My grandfather, Furman Dee Warren, passed away shortly after midnight this past Easter Sunday. He was 93 years old. Many religions believe that only very special people pass away on a high holiday of their faith. Dee Warren was very special. He was the patriarch of our family, a warm and guiding light in our lives, we called him Granddaddy.
If you knew Dee Warren – then you knew our family at its very best.
His life was surrounded in love from the beginning – one of ten children. Thinking of it in today’s terms, his was an almost unimaginable childhood where he was never alone, never uncertain of who he was or where he belonged. On the family farm, in Salemburg, North Carolina, young Dee was raised by many hands and many hearts. His life would never cease reflecting this deep confidence in family, reminding us of this most central, basic and unbreakable bond of life.
When you are one of ten children you need to be charming to hold your place – and he was. He was someone who lit up a room and contributed – he never ignored where he was or who he was with. He knew very well how to live in the present, keeping an open, kind and easy way with anyone he ever met. Dee Warren had love in his heart and knew how to speak it.
Born into the Depression Era, he lived through and witnessed some of the worst trials of our nation: Poverty, War, Racism, Cupidity, Fear, and Despair. Like many of us, the catastrophes of his life must have at times left him wounded. He lost his wife (my grandmother) to cancer when she was 47 and two grandchildren: My cousins Erick (30 car accident) and Patrick (34 cancer). Dee was widowed a second time in his early seventies and out lived many of his siblings. All of this incredible loss and yet he always maintained a capacity to experience joy and a razor sharp sense of humor. Dee Warren was an eternal optimist.
Dee ’s daughters grew up with their father working in their community of Laurinburg, N.C. As a businessman he never let his responsibility towards others elude him – he practiced business ethics that were well respected in the community and that many would do well to remember today. On one particular evening he went to discuss an unpaid debt with one of his customers who threatened him at gunpoint: “Mr. Warren – if you come up on this porch I’m going to shoot you’’. His daughter Wanda waited terrified in the car as her father got out and climbed carefully up to talk with his customer: “No – no, you won’t shoot me tonight – I need to talk to you”. The message was received that night and on many other occasions by his children and grandchildren: It takes courage to live life the right way; with respect for others.
Granddaddy loved working and retiring at seventy wasn’t a good fit. Shortly after closing his business, he took a job working at Lowes to keep busy. He was a social butterfly and ended up winning their top sales award several times. In addition to being a top salesman, he constantly volunteered and stayed active in his community.
At 76 years old, Dee met and married Jean Shields. Dee and Jean were love birds! Their romance is an inspiration to all that you never know when you might expect to find so much happiness and love in your life. Most people in their seventies are headed for the easy chair; Dee and Jean headed to Egypt, Israel, the U.K. and France. We love Jean and consider her to be our grandmother. Granddaddy’s life was longer, happier and more exciting because of Jean and my family is forever grateful.
I have the most wonderful memories of Granddaddy and they aren’t just holiday family time or typical activities spent with Grandparents. My memories include world class adventure.
Granddaddy called me his #1 Granddaughter. I was also his only granddaughter (3 grandsons). When I was six years old, I was invited to stay with Granddaddy for a week during the summer. He had invited me when I was four, but my mother told him he had to wait until I was six.
I flew to Charlotte by myself. My parents walked me onto the plane and Granddaddy was waiting for me at the gate when I arrived. Now that I am a parent, I really understand what an undertaking that was: the responsibility of a six year old for an entire week. I went everywhere with him. He took me to work, to church, the grocery store and to play golf. Everywhere he went, I went. He even took me to a men’s luncheon (The Lion’s Club). I was the only kid in the room. We also went for an infamous ride on his motorcycle (for which he got in big trouble). My mother had forbidden him to take me on it and he did anyway. We had a little crash in his front yard. It was a non-incident, but of course it was the first thing I told my mother on the phone that night. I didn’t think it was bad and had no idea why my mother was angry.
At 16, Granddaddy gave me the experience of a legendary and character building set of wheels. His sister Lois was getting rid of her car and he just knew it would be a perfect starter car for me. It was a baby blue 1969 Oldsmobile 98 with a 454 Rocket engine. It was 21 feet long and could do donuts on a dime. I christened it The Love Machine. The Love Machine was pure vintage luxury and hardly the car of my peers. However, somehow at 16, I was mature enough to know it was a work of art. I drove it all the way through my junior year of college. During that time, The Love Machine had been spray painted (on purpose) at a college party, adorned with fins and horns to take my brother and his friends to their prom and taken on many adventurous road trips. In its final days, I gave The Love Machine to my brother. He was on his way to Florida for the summer and needed a ride. At this point, the car sounded like an airplane and would only go about 45 miles an hour. Somehow, The Love Machine made it to Florida and I told my brother he could just get rid of it. He sold it for scrap metal to the tune of $500. Priceless!
In my late twenties, I lived in France. I had many visitors. Jean and Granddaddy were the most open and diplomatic representations of American citizens. They always arrived to each outing looking like a million bucks. They were happy doing whatever I took them to do or see. They tried everything including: snails, foie gras and rabbit. They waited patiently for me to translate things without interrupting and they even went with me to a hopping soiree. We caught a ride with friends in a small station wagon. Granddaddy and Jean were in the back seat in each other’s laps like teenagers. My friends all thought they were the coolest (because they were). They enjoyed everything.
Jean and Granddaddy were also able to visit my brother when he lived in Paris. One of my favorite pictures of Granddaddy is from one of their day trips to country side outside Paris. When you first look at the picture, you just notice this beautiful field of sunflowers worthy of a postcard. Next, you notice Matthew and Granddaddy standing among the sunflowers laughing as hard as anyone can possibly laugh. Eyes closed. Mouths wide open. Heads leaning back. It was the best kind of laughter; the shared laughter of friends. Finally, as you continue to look a little closer at this picture, you notice that they are answering the call to nature in this beautiful field in France. I LOVE this picture with all my heart.
At my wedding, my New York friends referred to Granddaddy and Jean as the President and the first lady. I didn’t get married until I was 39 and I was just happy he was there. I am also grateful that he was able to meet my daughter, Stella Rose. Stella has had several wonderful visits with him. She will have the pictures and memories of Granddaddy and his cuckoo clock as she gets older.
Dee Warren was not just my grandfather; he was also my good friend. He was an ever constant source of unconditional love. The kind only a grandparent can give. If you asked any of his 4 grandchildren, they would say – He did not just spoil us with his love and attention; he was also our friend. We didn’t have to hide anything from him. We could talk to him about anything without fear of judgement or shame. We knew he could help us with whatever we were facing (Even our own death in the case of my cousin Patrick). At 89 and not in the best condition, Granddaddy got on a plane to California to spend a little time with my cousin Patrick and comfort him during his last few weeks of life.
In his nineties, Granddaddy was figuring out how to use Facebook and the Kindle we bought him for Christmas. He went to the senior’s gym every day and still had his original teeth! He and Jean were still having their friends over for parties and would often go to the senior’s home to read to the old people. We had a wonderful big Christmas with the entire family just weeks before he got sick. On his last few days he told us that he had a wonderful life and that he was really just trying to make it to 97.
Although I miss our weekly talks, I don’t feel like I missed saying something to Granddaddy before he died. Although, I never wanted it to happen. He did a great job of preparing all of us for this day. We had so many wonderful conversations and spoke frequently. However, If I could say just one more thing to Granddaddy, it would be this:
Granddaddy – I will miss you every day. I will forever be inspired and guided by your presence in my life. Like you, I will always be an optimist. I will get back up and not be afraid to start over no matter what happens to me at any age. I will love my friends and family as much as I possibly can. I will spoil the children in my family with my time and attention. I will get on that plane to foreign lands or to the aid of a loved one, even if I’m scared or fragile. I will do crazy and fun things to remind myself what a thrilling adventure our time here is. I will always know my life is a gift. Thank you for your wonderful example.
Love your #1 Granddaughter
* Written by Laura Loving and Matthew Loving (from Laura’s perspective)