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by Dr. Don Berry

I loved Grady Rylander. He was important to me. I know I am not alone in that. I knew him for many years and I have too many stories to tell them all. But I will not be brief, not about Grady Rylander.

He gave me my first teaching job. Just threw me in to see if I could swim. But you never really do that unless you think it will work out OK. I still wonder why he was willing to do it, but it worked out pretty well. I once carried a cast net into the same big Chairman's office Joe Beaman occupies today to show Grady how to throw a cast net. Thinking about it now, he must have already known how to do that, but he seemed enthusiastic nonetheless. He once, completely innocently and inadvertently, slighted me at a graduation ceremony. That evening, at the big ceremony under the Tower, he saw me, came over to me, and actually said “Don, I am so damn sorry. I don't know what the hell I was thinking.” It was the only time until then or since then that I ever heard him utter a curse word. Can you imagine, in its own strange way, how much it meant to me, that it meant enough to him that he actually cussed about it? And then he passes away on graduation day. How sad, but also somehow so perfectly appropriate. Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas will of course endure, but it will never be the same to me now that he is gone.

Many years ago when Grady retired, at least for the "first" time, I, with my newly minted Ph.D., was asked to give a speech. Why they picked me I still do not know, but I accepted before I thought about it. Then I realized that surely they should find someone of much greater stature to introduce Grady. At that point, I was terrified.

I guess God took pity on my terrified condition, because some little voice told me to do something other than the usual speech, which would have been to recite Grady's long list of accomplishments. Instead, I decided to talk about the man, what he meant to me, and what I admired about him. Now, in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas there are plenty of smart, accomplished people around. So, even though Grady was smarter and more accomplished than most, it wasn't what made him special to me. Instead, I spoke about Grady's perspective, how I admired what he put first in his life, which was his family. I spoke about how he meant so much to so many people, helping people along the way, and leading by example, which was so evident when you considered the Rylander family as a whole.

I was relieved that my thoughts were well received. I suppose I was also a bit surprised, but in retrospect, I shouldn't have been. You might admire someone if they are accomplished. You may not even happen to like them, but you admire them nonetheless. But you care about people who care about you. My thoughts were well received because I was speaking for a great many people in that room. Grady cared about a lot of people. Those things I said then are even truer today, because in the intervening twenty odd years, there was more opportunity for Grady to touch more lives.

Grady did much for me over the years. The particulars are not important, but I owe him a lot. He did a lot for my wife Peggy, as well. Again, the particulars are not important. I know Peggy and I are not alone. Virtually every one of us can tell similar stories about kind and generous things Grady did for us. Grady did not achieve the things he did by climbing over the backs of others. Instead, he did great things and brought people along with him, always sharing the rewards. Grady believed in hard work, but he didn't believe in working too hard if it took too much time away from his family. How he accomplished all he did, as well as being a great father, and then to mean so much to so many of us as well, I will never know.

Grady and I share a South Texas heritage. We shared a love of the outdoors, particularly saltwater backcountry. I know when I make my next cast into saltwater he will be on my mind. And that cast will be made with my eyes clouded by tears, but with a smile on my face. The tears need no explanation. The smile is because I am so blessed to have known him. I know I am not alone in that. I know each of you have your own special, personal thing you shared with Grady, and that when you next do it, you will do it thinking of him. I know you will do it with tears in your eyes, but I know you will each feel as blessed as I do.

I had a great father, and we loved each other dearly. But (and I did not make this up for this tribute to Grady) many years ago I realized that if God told me I couldn't have the father I did, but I had to pick a different one, I knew who I would pick. I doubt I am alone in even that. Grady was a great father, grandfather, and great-grandfather to a wonderful family, but I'm pretty sure he was also a father figure to many reading these words.

So often on these sad occasions we say we know that soul is now in heaven. Truth be told, we often hope it is so instead of being sure it is so. With Grady, there is no doubt for me. As good as Heaven is, it will be a little better now. There is a really good engineer up there. And there is a man up there who had great perspective when he was down here. But his passing left a huge hole down here. I loved Grady Rylander, I am going to miss him greatly, and I know I am not alone in that.


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