Today is the memorial service for Neil Dolinsky, one of my best friends in the world. I wanted to share the eulogy I’ll be delivering in order to celebrate Neil’s life and to introduce him to those who were not fortunate enough to know him.
Postscript: Everyone who spoke at Neil’s service did a wonderful job. I am including their eulogies as well because everyone knew Neil in a different light and all of our tributes together painted a complete portrait of this unique man. Indeed, after the service, more than one person commented that even if they hadn’t been close to Neil, they now felt like they really knew him.
All photos were taken between April 5 and April 15, 2009.
MY EULOGY FOR NEIL
Neil was my friend. I was two years ahead of Neil in high school, where we met, and we later worked together for seven years at a small investment management firm.
One of my most enduring, and endearing, memories of Neil was spending time in Mr. Thompson’s computer lab at Apollo High School in the months leading up to Neil’s sixteenth birthday. I had programmed the computer—which was nothing more than a teletype with yellow paper—so that as soon as Neil logged on, it printed out exactly how many weeks, days, minutes and seconds he had to wait until he turned sixteen and could get his driver’s license. Neil was so excited about getting his license, and he thought that program was so cool, that we visited that teletype pretty much every day.
After all, as everyone here knows, Neil could be described in two words: boundless enthusiasm. When Neil liked something, he REALLY, REALLY liked it. Our mutual friend, Mark Thome, remembers the time he was at Neil’s house during junior high. Neil was showing him the very detailed income and balance sheets that he had just prepared for his personal finances. Mark, who was a year older, said, “Neil was thrilled out of his skin excited about it.” I mean, hello! Balance sheets in seventh grade? That was vintage Neil.
Mark also reminded me of Neil’s unique ability to fold his tongue in three sections, and his willingness to show off this mutant talent to whomever, wherever and whenever he could.
Neil and I had a lot of fun and laughed a lot. When my daughter Erin was born, Neil drove over to my parents’ house in St. Cloud to see her for the first time. I saw him pull up in the driveway so I grabbed Erin’s empty infant seat and walked outside with it, pretending that Erin was in it, cooing and talking to her. Then, pretending to trip, I flung it in the air, as Neil looked on, horrified. I can still see his face, frozen with terror, like it was yesterday.
I remember the day when Neil first told me about Cathie, who would become his wife. He was completely taken with her. He raved about how smart and well-read she was, and said that he couldn’t get enough of her. And I’ll never forget this. He told me that when Cathie was sitting on his lap, she was still too far away.
When Neil became a father, he was beside himself with happiness. He doted on Luci and dedicated himself to being a great dad. Four years later, my wife Kate was in the delivery room when Helen was born. The moment Helen arrived, Kate said that Neil made a sound, a laugh perhaps, something she had never heard before, but that if she had ever imagined what pure joy would sound like, that would be it.
Neil was a very generous friend. Ten years ago, he gushed about how happy he was with his Lasik eye surgery that enabled him to see without glasses. He convinced me to have the same procedure with the same doctor, and offered to drive me to and from the surgery . When he picked me up to go to the eye clinic, he presented me with a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses that cost more than $100. I was speechless. Just a year ago, I thanked him again for that gift; he didn’t remember it, which further illustrates the purity of his generosity and friendship.
Thirty-two days ago, on Neil’s fiftieth birthday, I e-mailed him this:
Neil, wasn’t it just yesterday that we were sitting in front of the teletype in Mr. Thompson’s classroom? And now you’re fifty?!?!?! Whoa!
Neil wrote right back:
Thanks very much Phil, and yes, it was just a scant 34 years ago that we were sitting in that room, waiting for the teletype machine to tell me when I could drive a car.
Eight days later, he was gone, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that. We all are. Five days ago, it was my birthday; and instead of receiving my customary birthday e-mail from Neil, I was writing his eulogy. What a hole he has left in our lives.
Five years ago this month, I had dinner with Neil on my birthday. He had recently taken some personal development courses and had an epiphany. He told me that he realized that everything comes down to living with more love in your life. He told me how he had gone about improving all the relationships in his life and confronting things he needed to confront in order to grow and become more loving. I was very impressed by that.
I’m a big believer in telling people how much they mean to me. And I am grateful that, the same day Neil told me all this, I e-mailed this note to him:
Just wanted to mention, Neil, that something I’ve always admired about you is your integrity. No, you didn’t always make the right choices but you always tried to do what you thought was right. And that counts for a lot in my book.
Neil e-mailed back:
Thank you . . . this means a lot to me. Admiration is the most sought after currency in the universe, right up there with love. We all want to be loved but we also want to be admired. So thank you for sending this.
That’s another word I could use to describe Neil. Integrity. Absolute, uncompromising integrity. I remember once at work listening as he called a client back who had just been verbally abusive to our receptionist. Neil’s income was entirely dependent on finding and retaining clients; yet he told the client very calmly, but firmly, that such behavior was unacceptable and that the client relationship would be terminated if it happened again. I was in awe of Neil that day.
Ten years ago, on the day before Neil’s fortieth birthday, I e-mailed him this:
Hello, 39-year-old person. Have a nice day tomorrow as you are instantly transformed into an old fart.
He wrote back:
Thanks for the greeting! The family gave me a palm tree for my birthday, which will grow to full height of 70 feet in just 60 years, in time for my 100th birthday. Can you write a program to count down the minutes?
I would give anything to be able to do that. If I could say one more thing to Neil, it would be this: Bravo, my friend. Congratulations on a life well lived, with a heart full of love.
EULOGY BY NEIL’S DAUGHTER LUCI
Curly hair and a gentle grin,
You were a man of such depth
I hardly know where to begin.
Music you taught me—piano and song,
We’d hold concerts at Baubie’s house, and invite everyone along.
Your effervescent mind had you teaching us to play
Backgammon, checkers, monopoly and croquet.
I looked forward to the day
You would teach my kids how to play.
I loved how you knew things
Like the longest word in the English language:
And you made me learn how to say it backwards:
As if that wasn’t enough, you turned the alphabet into a word:
And you took delight in all things odd, like the formula for PH:
The negative log of the inverse of the concentration of hydronium ions per litre of solution.
(Note form Phil: Luci NAILED the above paragraph. It was amazing. Neil would have burst his buttons with pride!)
As a child I was constantly intrigued by what you knew
But as I got older, I got to know You.
I saw a man who was so charismatic:
Loyal, and gentle, and ever diplomatic.
As maturity arrived, I was delighted to discover
That you were still my dad underneath that clever cover.
You knew about things that were coming my way,
You were ready to help as soon as I’d say,
“Hi Dad, are you busy?”
“Never too busy for my daughter!”
You came to every show I was in,
Visited every place I lived
Treated all my friends so well,
Your acceptance was endless, from what I could tell.
Holidays in cabins, picnics fit for kings,
Birthdays, when exchanging gifts, and all the fun that would bring.
We’d sit around at dinner and laugh,
Telling stories and pulling faces while we ate
I can only thank you for your love
Being here with you was great.
A family of four, I knew I was safe
I could always come back to rest at home base
Together, supported, feeling close, being whole
I love our family, body and soul.
Adventure ran all through your blood.
You chased excitement with passion
For the games you inspired and the energy you gave,
The spirit you’ve left us is lavish.
Your pilot’s license—the result of an overwhelming urge to fly
If you couldn’t touch the stars you were certainly going to try.
The excitement of discovery never seemed to dim;
Anyone who knew my dad would have said that of him.
Just the other day I heard, “We were on the edge of something big”
And that’s how it was with you dad, on the edge:
Whether at home, playing chess, or on the rig.
You could’ve lived another five lives and had energy for more,
So now, infused with your energy, I’m out to settle the score.
Wonderful, patient, devoted, and generous,
Funny and clever, on so many levels,
Good guy, great friend, inspiring leader, loyal man,
My dad, always dad,
Miss you dad, love you dad.
EULOGY BY NEIL’S DAUGHTER HELEN
One of the stories that best sums up how cool my dad was, was something that happened to us in Las Vegas, in 2006. I had just turned sixteen and he had just turned forty-seven. We were taking a taxi to one of the hotels, and we had a Latina driver. It was a fairly lengthy drive, and she was cool and nice, and we were talking to her about everything we’d been doing in Vegas. She kept turning around and looking at us, and finally she said, “You two are such a cute couple, how long have you been together?”
My dad and I looked at each other, like, ‘Do you want to tell her?’ ‘No, do you want to tell her?’
And the first thing my dad said was, “Well thank you.”
He was deeply flattered to be mistaken for someone as young as that, and I was just deeply disturbed to be mistaken for his wife.
He loved astronomy and bizarre complicated things like Sudoku and constellations and science and he always meant to buy a telescope. He liked intense things. Ponderous Russian music. Spartacus. Rod Serling. The Moon. He was madly in love with President Obama, like me, only maybe even more than me. He knew every White House cabinet member, he knew all the stars in our galaxy, he knew the planet’s moons. He wanted a perfect temperature all the time. And when we found a good parking space he’d always exclaim, “Too good to be true!” And he spoke fake-Yiddish and fake-Russian and fake-French and when I was young I didn’t even know the difference, it all seemed genuine. He understood Hebrew but couldn’t translate it to English and couldn’t speak it himself. He took delight in proving wrong all the alien theories. He liked statistics. He taught me how to floss and how to tell time.
He could point out every illogical point in a movie and deflate the mood. He’d put his hand over my eyes in movies’ kissing scenes. There was the time he drove four hours to pick me up from music camp because I was lonely. And when my sister and I were jealous of our Barbie’s toy convertible, he made sure to rent a real one just like it when we went to Florida. He took me out late at night even when I was far too old to be asking for ice cream at eleven at night.
And when he drove to Melbourne at three a.m. to get me because I was sick. He could recite all the lines from Ben Hur and list a hundred random objects by heart. He wanted to share everything. That’s why he raised me on Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and Hitchcock movies, it’s why he would call me from the highway, make me go outside and stare at the Moon.
And he never gave up trying to make his daughters as good as he was.
The night we saw Wolverine, or the nights we spent in Vegas and Minneapolis, going for drives, Champps’ Sports Bar, and the time he said, “Let’s get out of here,” and we went to the mall late at night.
I wish he was here to say “This atmosphere is getting me down, let’s get out of here.”
Dad was a lot of things to a lot of people, but mostly he was my dad and he was the best.
(Note form Phil: Like her sister, Helen is also a gifted speaker and very comfortable on stage. Helen’s eulogy was more extemporaneous than everyone else’s, but this is the foundation of her remarks, which beautifully captured her father’s spirit.)
EULOGY BY NEIL’S BROTHER STEVE
In Hollywood, big brothers are always the star athletes, the cool guys. In real life, my big brother was passionate about a few things: chess, astronomy, music, math and Star Trek. In other words, he was a world-class nerd. But it didn’t really matter, because I looked up to him all the same.
Karen wasn’t too thrilled, at the age of three, when her little brother came home from the hospital. Even though our mom was fond of dressing them up in matching cowboy and cowgirl outfits for pictures, behind the smiles they fought like typical siblings. Neil liked to scribble on her piano music and made her cover for him when he played his elaborate pranks. And believe me, they were elaborate.
When you’re nine years younger than your brother, there’s just enough distance to form a generational gap, but not so much that you feel disconnected. Take Star Trek for example. Neil grew up with the original series, and it formed a lasting impression. I could never relate to the early 60s, but his interest led directly to my fascination with science fiction: Asimov, Roddenberry, Lucas—the whole gang. His interests became mine: building and launching model rockets, driving go-karts, downhill skiing . . . Neil was a thrill-seeker.
Neil’s love of classical music was contagious, especially those dark, intense movements in the minor key he was so fond of. I’m absolutely certain I was the only kid in St. Cloud who knew the second movement to Beethoven’s 9th by the time I was ten, and I thought it was totally cool. Growing up, music was always in our home. I remember Karen’s piano playing, and Neil’s incessant trombone: jazz band and pep band come to mind. His passion for music led me to take up the trumpet. Neil continued playing in college, and well after graduation, joining the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra for many years. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank his fellow musicians for coming to play today. The gentleman on trombone, incidentally, was the person who replaced Neil after he left the BSO more than ten years ago.
To me, he was an older, wiser brother, and yet he played a similar role with Karen. As an adult, he was her friend, sounding board, guidance counselor, financial advisor, technology consultant and frequent house guest, whom Ron enjoyed having around as much as Karen did.
He took his role as uncle to Rachel, Madeline and Max very seriously. They always loved when he was around because he gave them his undivided attention, showing uncommon patience while demonstrating his cool card tricks and relishing the chance to teach them how to play chess.
Karen and I were fortunate enough to spend three “sibling weekends” together in Madison, Wisconsin, pulling us even closer together. We managed to have a walk on the beach in Australia two months ago, when we were there celebrating Neil’s 50th birthday. He was like a little kid anticipating our arrival. He made sure we noticed the constellations in the Northern Hemisphere and the direction of our shadows so we could see the difference when we were “down under.” He meticulously planned each day, making sure mom, Karen and I could experience the people and patterns of his life and why he loved living in Oz.
Neil always looked to the sky with wonder—what would it be like to explore the unseen? I’ll never forget going up in an airplane with him, shortly after he got his pilot’s license. It was the most basic license you could get –VFR–which stood for “visual flight rules,” and meant you were not yet skilled enough to fly based solely on looking at the instruments; you had to see where you were going. Wouldn’t you know it, halfway through our voyage, some fog rolled in, and we both got a little frightened. Suddenly, he was all business and we stopped chatting about life and work and why the Flying Cloud airport didn’t have a decent café. He had to set the plane down, and cut the trip short. But being there that day, watching him prep the airplane, talk to the control tower and safely guide the plane back to earth, was something I’ll take with me forever. The flight could have been five minutes. Watching him glow with excitement—as if he had just been asked to dinner by Warren Buffet—was what I had really come to see that day.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve all been struggling to make sense of this sudden and painful loss. A good friend, who lost her father when she was young, shared some wisdom: She said when someone you love dies, they don’t stray far from your heart and mind. And therefore, much of them will always remain a part of you.
I know Neil’s absence will leave a hole in our family and in our hearts, but he also leaves us a legacy of wonderful memories that will endure so that he will always be with us.
BRUCE HENDRY’S EULOGY
My name is Bruce Hendry. My wife, Sharon, and I were friends of Neil.
Steve asked me to say a few words today to talk about Neil, and as I reviewed my notes it struck me as to how inadequate these remarks are in describing my thoughts and feelings about Neil. Sharon and I loved this man. I’m still wrestling with the fact that Neil isn’t there anymore. Neil was always there for me. No matter what time of day or night that I sent an e-mail to him he’d be back with a lengthy and detailed reply.
I met Neil twenty years ago when he worked for an investment advisory firm called C. C. Dunnavan. The friendship started out on a professional level as one investment person to another, but it gradually developed into a wonderful combination of mentor and friend.
In trying to come up with a few words that described Neil, I decided upon “intelligent” and “charming.”
An intellectual is someone who seeks knowledge just for the pure joy of knowing something. Neil was an intellectual. He was an expert at the game of chess, loved music and was very knowledgeable about both. He loved Franz Schubert and at the drop of a hat would send you an article describing how Schubert was as good as Mozart. His expertise at the computer and math combined to give him the skills to be a key part of the InterOil management team, doing all of their financial modeling. His organizational skills kept his boss Phil Mulacek, a genius in many ways, organized and effective.
Neil loved to amaze people with his memory skills. You could give Neil fifteen different subjects and he could recite them back to you in perfect order, from the front and then from the back.
Neil had another amazing ability that I just became aware of and that was as a creative writer. Ron Berg and I sent Neil a special chess set for his 50th birthday present. The thank you letter was so creative and well written that I printed a copy of it for my permanent file. Let me read a paragraph for you so you can see what I mean.
Today the FedEx truck arrived at my house, and the man emerged with a GIANT box. I noticed right away the words House of Staunton. I knew it was chess-related because Staunton pieces are THE classic chess pieces throughout the world.
I opened the first box. Every piece was wrapped like a fine antique. Each piece first had a thin piece of padding carefully rolled around all the edges, held in place with a tiny rubber band, to prevent any damage in transit to even the tiniest little feature. On top of that, each piece was then totally rolled in a piece of tissue paper. It was like unwrapping a mummy and took about 3-4 minutes to unwrap each piece.
The first piece I unwrapped was the Black Queen. I got the chills! It was the most beautiful piece I had ever seen. Large, perfectly constructed, beautiful wood, perfectly weighted at the bottom.
Neil was charming. He didn’t know that he was charming and that made him even more special. He was a handsome man, but didn’t seem to know that either. He didn’t seem aware of his many accomplishments and abilities. The words modest, unassuming and humble did a good job of describing Neil.
I knew Neil well enough to know that he was at a good place in his life. His reluctant move to Australia had changed from reluctance to a warm embrace of Australia. His relationships with Cathie, Helen and Luci were good and he was at a good place with his career at Interoil.
Ron Berg and I flew to Australia together to attend Neil’s 50th birthday party. He was so excited that his mother, brother and sister all came to visit him there. He had his whole family there as well as his many friends who came from his new Austrailian home and his international guests like Ron Berg, Misake Sato and myself.
Landmark, an organization that Phil mentioned that promotes social and family understanding, was an important part of his life, and many of his Landmark friends were at the party as well as Cathie’s side of the family.
I never saw Neil happier than at his 50th birthday party.
Guys don’t give other guys hugs, but Neil did, and the last time that I saw Neil, he gave me one of his famous hugs and thanked me for coming to his party.
That’s a wonderful memory for me.
I’ll miss you, Neil.
ARTHUR COHEN’S EULOGY
My name is Arthur Cohen. I have known Neil Dolinsky for three years, first as a work colleague, and then also as a friend. For most of the past two years, Neil and I spoke on the telephone several days a week, often for an hour or more at a time. As my wife pointed out to me when she dropped me at the airport in Washington D.C. to come here, I have certainly traveled far more with Neil over the past few years than I have with her. And it’s true. In the past year alone, Neil traveled to meet me to work together in Washington, New York, Houston, San Francisco, London and Singapore, oftentimes for more than a week at a time. In the course of those calls and those trips, Neil and I came to be very good friends.
Neil was a man of many talents; in particular, he was both a skilled financial analyst and a highly organized executive. But perhaps Neil’s greatest talents were his extraordinary ability to deal with people so well, and the fantastic enthusiasm he brought to every project he became involved in. At InterOil, Neil was the glue that made the company work. InterOil is in some ways almost a “virtual” company, in that its people and particularly its executives are spread around the world. Neil had a unique ability to coordinate with all of them, in the most positive possible way, and he integrated everyone’s needs and talents into an integrated whole. He made everyone feel good, and was able to appreciate each of the people as the special individuals that they are. And this was not always an easy task.
Neil’s enthusiasm and warmth were very strong. Over the past few years, Neil has attended several family events with my family, and I have been to dinner with his sister Karen. Neil’s energy and excitement were also contagious. In our travels, Neil and I have been to the theater, to comedy clubs, to sports events and to many restaurants, large and small, mostly based on Neil’s input and organizational energy.
Neil was always thinking and discussing things. There was a constant focus on playing chess, but also on his memory games, which were dazzling displays of expertise. And, of course, Neil also had his quirks. One of those was his desire to be at the airport at least three hours before the flight any time we traveled. I am more of a “just in time” person, so Neil and I always had to negotiate our departures. Just last month in Houston, Neil wanted to leave four hours before the flight and I wanted to leave 90 minutes in advance. We compromised on 2-1/2 hours. Then, on our way to the airport in our Hertz car, we were sideswiped and the passenger side rearview mirror was knocked off our car. Without a second’s hesitation, Neil piped up: “I bet you’re glad you left early so you have the time to deal with this.” When I responded that if we had left later we might never have had the accident, Neil immediately became engaged in an intellectual discussion of “what-ifs.” It turned an unpleasant situation into a good time.
Neil made my days interesting and fun, and having the chance to talk to him, and work on one of our many joint projects was always a high point of my day. I feel good knowing that his last several months were very happy ones for him. He was extraordinarily excited about his 50th birthday party, and having his extended family, and so many friends, with him for that special day made him feel great. He was happy at work, and had recently been given an extended portfolio which he was very pleased with. And he spoke all the time of his wonderful daughters, Luci and Helen, and how proud he was of them, and his great wife, Cathie, and his love for her.
I hope that when my own time comes, I am in as happy and complete a place as Neil was. He was a very good friend and I shall continue to miss him, as shall we all.
It was entirely fitting that the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra ended the service by playing the theme from Star Trek. Somewhere, Neil was smiling.
Here is the program that was handed out at the memorial service. (Click on the images once or twice to enlarge them for easier reading.)
A bonus for those who knew Neil way back when—his third grade class photo! Neil is third from left in the second row, proudly wearing his Cub Scout uniform. (Click on the photo a couple of times to enlarge it.)
Click here to see all my posts featuring my life stories.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?
Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to start one
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier
Through God’s Eyes won first place in the “Spirituality and Inspirational” category at the San Diego Book Awards on June 22, 2013.
Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.
• an overview of the book
• the complete table of contents
• the Foreword by Caroline Myss
• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
• a sample end-of-chapter story
• endorsements from authors and thought leaders
Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!
THROUGH GOD’S EYES PDF SAMPLER
Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents on Amazon.
Order it at GodIsLogical.com.
In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
• What is the secret to liberating yourself from other people’s judgments and expectations?
• Why is there an exception to “Everything happens for a reason”?
Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.
Schedule a Mastery Mentoring phone session with Phil to learn how to apply principles of spiritual living more effortlessly and effectively. Priced affordably! Click here to e-mail Phil for details.
Phil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent people he interviewed, including Joan Borysenko, Deepak Chopra, geneticist Dr. Francis Collins, acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford, Dr. Larry Dossey, Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman, Caroline Myss, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Dr. Bernie Siegel, James Van Praagh, singer Billy Vera, Doreen Virtue, Neale Donald Walsch, and bassist Victor Wooten.
Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories. Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers. Learn more by visiting the official Sixty Seconds website.
Sixty Seconds was one of three finalists in the General Interest/How-To category at the 12th annual Visionary Awards presented by COVR (Coalition of Visionary Resources) in Denver on June 27, 2009.