Edward Feete was buried this past week.
His was a simple service at a Falls Road funeral home, attended by dozens of his friends and remaining family. Eddie was 68, still youngish by today's standards for a long life. But Eddie was a big guy — a very tall, big-boned, heavy guy. His heart had had enough.
Many of you in Towson and on the north side of Baltimore knew Eddie. For most of the twenty-four years before he retired in 2012, Eddie was a bagger at the Giant Food store in Ridgely Plaza. When the store moved to Timonium Square across from the Fair Grounds, Eddie moved with it for his last years of employment.
Eddie was the big bagger who was always friendly, always courteous and always diligent in his job. People looked for Eddie, and for many of us, the trip to the grocery store was only complete if you could say hello to Eddie. He had a charming magnetism about him that belied his imposing frame. Although he had little to say, his greeting was always enthusiastic and genuine. Eddie loved people and, consequently, people loved Eddie.
Eddie was special. He was developmentally disabled from birth. His condition was once commonly called mental retardation, but no matter how you describe Eddie's disability, he functioned at a high level as compared to many with similar needs.
Eddie was fortunate to be born into a loving home and family. As he grew up, his parents included him in every activity they could. Eddie became a lifelong fisherman with a special taste for crabs. He enjoyed trips and picnics and family holidays like any other child and young man. His nephew remembers being swept up into Uncle Ned's lap; it was like being hugged by a make-believe bear.
As Eddie's parents grew older, they knew they had to give Eddie a life of his own, and they needed to provide for him after they were gone. Eddie attended the school run by the Chimes in Baltimore, one of our region's many fine non-profit agencies that serve the developmentally disabled. As a young man, Eddie received vocational training from the Chimes before joining Giant Food. Eventually, he moved into a Chimes residence. Eddie's father volunteered as a board member of the Chimes for many decades. When he died, Eddie was elected to serve on the board, in memory of his father. Eddie wore his suit to meetings and participated as many hours as possible before he needed to go home to rest.
Eddie had a home to live in. He had housemates and many friends. He had a paying job with which to partially support himself. He had social service professionals who looked after his progress and health. When Eddie developed arterial sclerosis late in life, many of his family and professional support team tried to convince Eddie of the merits of exercise, but Eddie would have none of it. Life at the gym was not for him. Life for Eddie was not a race to be won or lost. Life was here and now.
In "Four Quartets," T.S. Eliot wrote:
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark…
Most of us do not leave much behind when we exit this world, and we certainly take nothing with us. We leave memories and our reputations, which themselves only last a generation or two — and then we are gone. In the end, you can measure any person, including the richest, the proudest and the most powerful, by how many hearts he has touched and how many tears are in the room as mourners bow their heads in a final prayer. By those measures, Eddie was a great man and a treasure among us.
It is said that society can be judged by how well it cares for its most vulnerable citizens, those least able to provide or care for themselves. Eddie lived a relatively long, full and productive life — in a way that people with disabilities could not have lived as little as a generation ago. These are angry times, and often we lose perspective on how far we have come and have a hard time believeing that maybe the glass is really half full. Because Eddie was such a decent person, he made our lives richer, even as he was enriched through our efforts. We should remember Eddie's example when we are tempted to grouse and despair. Eddie saw something positive in every day and welcomed every person he encountered.
At the cemetery where Eddie's ashes are now interred, the tombstone reads, "Our Loving Gentle Giant."
Douglas M. Schmidt is an investment banker and a current board member of the Chimes. He lives in Towson. His e-mail is email@example.com.