I got the word after I'd charged up my cell phone.. and wondered why it had taken so long to hear from the rest of my family. But the message eventually played. My uncle, Dave Hipp, two brothers down from my Dad, passed away Monday after a terrible and painful battle with cancer. It brings up the tough reality that special people who took on a big role raising us when were kids, are dying and leaving us.
Let me tell you what I loved about him. Uncle Dave was a lifelong farmer, a very hard worker.. and made a successful go of it in three different places. When my cousins and I played on the family farm in Florida, it was probably a break from a chore Dave had given us. We had a great childhood of work and play. (My cousins were actually Dave's employees a few months out of the year.) During the Christmas season, when I was nine.. I hopped on the back of a truck trailer and sat on Santa's lap. Kind of big to be doing that.. but I could swear Santa's eyes looked just like Dave's.
Our summer months were spent rounding up hay bales to feed the cows that belonged to my Dad or any one of his brothers. Two of those brothers went into the farm equipment business, then one of them started his own road construction company. But Dave stayed on the farm. Moving to some land he bought near Plains, Georgia, Uncle Dave would take us into Jimmy Carter's hometown. We stared at the familiar landmarks we'd seen on television, and I even bought my first can of Billy Beer and put it on display! Politically active during his years back in Florida, Uncle Dave was a county campaign chairman for our flamboyant Governor, Claude Kirk.. who knew Dave well.. sent him an autographed picture and invited him to campaign events. I always liked that about Uncle Dave. That love of politics and the way the game was played certainly rubbed off on me later when I got into television news.
I lost touch with Uncle Dave and Aunt Pat when they moved to Townsend, Tennessee. I saw him last at our family reunion in 2005. His liver cancer came on quickly this year. He tried to recuperate at home, but had to head back to the hospital. It took four people to lift him and get him into the car. The only thing I'm grateful for when someone with cancer dies, is that they're not in pain anymore. Thanks for leading to a better life, Uncle Dave. I won't forget you. Ralph