Tribute To Earle Hagen

The founder of The Law Offices Of Hagen & Hagen, Earle Hagen, passed away March 1, 2008, after having a severe stroke a week before while having a lovely dinner with sons Jeffrey and David and other family members.

Remembering Earle Hagen

Although we all miss him and his counsel, his wisdom and his humor tremendously and would have been grateful for any additional time he could have been with us, searching for silver linings, we take comfort in the fact that his last conscious experience was among family in a pleasant environment. Had our dad been given choices about how he would pass away, he would probably have chosen that very one. He didn't pass alone, he didn't pass while driving where he might have endangered others, and he didn't pass among strangers. He also spared himself and his family the indignities and loss of independence that often come toward the end of one's life. Those of you who knew Earle well realize that Earle would not have accepted such developments lightly. And while having a life-ending stroke deprived of us the opportunity to communicate our love and best wishes to him, you also realize that Earle knew already how much we all cared about him and loved him, and wouldn't have felt terribly comfortable with tearful emotional displays.

The following is the eulogy, entitled "Celebrating The Life Of Earle Hagen," delivered at Earle's funeral by Jeffrey:

First let me thank everyone, not just for coming to pay your respects to my father and to my brother and me, but for all of your e-mails, your phone calls, your warm displays of affection and sympathy, your cards, your gift baskets, and your donations. It is truly appreciated. It's only too bad I can't use this verbal thank you to get out of writing the inevitable thank you notes. 
Second, my father's sister, my Aunt Dorothy, regrets that she cannot be here today as she continues to recover from recent surgery. She and my father were of course very close and she is devastated by his passing and wanted very much to be here. Similarly, my cousin Michelle, who is caring for my Aunt Dorothy, could not attend for the same reason. We wish Aunt Dorothy a speedy recovery. 
A. When my mother passed away last February I commented that if she could see how many people came to pay their respects at her funeral service, she would have been proud but embarrassed. If, on the other hand, my father could poke his head out of that box and survey the crowd, you know what he would say? He'd say, "Hey, there's Ben Danning!" And then he'd say, "Oh, you know who that is? That's--um--uh--whatchamacallit; he used to be with the whatchamacallit firm and before that he was partnered with whatchamacallit." The man could be walking down a street in London and recognize someone he hadn't seen since kindergarten, but recalling names, not so much. 
B. At the pre-Shiva get-together at my brother David's house after my mother's funeral my cousin Michelle called me out into the front yard. "Come quick, quick, quick," she said. I went outside, where it was raining lightly, and she proceeded to point to a rainbow off to the east. "Look," she said, pointing. "A rainbow; it's a message from Aunt Sally." Just then my father came out the front door. "Look Dad," I said, figuring I'd play along with my cousin's little fantasy, "A rainbow. It's a message from Mom." "What's she saying?," he asked. I replied, "She's saying, 'Schmuck, get out of the rain, you'll catch your death of cold!" His finding that hilarious just hours after laying my mother to rest told me that although there would undoubtedly be some difficult moments ahead, he was going to be alright. 
C. And alright he was. He missed my mother terribly, and understandably like many in such circumstances, didn't want any of her personal effects removed from the house, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by how well he pulled it together and functioned in my mother's absence. 
D. Have you heard about the birthday story? Did you realize that my dad had two birthdays? I might have this backward, but my understanding is that apparently my grandmother Lena went into labor and delivered late in the evening on September 26, 1925, but my grandmother, understandably convinced that labor had lasted far longer that it actually had, was certain that my father was born on September 27. But then when he was inducted into the Navy, he saw his birth certificate for the first time at which time he learned he was in fact born in the late hours of September 26. So, from that point forward he decided that he would celebrate his birthday on both dates. Of course David and I would tease my father by telling him that means instead of turning 82 years of age, he was in fact 164. Of course I couldn't then resist the temptation of telling him that despite being 164, he didn't look a day over 110. 
E. I've been to far too many funerals lately. It seems like at virtually all such services, I hear about how grandpa would never miss his grandsons' baseball or soccer games or granddaughter's recitals. Admittedly, although I am confident he would have done so had his and my mom's health been stronger, Dad didn't go to too many of my kids' games, which in a way was a good thing, because he never quite understood the political correctness thing of the twenty-first century. Dad was the grandparent sitting in the bleachers among all of the other parents and grandparents that would way too audibly say something like, "[Grandson] Jake's a lot better than that kid" or "[Grandson] Eric would have caught that." 
F. Very few of you are probably aware that my father was a real trivia buff. He would consistently get about ninety to ninety-five percent of the answers--okay, technically questions--on Jeopardy! correct. Of course that was about a full minute or two after hearing my mother--and me--and the contestant--and Alex Trebec give the correct response. But hey, right is right. 
G. Debating with my father could be a bit of an adventure as well--many of you here today can probably relate. I remember one discussion where we were going back and forth about whether the NBA's stars of past years--say for example the Boston Celtics' Bill Russell, who was comparatively small for a center at 6 foot 9, could compete with the stars of today, such as Yao Ming, who is 7 foot 6. In maintaining that they could so complete, he actually argued: "Yeah, but if Bill Russell were playing today, he would be 7 foot 2." Like I said, arguing with the old man could be an adventure. 
H. Allow me to describe a few favorite special moments with my dad from my own deteriorating memory banks:

  • 1. It had to be about 1991. The family took a little extended weekend trip to San Francisco. I always suspected that one of my fathers most deep-seated fears was that he would not live longer than his own parents, who passed away in the late 1960s while just in their sixties, which of course is the new eighties. Sitting there at dinner one night, doing a few quick calculations in my head, it occurred to me that he had just outlived his parents, literally by a couple of days. When I shared that fact with him, and after being ridiculed for about three straight minutes by my brother for having the kind of brain that spends time thinking about such things, I remember witnessing the tangible relief in his face. That was a special moment.
  • 2. Circa 1993 or 1994 or so. It was a weekday and it was pouring rain. The auto show was in town at the LA Convention Center, and my dad, David and I all decided quite spontaneously to drop our work, brave the rain and resulting traffic, and head to the auto show. Spending time together in that manner made it a special day.
  • 3. Going back a bit, to approximately 1965, demonstrating a demeanor that would have qualified him to play the role of the cantankerous father on "The Wonder Years," I remember that we had a rule in the house at the time that my brother and I weren't allowed to swear. David and I were in my room and I was relaying to him in very hushed tones that I had heard a kid on the playground say the words "god damn it." Unfortunately, my dad was walking by my room at that very moment, and despite the clinical context in which the words were being used, spanked the hell, excuse me, the living shit, out of me anyway. 

I. And lastly, I'll always remember the following about my dad:

  • 1. He was very, very, oh, what's the word...very, very.......articulate, thank you.
  • 2. Although there were a few rare exceptions, the more my dad would yell and scream at a client, the more the client seemed to adore him. If I treated clients that way, I'd never hear from them again, but he had a way about him that the more he rode them, the more they practically idolized him.
  • 3. If I had a nickel for every time fellow attorneys have come up to me and asked about the wellbeing of my father, I'd be a very rich man. And not only would they ask how he's doing, but so many took the time to tell me how helpful he was to them when they were just starting out in the business ten, twenty, or thirty years ago--even though he may have been the opposing counsel in the case; how he took the time to give them some valuable piece of advice, or a helpful suggestion.
  • 4. Every weekend between 1955 and around 1995, my dad could be found on Saturday mornings washing his cars--for years his beloved Cadillacs--in the driveway.
  • 5. I learned--unfortunately perhaps too well--from my dad's example. It was never about earning money or collecting fees; it was about going the extra mile for the client, helping the little guy, the downtrodden, maneuver through a system that wasn't always kind and helpful.
  • 6. No matter how many vacation days our employees had accumulated, he always took it as a personal affront when any of them actually used one of those days.
  • 7. Although it all happened a bit before my time of course, my father was part of the Greatest Generation--those brave men and women--kids at the time really--that responded to our nation's great challenge of preparing for and waging war without a second thought. From age 18 to 20, my father served in the Navy's medical corp. attached to a Marine unit in the Pacific Theater. I have nothing but the most profound respect for him and all of the others that have fought and continue to fight for our country.
  • 8. And very finally, my father's sense of humor was always front and center. It wasn't always the same sense of humor that the rest of us have, an affliction which I'm constantly being reminded is genetically passed down paternally and does not skip generations, but my father would be the first one to appreciate him being remembered in a positive, humorous way. 

Congratulations on living a full 82 years Dad, far longer than you ever dreamed. You didn't pull up lame; you finished the race--with flying colors I might add. We love you and we'll miss you tremendously.

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