Eulogy: Richard Edward Boraks, Dec. 11, 1932-April 17, 2006

Dick Boraks

Eulogy at St. Francis Church, Cromwell, CT, on April 24, 2006

My family and I would like to thank you for joining us this morning to say farewell to our dad, brother, uncle and friend, Richard Edward Boraks. It means so much to have so many friends and relatives to help us honor and remember him.

Dad’s life in recent years was one of self-imposed solitude and distance, in part because of his declining health due to a lifetime of cigarette smoking. But as we have delved into his past in recent days through old photos, letters and conversations with friends and family, we have been reminded that for most of his 73 years he was fun, lively and engaged, a leader, organizer and teacher, and a man of integrity. 

Dad lived alone at home for the past six years since the death of his wife, Betty, whom he missed terribly. Despite a couple of hospital stays during that time, he always insisted on returning home. In his own way, he enjoyed his life just as it was. As my sister, Mary, said this weekend: “He was content. He enjoyed his independence.”

Mary, her husband Sean and their family have made many sacrifices to help Dad maintain his independence, and many neighbors and friends have helped as well, and Pete, Mike and I will always be grateful.

Dick was born in Boston, on December 11,1932. He grew up in Medford, Mass., during the Great Depression and World War II.

He used to tell us stories about life as a kid in Boston during those years, hanging around his Medford neighborhood with a diverse group of pals — Nubar der Hagopian, Bubba Chumm and Jimmy Hennigan. One of his first jobs was delivering produce from the back of a truck with a greengrocer and family friend, Benny Shear. As a kid, he began a life of collecting – both things and data. First, it was postage stamps and sports trading cards, then, during the war, trading cards of world leaders.  He listened to radio broadcasts about the war and tracked the progress of allied forces with pins on a wall map. He was an honor student, a leader, and an athlete.

In 1950, he graduated from Medford High School. If you were in Boston’s Scollay Square that summer, you might have seen Dad in the display window at Nedick’s, churning out some of the 120 dozen doughnuts he made every noon to 9 p.m. shift. At summer’s end, it was on to Tufts College in his hometown, where he studied engineering, played varsity basketball and soccer and participated in Naval ROTC. He graduated in 1954 with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and a commission as an officer in the United States Navy.

Dad told Mary recently that looking back on his life, the thing he derived the most enjoyment from was travel. In the Navy, he was a repair officer on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Antietam, based at Quonset, Rhode Island. His cruises on the carrier were the ultimate adventure, taking him to Europe, the Mediterranean, north Africa, the Caribbean and Canada. When we were children, he loved to show us slides of his travels and regale us with stories of the exotic places he visited: Tripoli, Rome, Naples, Athens, Corsica, Gibraltar, London, Edinboro, Paris, Port-au-Prince.

In a letter to Tufts College mate Bob Prioli during one cruise, he wrote that it was “the epitome of all paid vacations.”

Al Boulos was Dick’s roommate on the Antietam in 1956 and 1957 and the best man at his wedding in 1958. He couldn’t be here today, but he told us in a telephone call this weekend that Dick was a trendsetter and social ringleader. Dad was the first person in the crowd to have a 45 rpm record player, and while at sea, his stateroom attracted fellow officers who came to listen to his collection of the latest hits by Fats Domino, The Platters and Elvis Presley. Al told us, “He had a keen ear for really good music … and was always ahead of the curve in knowing what was going to be popular.”

When the ship came into port, it was Dick who organized the outings for his fellow officers, reading guidebooks to find the best restaurants, shows and nightclubs – and most importantly the best places to meet local women. Al Boulos recalled: “Your father in those days just loved fun. He loved to go out, he liked to be with the gang. What a wonderful spirit.”

There were a lot of adventures Dad didn’t tell us about, but which we’ve learned about recently, that help paint a picture of the fun-loving Naval officer he was in his 20s. What I really mean to say is that as an American serviceman in Europe in the mid-1950s, he had no trouble getting dates. In one letter to Bob Prioli he wrote: “The U.S. Navy really rates, let me tell you,” especially if you were an officer.

Al Boulos told us that “in his carefree days as an officer … he was true to his nature. He lived that life to the fullest. … He was extremely popular, and all the guys loved him because he had such a good sense of humor.”

After three years and five days (did I mention Dad was a meticulous record-keeper?), the adventures came to a close. After briefly considering a military career, Dick decided to leave in 1957, at age 25, and was hired on as an engineer at Bethlehem Steel Co.’s shipbuilding division in Quincy, Mass.

The working world could have been a bit of a letdown, but he made the most of life as a young single guy in Boston in 1957 and 1958. His date books from that time chronicle a busy party and dating schedule, including one young woman named Betty Morin. They met at one of those Back Bay parties in late 1957, and by early 1958 were courting seriously. In January, they met one another’s parents, and they were married in June.

Mom was the pillar that supported Dad throughout his career, including long work hours and night business meetings. They were partners in work, socializing and child-rearing. He was a faithful husband and father and even when he agonized over career choices, he never put work before family. 

He had an intellectual curiosity throughout his life that he satisfied with education, professional training and by self-study. That was especially true in his early years as an engineer. In 1958, the Quincy shipyard sent him full-time, at full pay, to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1959. The title of his master’s thesis: “Thermal Apects of a Boiling Water Reactor With an Integral Superheater for Ship Propulsion.” He had what friends described as “lofty ideals” about the future of nuclear propulsion and nuclear technology, and he was eager to put them to use.

In 1960, he and his family moved to Middletown, Connecticut, where he worked as a nuclear engineer for CANEL (Connecticut Aircraft Nuclear Engine Laboratory), a part of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. He was assigned to a project designing nuclear reactors for aircraft and spacecraft.

But Dick was becoming frustrated with engineering and the corporate world. His project stalled and he and fellow engineers spent months awaiting word on its fate. In mid-1962, he turned down a job offer from Martin Marietta Corp. in Baltimore, deciding against relocating because of the imminent birth of Michael. With buddies from CANEL, he began watching the stock markets closely and studying technical analysis, and decided what he really wanted was to work in the financial world.

In 1963, against the counsel of his dad, Henry, and after what he later described as “careful deliberation,” he decided to switch careers. He joined Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Hartford, Conn., as a field agent.

Four years later, he wrote a short essay describing his “mixed emotions” about the career switch.  He wrote: “My father has been an engineer all of his life and of course had hoped that I would follow in his footsteps. However, I became disenchanted with this field.” His reasons could be those of many a young professional even today: Lack of recognition and responsibility, an inability to follow work through to completion because of government contract slowdowns or cancellations, and stagnant income. He hated what he called the “corporate pyramid.”

The disenchantment was more than professional; it was personal. Although Dad was an outgoing person, he wrote, “I found myself to be an extrovert among introverts.” His love of finance and his natural skills as a teacher found an outlet in insurance sales, as he helped clients plan their financial futures.

So for the next 42 years, he sold life and health insurance and retirement plans to individuals and businesses in central Connecticut. His clients included banks, universities, professionals, small businesses and individuals. He continued to work for Connecticut Mutual after it merged into Massachusetts Mutual in 1996, and retired in 2005.

During his career, he won numerous sales awards and professional designations, including Chartered Life Underwriter and life member of the Million Dollar Roundtable, and was active in his community. He was past president of the Exchange Club of Middletown and served on other civic boards and committees. Here in Cromwell, for example, he served on both the zoning board of appeals and insurance commission.

Despite his work and community obligations, he always found time for fun with friends and family, whether it was at the neighborhood New Year’s Eve party or just the weekend bridge game. He always knew the latest jokes. And he loved to ham it up, especially when there was a camera around; one favorite memory of ours is his famous slow-motion dives into the family swimming pool.

He was a trendsetter for most of his life. His letters from the 1950s always mention what make of cars people were driving or what musical hits they were listening to.  He owned a series of popular cars: A Volkswagen Beetle in the mid-1960s, a Ford Mustang in 1969, and an AMC Pacer “bubble car” in 1975. He also loved gadgets. He was one of the first people we knew to own a desktop electronic calculator, and an IBM Personal Computer. We were the first kids on the block to have Atari “Pong.”

Dad and Mom together always encouraged us to pursue our dreams. We always heard, “Whatever you want to do, we’ll support you.” What a tremendous gift.

He took a great interest in everyone he met. That quality drove clients to his door and resulted in countless long-term relationships. At home, that spirit could be seen in our nightly family dinners, something Mom and Dad insisted upon no matter how busy we all were. As we settled around the table, he would ask: “So what was the most interesting or exciting thing that happened today?” That simple ploy, giving us each a moment on the stage, was validating and confidence building.

He instilled character. We heard a few key phrases over and over as we were growing up:

“Honesty is the best policy,” he would tell us, when we came to him with problems.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he always said.

“You win a few, you lose a few and you get a few rained out,” and, “It takes all types to make a world.” The philosophy behind those sayings helped me understand the importance of being flexible, adaptable and able to make the best of any situation.

When Mike was a young Marine officer, he wisely counseled: “Praise publicly, reprimand privately.”

Pete remembers his advice about love: “You have to date 538 women before you get married.” Unfortunately for Pete, he still has 520 to go.

He was a meticulous planner and organizer. He tried to pass along financial wisdom. He advised us to plan for the future by putting away a little bit each paycheck.

Above all, Dick was fun and caring. He loved people and that inspired people to love and follow and believe in him. As Al Boulos told us, when people saw him, or heard Dick’s name, they smiled.

We’ll miss him dearly, for these and a thousand other reasons. But through our tears, we are all smiling.

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