The Eulogy for Orlando “Lou” Lopez
by Pastor Jeff Edwards
Orlando Lopez, better known as “Lou,” was born on Christmas day in 1926, the youngest of three sons born to his parents. His mother had come from Naples, Italy and his father from Spain. When Lou was just a small child, his father was taken out of his life when he suffered a head injury that resulted in his being permanently hospitalized, leaving Lou and his brothers to be raised by their mother alone in the Paterson area. It was the era of the Great Depression, so the family struggled to survive. Lou and his brothers adored their mother, who suffered from diabetes, and from early on the boys did whatever they could to help keep the family afloat financially. From early on, Lou demonstrated a remarkable capacity for hard work.
In 1944, two months before reaching his 18th birthday, Lou enlisted in the Navy in order to fight against the Japanese in World War II. He worked on a Navy repair ship. Once, off the coast of Okinawa, they were caught in a typhoon, causing 100 foot waves to rock the ship. When the captain became too sick to steer the ship, Lou was forced to take over the wheel, steering the ship away from a direct onslaught from the huge waves. He managed to keep the ship from capsizing, and for his remarkable composure and bravery and Lou earned three medals.
Lou returned home from the war in 1946, and took a job at the Pan Chemical Company in Hawthorne. He worked there for decades to come, becoming a manager.
He married Jean, his first wife, and ten months later his first child, Diana was born, followed over the next four years by Joann and Alan.
Over time, the marriage fell apart. Lou met Betty, the love of his life. Some men might have been deterred by the fact that Betty already had five children from her previous marriage, but it didn’t matter to Lou. He took her children as his own, opening his heart wide to Barbara, William, Suzanne, Diane and Karen. Together Lou and Betty had two more children, John and Patrice.
Unfortunately, though, the new husband of Lou’s ex-wife wouldn’t allow Lou to have contact with his three children. For the next ten years Lou’s heart ached for the children he couldn’t see or talk to, until, as adults his children gradually re-entered his life.
In the meantime Lou devoted himself to his new family, supporting them by working two jobs. Whenever he wasn’t working Lou was always at home at their house in Belleville, doing something with his children. He was all about his family, and he loved being home. And the home Lou helped make was a place of such love and hospitality that there would always be guests over, an extra place set at the table.
Over the years Lou had accumulated a remarkable body of knowledge about how to fix things, passed on to him by Eddie, his mentor and life-long friend. And Lou passed his knowledge on to his children: how to fix a car, how to do electrical work, how to fix a boiler, including creative, short-term solutions to problems, like using mashed potatoes to plug up a leak.
He taught them how to cook has brown potatoes the way he’d learned in the Navy. Breakfast was his particular specialty; as the years passed his Mickey Mouse pancakes would come to be a special pleasure for his ten grandchildren.
Lou never yelled, or got angry, but his children always wanted to do what he asked; he inspired such devotion by the devotion he gave them.
“Let’s do it for the kids!” he’d say to his wife. He put in an above ground pool, and built a deck, all for the happiness of his children.
At Christmas the house would be decorated from head to toe. Betty was in charge, but Lou was the leader of the troops. “Your mother said to test the lights!” he’d say to the children. “Come on, we’re going to be a team!”
There were dozens of Christmas cookies to bake, and Lou was always fully engaged. There was no job that in his mind was “women’s work,” or beneath him. If something needed to be done, he’d do it.
He would get much sleep on Christmas Eve because he’d be up most of the night putting the bikes together or whatever else needed assembly before it could be placed under the tree.
Lou was there at the head of the table at Christmas dinner – there were always guests. People with no where else to go for Christmas would receive a welcome at the table that was so crowded with people, food and happiness.
Christmas happened to be Lou’s birthday, but he never made it about himself, and didn’t need gifts. But how he loved watching the children open theirs!
Every summer the family would pack up the car to head to a rented house close to the beach in Rhode Island for two weeks. It was the highlight of the year, and continued for decades to come as gradually more and more spouses and grandchildren were included in the fun. There was beach time, a lobster night, and a trip to see the mansions in Newport.
For Lou the highlight was going out in a party boat to do some deep sea fishing. How he loved to fish! The thirty to forty pound fish they caught would provide dinner for several nights, complimented nicely with fresh corn on the cob. Even after his eyesight had faded, Lou kept going out on those boats, with grandchildren rigging his line for him and placing the pole in his arms when it was time to reel in a catch.
Lou was always willing to help out somebody in distress.
In 1984, in the midst of a winter ice storm, Lou pulled over to the side of Route 3 with several other cars that were stranded there by an ice-induced accident. He went to open the trunk of his car to get a tool to help out the stranger in the car in front of him, when suddenly another car slid off the highway directly into him, plowing him under the car, mangling his legs, breaking both femurs. Somehow he survived, and even more remarkably, he eventually regained the ability to walk. But it took the better part of a year, during which Lou demonstrated an incredible determination and perseverance. Before long he was back at work, once more supporting his family.
In the latter years of his life, this man who had always been so energetic and hard working endured the gradual deterioration of his health. Glaucoma slowly robbed Lou of his eyesight. His heart broke multiple times, and he grieved at the death of his wife Betty, as well as the deaths of three of his children: William, John and Karen.
He developed a heart condition that sent him into the hospital more times than can be remembered. Like a cat with nine lives Lou survived countless close encounters with death. He was such a survivor.
He didn’t complain. Instead, Lou would ask you about your problems. He would worry far more about his children than about himself, so you had to be careful about what you told him lest it cause him anxiety fretting about you.
Lou passed the time listened to the radio, to tapes, to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. He rooted for the Yankees and the Giants. He laughed easily. His little grandson John would sneak into his room to hide and then listen to his grandfather tell stories from his days in the Navy.
Lou didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He trusted and got along with everybody. He was as soft and gentle with animals as was with children.
And Lou was also a man of faith. One time I visited him in the hospital he asked me about an old hymn he remembered from his childhood that he wanted to remember the words from. It was about Jesus and his children. I got the words for him:
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus love me, the Bible tells me so.
It was this child-like faith that sustained him throughout the long journey of his life. It was this faith that got Lou through that terrible storm as a young 19 year old sailor when he was compelled to take the steering wheel to guide the ship to safety. The story reminded me of a story from the Gospels:
When evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (Mark 4:35 – 41)
That same Jesus has welcomed Lou home. He has welcomed him into a kingdom of such love and joy that it’s beyond our imagination. The best moments in this life are only a dim reflection of what it is Lou now enjoys.
Lou was a man of faith, but even more, he was a man of love, which the Apostle Paul reminds us is the most important thing – the only thing that never ends. Every thing else passes away.
The way to honor Lou in his death is to commit ourselves to loving as he loved — to embody the same gentleness, kindness, patience, and endurance. To encourage one another, forgive one another, cry and laugh with one another. And one day you will meet again on the far shore of heaven.