My Dad passed away on Cinco de Mayo twenty-one years ago. It’s amazing to think that he’s been gone nearly a third of my life. Yet he remains ever-present. I think of him almost everyday. And even when not, I know that I model him in a zillion ways. He lives on inside me, just as I see David’s father in him. That’s nice — although my teenage self probably wouldn’t have thought so.
Ralph B. Laycock
Ralph B. Laycock was born in Chicago on August 22, 1915. His father was a banker, President and Chairman of the Board at the People’s Bank, until the Depression. After the banks closed the family moved to the Cocoa/Rockledge area of Florida in 1933. A year later his father bought a dilapidated vacant building, restored it, and opened the Brevard Hotel which became quite the place in its day. It was a popular winter getaway frequented by prominent business and professional guests.
The Brevard Hotel occupies a significant place in the history of Cocoa. Guests included Vice President Hubert Humphrey at one time. The hotel was razed in the mid-90s to make room for a new condominium development. Windows and architectural elements were salvaged and used in businesses around town. When I retire in the next few years I want to create an online history. You can read a small part of the story already here on my website, though it’s still a work in progress. Also, scroll down this page and you can hear it direct from my father himself.
Dad eventually left the hotel, which continued under his brother Bill’s leadership, and ultimately ended up in Cleveland where he was Vice President of the Colonnade Company. Anyone remember Colonnade Cafeterias? In Cleveland there were branches in the Bulkley Building on Euclid, the Leader Building on Superior (the ‘Corner Cupboard’), and in the Investment Plaza building on East 9th Street, now the Ohio Savings Building. Dad retired in 1971 and Colonnade closed some 10 years or so later.
Upon retirement my parents moved back to Florida. Except for a brief period near Orlando they lived on Merritt Island which sits between Cocoa and Cocoa Beach, south of Cape Canaveral. Those old enough may recall that Cocoa Brach was the home of Captain Tony Nelson and Jeannie on TV.
My brother, John, and I sat with Dad to record two video histories. I sat with him in 1987 and John sat with him in 1996. My interview covers the early years in Chicago. John’s focuses more on the hotel. Both were recorded on a old VHS camcorder so the quality isn’t great — yet they are priceless!
I can’t emphasize enough how fantastic it is to have these recordings years later. If you’re reading this and your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles are living, sit them down now! It’ll be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, your kids and your whole family down the line.
I had to boost the sound in the 1987 recording. It’s kind of echoey and tinny as a result. I’m just grateful to have it! John’s video from 1996 opens with different views of my parents’ complex and the Brevard Hotel shortly before demolition.
Many Fond Memories
There are so many good memories of Dad, and a few not so good. He and I fought terribly during my years of anti-war activism at West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio. That was not a pleasant time, yet it became clear he was secretly proud of me despite our disagreements — and eventually not-so-secretly. He would boast to store clerks and anyone else about my work those days. My first job was with an organization called “Head Help,” free medical clinic and crisis hotline in Chesterland funded by the county and run by a Board with a majority of youth members.
Later, years before I came out, he dropped hints that it’s OK to be gay. I think he may have accepted me before I accepted myself!
Basically to know my father was to love him. He made friends instantly and remembered names forever. That gene definitely skipped over me! He would do most anything for a person and they’d return the favor. He brought out the best in people.
And there was a quirk to his generosity. Dad was never to be outdone! Perhaps the funniest example was a huge gathering in Florida when the whole family had dinner at Outback. That’s not cheap! My brother’s companion wanted to pick up the check and quickly took the waitress aside to ensure it wouldn’t go to Dad. As it turned out, Dad must have anticipated this and went to the restaurant earlier in the day to make advance arrangements to pay the evening’s meal! Hysterical!
The very best of Dad emerged after retirement, which he was fortunate enough to do at age 55. He enjoyed 28 years! Even with declining health near the end it was mostly without serious restriction. Leaving the stress of work behind he quit smoking and drinking, both of which he did too much, and took up hobbies. He was a church organ enthusiast and joined a club. He also took up stained glass and did some very impressive work including lamp shades, which isn’t easy.
This is going to sound weird, but I think another hobby was literally preparing for his death. Stay with me here! He joined some society or organization that I can’t remember at the moment where members plan out their funerals and all the various details. It was all an alternative to standard practices in our society. He kept shifting his plans, though. It seems every year or two we’d get new details about the latest arrangements. I joked with him once saying he’d never die because he’d never finish his preparations!
Dad went through a period of being very interested in genealogy and didn’t fool around. This was before the internet and things like Ancestry.com, so he’d travel to cemeteries and places for his research. He left us a lot of material that I still need to pour through. I wasn’t interested then, but am now.
He would have been utterly thrilled in 2008. Over a span of just 6 short months an almost impossible sequence of events in China and the U.S. stretched the limits of coincidence. It all culminated in an international gathering to celebrate an historic event for our family and for the Chinese nation. A hundred years earlier, in 1908, our grandfather on Mom’s side had been the first person documented to walk the entire Great Wall of China. You can read our Great Wall history on this website.
Dad’s health declined in the latter years as a result of lifetime smoking. He had quit many years back but the damage was already done. He was on oxygen for a number of years — which had an odd advantage, actually. We’d all go out to dinner in Florida, often at Outback again, and it seemed we never had to worry about waiting. Dad would walk in with his oxygen and we were promptly seated! I guess they wanted us in & out before he croaked there on the spot! I’ve thought a few times of getting some equipment and faking it now.
So many memories! I could fill a book. I’m just so grateful for so much, and I like to think he’s still here right now watching as I type this. (So, Dad, did I forget anything?)
Also check out Remembering Mom.
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