A lot of folks have asked for a copy of Pete Lapham's eulogy, so here it is. This is a big chunk of words for this format, and since I can't figure out how to attach it as a file you can save and read later, I figured I'd just paste it in. I also wrote his obituary in this week's Chilkat Valley News, which is on shop counters and in Haines PO boxes, but not on-line yet. I spent the better part of three days on all of this, which is why you haven't heard from me. When I used to write a column for the Anchorage Daily News, and back in the beginning when they were paying 50 dollars for it, and I'd take a week to write it, Chip used to say "Heather, just give them 50 bucks worth." I couldn't do it. This eulogy is the best work I've done all summer, and I didn't make a dime on it (and wouldn't take it if it were offered.) My friend Teresa says living in Haines is spiritual boot camp. I've been at soul camp this week with Pete and his family and friends, and I am very grateful for the experiance. I actually wasn't sure I could stand up in front of 400 plus people and deliver this, but I did, and it was an honor.
Pete Lapham’s Eulogy
By Heather Lende
Written to be spoken at the Chilkat Center for the Arts in Haines, AK on Aug. 3, 2011.
Note: In speaking this I ad-libbed some, so it is not exactly as I delivered it, but close. I opened with a note from his wife Diana, who wanted folks to know that Pete wished for a simple service, but she knew he’d forgive her for re-defining simple—Also, the format and spacing is designed so that I could pick up where I left off if I lost my way and to make it easier not to cry. Also, for those of you who didn't know Pete, he was 65, lived here all of his life, and died of cancer diagnosed a year and a half ago.
An hour after Pete died peacefully at home Sunday night, with his cat “Trouble” on the bed, his dogs nearby and his family close, the Haines Volunteer Fire Department toned out “Red 10 out of service” and blew the siren. It was the code for Pete’s passing and the signal for the volunteers to gather at the fire hall to suit up in their gear and drive the fire trucks and the ambulance up to his house to pick up Captain Pete and escort him on his last ride to the fire hall. At the house, they formed two lines on either side of the front door, removed their helmets, and silently paid tribute as his body was carried out, draped in a fire department blanket.
Pete wasn’t a senator, the governor, or even the mayor— (That was another Lapham) But he was Captain of the local Engine Company for 30 years and had been a member of the fire department for 40 years this month—you do the math— that’s since he was 25 years old— And for 32 years he was a heavy equipment operator who worked to keep the state’s roads in Haines clear and smooth and the people who used them safe.
What Diana wants you to know today is that Pete loved you all, because he loved Haines—it’s why he lived here his whole life-- and that he was overwhelmed to learn through his year and a half journey with cancer, how much Haines and Klukwan loved him back. She also wants you to know that he had no pain, and as Father Perry said, expressed few, if any, regrets.
He even got to fulfill a life-long dream when he retired from DOT in 2004. After three decades of plowing snow Pete was ready to live a little… to see the world and kick up his heels--- to do what he really, really loved to do- So… he signed up for shift work on the North Slope and plowed snow in the oil patch. As Diana said, “It was Pete’s walk-about—and he enjoyed every minute of it.”
His brother-in-law Roc Ahrens said that guys like Pete are rare these days- people who find out what they love to do young and do it their whole lives for fun and play. —Pete was in high school when he began driving log trucks for the Hosford family over in Dyea—
Think about it: he worked all day with trucks and in his free time Pete played with fire trucks, snow machines and chain saws. But if Pete were only good with machines you wouldn’t be here. Does anyone know a driver, runner, cyclist, walker or motorcyclist who he didn’t wave to when he went by in the snowplow? Teacher Teresa Hura passed him often in the years she commuted from Haines to the Klukwan School. She’d call the DOT shop where he was foreman early in the morning and he’d give her a road report. On snowy days he’d make sure she had path to work. Once, she was high centered on a drift when Pete and Per Skaugrud showed up and offered to pull her little Honda over the berm with the plow. It was cold and blowing, and Teresa seemed overly concerned and not sure it was a good idea. She thought they saw her baby in the car seat. Pete and Per pulled the car up and over and onto smooth ground gently, and Teresa continued up to Klukwan. A few nights later she saw Pete at the Elks for hamburgers and he said, “no wonder you were a wreck- there was a baby in there. Why didn’t you tell us?” The good news is that Pete treated all vehicles as if they had a baby on board.
Part of the reason Pete was so confident with trucks and equipment was that he had good teachers. Because he started so young—he was just a kid-- the logging companies gave him the worst rigs. Logger Leo Smith said Pete went in the ditch a lot when brakes, or tires, or steering failed, and Leo would pull him out.
Pete also learned to keep logger’s hours early on.
Dear friend Duck Hess said that one summer when Pete was home from college, it must have been 1966-- his father heard them rattling around at 4 in the morning, woke up and lit into Pete for being out all night—but Pete told his dad he had it all wrong—He wasn’t just coming home—he was just leaving for work--.A few months after Pete retired he slept in until 6:30 and Diana said she never heard the end of it—he was so upset. If Pete wasn’t up at 4:30 he considered it a wasted day.
Pete was a steady Eddy, a nice guy, a person who helped anyone who needed it—and he was calm in an emergency. Roc said that one of the reasons Pete was a captain with the fire department so long is that he could explain the complicated workings of pumps, switches, nozzles and water pressure without talking jargon. He made difficult concepts simple. He was an intelligent and patient teacher. He also knew the hydrant system by heart and the size and capacity of various waterlines and could adjust equipment accordingly. Pete had Haines’ institutional memory that can’t be replaced.
All of this is not say he didn’t have a lot of fun and like taking risks— or doing things some people might think are a little nuts like racing snowmachines at 100 miles an hour on the Haines Highway- He was the race director for the Alcan 200 for 20 years, and won the race in 1984. He was also race director for the Yukon’s Thunder on Ice 500, which has a 50,000 dollar purse. At the Fair logging show on Saturday fans gave him in standing ovation for all his past performances and work.
Pete served on the Borough Assembly from 2005-2008. Doug Olerud sat across from him, and appreciated Pete’s preparation for the meetings. He read his packets and talked to people. Doug said that Pete wasn’t afraid to change his mind, and that he had the best interests of the community at heart. Pete wasn’t a politician, he didn’t enjoy conflict or schmoozing-- but it is safe to say he was a public servant—he worked for the state of Alaska and cared for its people.
His first job with DOT was temporary. The late Tom Ward needed Pete to help clear snow when a blizzard stranded Haines-bound travelers at 75 mile. Pete turned down permanent employment the first time it was offered because he was happy working in the woods, driving log trucks and participating in what was the great adventure of his life – and it happened right in his own backyard.
Diana said her husband continued to give back to the community because he had seen it through good times, hard times, and changing times. She said, “Pete lived through the heydey of the timber industry in Haines, when there was so much going on. To see that go away saddened him. It saddened him that his own kids couldn’t work the way he had here. One of the reasons he got on the assembly was to try and make a positive difference to the economy and to bridge some of the divisions in the town. He didn’t think we were so far apart on either side of the scale as it sometimes seems.”
Pete was a vocal proponent of resource extraction, but he didn’t fret about it. He was a doer, a worker, and a very happy guy, especially the last twenty years with Diana. Anyone who saw them together could tell you they made a good match. At Mosey’s on date nights Pete would ask the waitress not to bring the menu until he and Diana had finished their drinks and talked about the day.
Diana was from Sitka, and she and Pete had met at the Alcan years earlier, when they were married to other people, but one stormy day they found themselves single and stuck in the Seattle airport on a weather hold. They spent the day together, and the rest is history-- Diana and her daughter Krista moved here in 1989 and friend Karen Hess married Pete and Diana on August 17, 1991—this month they would have celebrated their 20th anniversary.
Most of us will remember Pete for the spring in his step, the shock of thick hair that fell over his forehead, the twinkle in his eyes, the easy way he climbed up into the cab of a plow or a loader, and how smiled when he said he’d fix your chain saw or pull you out of a ditch—it was as if he’d been hoping you’d ask.
Pete was a proud veteran, an Elk, and a patriot who always reminded everyone to vote. He liked country music and flashy Dodge trucks, but he also appreciated the flowers in his garden and the new white carpet in his living room. He was a man’s man but kind of a softie, too. How many guys would care for their ex-father-in-law for fifteen years? Especially one who lived in the basement and liked to cook with lots of grease on a hot plate he often forgot to turn off?
Here’s how Pete diplomatically described Wayne Hooker in the old man’s obituary-- “He was definitely cantankerous, he liked to have a nip, but he was a good guy, he watched out for the kids coasting up here on our hill, and he was capable. He could grab a hammer and nails and start building if that was required, and he could jump on a piece of equipment and move dirt.” But that’s not why Pete looked after him—“He was Grandpa,” Pete told me, shrugging-- “ and he was family.”
Pete loved his family— all of them—from his boys Michael, an Iraq War veteran and Army Sargent, and Peter II, nicknamed “re-Pete” who works construction like his dad did, but in Washington for the state’s department of Fish and Wildlife--to Diana’s daughter Krista who was like a daughter to him, Peter’s girlfriend Heather and her kids, his sisters Doris and Diann and their families— brother Roger, nephew Russell, and nieces LaZell, Monica and Mindy— He missed Matt and Clyde- too--
And then there were his friends-- he had many.
I decided not to read the obituary in the program, since you can do that on your own—but I think the best words to close with are in there—and they came from John Floreske, who was a bit frustrated, as many of Pete’s admirers were this week, that they couldn’t better articulate what Pete meant to them— John told me that Pete was one of the best guys he’s ever known—when he worked for him, not only was he on time, he’d come in early and have coffee and be eager to chat—He really liked coming to work-- But when Pete and John were at odds over construction permits when Pete was the DOT foreman, he’d tell John-- ‘Hey, if you disagree with me take it up above me, no big deal.’—And John said there was a time when he did just that- but he never heard a cross word from Pete.
So here’s what we need to learn from Pete ---- John said: “I think the utmost of Pete, everybody who knew him did, what’s that saying? Maybe more people should try and be like him. He was a genuinely good individual.”
And as everyone here knows-- He’ll really be missed and he can’t be replaced.
Beacuse God doesn’t make many Alaskan men like Pete anymore.