe and beyond. You really had to consider how much time you had before you asked Dad to help with math homework. You would start out asking how to find the length of a triangle’s hypotenuse and before you knew it you were on the moon.
Many people live their entire life and never find their true passion. Dad was lucky enough to have several passions in his life and one of them was space. I think I broke his heart when I dropped my astronomy class in college.
People say Dad had 3 passions in life: his wife, his children and sailing but I say Dad had a fourth passion—and that was space. He would talk about the solar system with the same enthusiasm that he talked about sailing. I think Dad loved sailing on the ocean because it was as close to being in space as he could get. He would tell me of times of when he would look at the water and not be able to tell where the horizon and water started or stopped. “It was honest to God like floating in space, Laura” he would say.
Dad’s heroes were people like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Chuck Yeager, Jacques Cousteau, John Wayne and fellow sailor Steve Pettengill. When Dad really thought highly of someone he would make comments like: “John Graham was a hell of a guy. He was a real class act.” “Charlie Gardner lives by his heart.” “Dave Evans, now there is a guy who is just into LIFE.” or “Lee, there is a guy who takes the bull by the horns”. “Matt, nothing is going to hold him down” or “Jason, there’s youthful enthusiasm for you,” “Dave Cheney is a true friend”, “One thing about Frank”, he would say, “When he says he is going to do something, he is going to do it”.
Dad was a doer and he admired other doers. He didn’t stand around talking about it–he went out and did it and then stood around talking about it. “Dock chat” as we termed it in our family.
Dad took risks in his ‘doing’. “Calculated risks” as he liked to called them. He would never jump out of an airplane he explained to us many times, because he needed to have three options. “If you have three options and they all fail well, then, see ya on the other side” he would say with a gleam in his eye.
Mom always said that Dad couldn’t go to the store without coming home with a story.
Dad said he couldn’t survive another season of the Lions.
They were both right.
Most people hope to die peacefully in their sleep. But that would have really ticked Dad off.
People say Dad’s dying doesn’t make any sense. But I say it does. It does make sense. There had to be a sensational ending to such a rich life story. Dad’s last chapter had to read like this.
What else WOULD make sense?
He was on his dream boat, a Swan, on an Atlantic voyage. On this trip he encountered 50 foot seas, rain, snow, incredible winds, a boat capsizing, electrical fires, flooding, mayday calls, coast guard ships, 2 helicopters, rafts and rescue swimmers.
All the elements that legendary stories are made of. The stuff movies are made of.
Dad’s death made the news in almost every state in the country, was talked about on the radio and has sparked debate worldwide via the internet. Dad died in Dad style.
This is a man who was chased by storms with his brother in a sailboat on Lake St. Clair at the age of 11. He capsized a boat in the Bermuda triangle over 30 years ago. He made 6 trips across the Atlantic Ocean, 3 of them alone. His adventures have made magazines, newspapers, television and radio for as long as I can remember. A man who while sailing alone in heavy winds locked himself in the lazerette and then ended up winning the race. A man who was no stranger to rescues at sea. A man who took many calculated risks and survived them, a fierce competitor, a pioneer, an inventor, a philosopher, an innovative man who taught his family that “sometimes you have to go around the system.”
“Your dad was nobodies fool” my husband said to me the other day. How true. Dad believed in taking a stand, in having an opinion and voicing it, loudly, if necessary.
He was a man of principles.
He respected tradition.
If he thought something was wrong, he said so.
He was honorable.
He was a leader. It was those qualities that I respected most about him–those qualities about him that I will emphasize to my children.
Dad took the saying about living on the edge seriously. He loved chaos, adrenaline and pressure. That was his comfort zone.
Dad was my hero. I studied him my whole life.
People really respected him and they really liked him. He was charming. But let’s be honest–part of Dad’s charm was that frequently he was not all that smooth. It was his bumbling, mad cap, nutty professor qualities that stole everyone’s heart. You couldn’t help but love him for it. He was forever losing his keys and credit cards, dropping his glasses and cell phone in the lake, losing things overboard, spilling his drinks, cutting off phone calls, wrapping his head sail, and madly searching for the tool or telephone that was in his back pocket.
Remember the stage when he got frustrated with never having enough light so he started strapping a miner’s light to his forehead? That became part of his daily wardrobe. He would go everywhere with that light on his head and it got to the point that none of us even noticed – that was just Dad.
I mean, how did we really expect him to go?
A legendary man deserves a legendary ending.
What else would we have wanted for him?
He was the kind of person we all wanted to live forever. My friend Lisa said to me a few days ago, “Some people just get it right. Your Dad seemed to get it right.” I immediately flashed back to an afternoon when I was 15.
Dad took me out to practice my driving. We decided to drive down to the Detroit Boat Club. As we pulled into the parking lot Dad motioned for me to park in a space between two other cars. The parking lot was virtually empty but Dad wanted me to practice.
As I hesitantly turned his enormous Lincoln into the parking space I completely creamed the Honda next to us. I mean, I crushed in the entire side of the car. I stopped the car. Dad said nothing. He just started to get out of the car. In a panic I asked, “Dad, what do we do now?” He calmly turns around and says to me, “YOU are going to solve your problem. I’m going to the boat.”
I was so mad. But I went into the club, found the owner of the car, told him what happened and solved my problem.
That was Dad and I get it now.
He taught us how to take responsibility and stand on our own two feet.
He got it right.
Dad touched and inspired everyone who knew him.
I have childhood friends that I haven’t heard from in years but they would periodically stop in to see my Dad. He was the kind of Dad I wanted around my friends. I liked to show him off. He made my friends laugh. He made things fun. He was the kind of Dad that I wanted to have pick up my group of friends from the school dance and drive us all home. He was the kind of Dad my high school friends would bring their new cars over to show or just stop by and hang out in the driveway with, talking to him for hours. It didn’t matter if I was home or if I came out of the house because they came to see my Dad.
In college my friends always loved when Dad came to visit. He was the kind of Dad you took to the football game and then to the campus bar afterwards. He was enthusiastic and fun and no matter what stage in life we were at, Dad fit in, he could relate. Dad made us laugh, he made us think and analyze.
He inspired us to go for it.
I can assure everyone here that Phillip Lloyd Rubright lives on. It has just been in the most recent years that I have really noticed the “Dad” in every member of our family.
Linda is an adventurer. She is the only one of us brave enough to have sailed across the Atlantic with Dad and it was a highlight in his life. Linda can do math in her head. Linda has a passion to see and experience the world and nothing is going to stop her. She recently moved to Amsterdam and in the first few weeks she was there she had her wallet stolen, she dropped her passport in the airport, misplaced her ATM card and on a recent phone call with her we were briefly interrupted as she cleaned up the spaghetti sauce she had just spilled all over here computer. A familiar story.
Catherine is the competitor and the analyst. She actually FOLLOWED half the stuff Dad was talking about. Just a few weeks ago my friend Val and I did a half marathon walk with her. We signed up together for “the challenge of it”. No pressure, no times, we just wanted to finish. However, anytime someone passed us up you could feel the tension in Catherine rise. Remember how you could feel the tension radiating off Dad? Halfway through Catherine pulled away. It was not just a challenge for her, it was a race. “Next year” she said to me, “I bet we can do it in 3 hours.” We called Dad as soon as we finished–and of course, he already had our times and places off the internet. Dad was going to do the walk with us next year–but “no bathroom stops” he said. Catherine eagerly agreed.
Diane is the only one that got Dad’s brown eyes. She is the philosopher, the listener. I swear she and Dad would have solved most the world’s biggest problems had there just been enough time. She and Dad shared many heart to heart talks. Diane knew Dad’s sensitive side better than any of us. There is nothing Diane and Dad loved more than a late night and a deep topic.
Mom is the family rock. We all lean on her. While Mom was in China this summer Dad would call with the updates and so enthusiastically say “I am so proud of Mom. She really has an adventurous spirit.” Dad’s sailing buddies used to joke, “Hey Phil, where do your kids get their good looks from?” Dad would reply, ”Oh, you have to see their mother.”
And Me? My friend Gale says that I can tell a good story like Dad did, I have his entrepreneurial spirit and maybe just a pinch of his hardheadedness. My desk is always a mess but I know where everything is–I have strong opinions and I speak my mind. Lee accuses me of mumbling now and again, my speeches sometimes ramble on and I love my family more than anything.
Even at my children’s very young ages, I can already see Dad emerging from them. Mom recently said to me “Faith isn’t afraid of anything. She is so brave.” Faith thrives on excitement and she is always up for anything.
Ben has these long moments of quiet thought, staring off in to space and then suddenly rejoins us with a burst of enthusiasm. He is passionate and enthusiastic and he wants to know how everything works. He walks around the house throwing out numbers and his favorite foods are crackers, cheese, pickles and mustard. He wants black pepper on everything.
Alex is only a few months old but from the moment he was born you could see Dad’s twinkle in his eyes.
Dad lives on in them and will live on around them. I know as a family that we will keep Papa alive for them–he will continue to be a positive influence in their lives. I know that my children are safer now that Papa is watching over them and I know that Dad feels better with an overhead view from which he can protect them.
Dad told me just a few weeks ago, “Parenting is a hard thing to stop doing Laura, you just never stop worrying.” He worried. He was a mother hen, but he was also our biggest cheerleader. He was just as enthused about other people’s adventures as he was his own. He showed us all how it feels to be truly loved and respected and encouraged. Family always came first. I never remember a single moment of my life that I wanted or needed Dad and he wasn’t there. Dad never once let me down. Not once. Never.
The time has come to share Dad with other people who also love him.
I have no doubt Dad was met with tears and open arms by his mother. She has waited almost 50 years to hug her boy and tell him how proud she is of him. Dad had missed her so much. I would guess next in the welcome line was his sister Jo and the grandparents that he so adored. Mr. Corsini rushed to the front of the line to give him a big kiss and pinch on the cheeks and Mrs. Corsini rolled her eyes and calls out “Lester, give him some space.” Both Grandpas were there to pat him on the back. He was met with smiles and hand shakes by old friends like Norm Hoch and Dick McPhail. Sally Welemirov stood quietly and elegantly waiting with a warm smile. Ernie Butki and Peter Fisher-people who never knew Dad but had been watching him from above waited to introduce themselves. Hell, I’m sure Thomas Edison AND Albert Einstein waited in line to shake Dad’s hand.
And then came Gram. Sauntering in, eyebrow a little raised, not as impressed with the details of his arrival as others but nevertheless she handed him a martini before she said a word.
Go easy on him Gram.
And there they gather, Mr. Corsini made the first toast-tears streaming down his face. No one understood a word he said. Dad in his glory. Loving the view. Enjoying a piece of his mom’s apple pie, holding court in a sky full of people waiting to hear his story.
Dad always joked that when the time came he would “Take one last sail…..”
Dad said many times that he felt most alive when he was on the water.
Dad believed when your number was up, it was up.
On October 29, 2008, Dad’s number was up.
I am at peace knowing he died on the water, doing what he loved. I hope that you will sail again Kevin. My Dad would want you to.
I told my kids that Papa went to the moon, because I know he did. Space IS his next frontier. The one passion he left unexplored in this lifetime. I can just see him now, calculator in one hand, a GPS in the other, the universe at his fingertips and no keys to lose.
That is Dad’s heaven.
Lee, Faith, Ben, Alex and I will start a new tradition of looking out at the moon and waving to Papa and I know he will wave back. That Dad wave.
We always opened Dad’s presents last because they were the best. Dad left us with one final, grand gift. The comfort of knowing that when our numbers come up, he will be waiting there for us, first in line, on the other side.