First thoughts on my dad's passing
I lost my old man last week.
He passed away early Sunday morning, after a week in the hospital, where they’d been dealing with the brutal side effects of his recent chemotherapy. We knew the end was coming—he'd been fighting cancer for more than a year—but it still caught me off guard, like he was somehow indomitable.
Gathered on the sidewalk outside the hospital an hour after we got the news—the visitor policy was two people at a time in the room with him, otherwise nobody allowed anywhere inside the building, so we stood outside the lobby in the winter morning sun, grateful that we were in Phoenix and not someplace frigid—my sister blurted out, “How can this be? He water skied, he hang glided, he rode dirt bikes.”
In truth, he hadn’t done any of those things in years or even decades, but Shel’s meaning was clear: He could do anything. He lived large and loud. He couldn’t just be done.
It's strange to imagine a world without him in it. That's a world I've never known.
The family asked me to write his obituary, and I’m struggling. Not because I don’t know what to say, but because I can’t stop writing. However I try, I can’t begin to compact his 82 years into three column inches.
I think I’ve come up with a workable obit, something that checks the boxes—place and date of birth, survived by, career, hobbies—and I think it also captures something of his outsized personality. But it’s long. Really long. I’m going to have to cut two-thirds of it or we’ll have to pay double to the local paper. It’s that long.
But it’s still not long enough.
So, with your indulgence, I’m going to use this space to write the extended version. I’ll drop it into its own section within Read Write Repeat, so if an extended eulogy isn’t what you signed on for, you can unsubscribe from that section. No hard feelings.
If you stick around, I hope to deliver an unabashedly subjective meditation on my father, on fathers and sons, on fractured and blended families, on loss, on grief, on living in a world without the man I’ve known forever, with whom I shared a name, with whose impact on me I’m still grappling.
I’ll lead off with that too-long obituary, before the editing begins.
On January 9, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona, Eddie “Ed” M. Tankersley (“Tank”) reached the end of the washboard road he’d been rattling along since he came kicking into the world nearly 82 years ago.
He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Sheryl (“Sher”), his brother, Gary Childers, his 10 children—Ed Tankersley II, Gayel Lapioli, Shelby Shive, Zoe Ziglar, Jay Randall, Bryan Tankersley, Shelly Hattaway, Marcie Ramsey, Tiffany Snyder, and Josh Snyder—as well as 15 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Ed was married three times—thus that big batch of offspring—first to Janice Bovee, then to Billie Jean Craig, and for the past 28 years to Sher. He loved—and relentlessly teased—his children and adopted children with equal zeal, and we follow his preference of ignoring those distinctions. We’re all family.
Ed lived a life too full and messy to fit neatly in an obituary, but we couldn’t get away without mentioning his love for music—country, rock, pop, as long as it had some guitars and vocal harmonies. He’d burst into song frequently and without provocation, usually just a couple of lines or maybe a chorus, so most of us who spent any time around him now know dozens of these snippets, even if we’ve never heard the originals. He collected guitars more than he played them, but he always had a music stand with some sheet music that he was picking away at learning.
Ed loved to drive, and he was legendary for his always revolving collection of sports cars, pickups, motorcycles, and ATVs, all of which he constantly tinkered on or, often, disassembled and abandoned for years on blocks in his backyard.
He was always loading whichever family and friends were nearby into his truck to head out on adventures—his favorites included snow skiing, water skiing, mountain biking, dirt bike riding, tearing along desert washes in his side-by-side ATV. He loved to pore over maps, but he never seemed to need one, on or off the road. He always knew the right way to go.
Over the years, Ed played a variety of team and individual sports, including indoor volleyball, racquetball, and fast pitch softball, and he coached several of his daughters in softball. They’ve largely recovered.
Everyone who knew him has a favorite description of Ed, and among the ones we can print are ornery, fun-loving, cantankerous, hard-headed, unique. He didn’t want to “put up with any BS,” but if your car broke down—any day, any time—he’d hitch a flatbed trailer to his pickup and drive 100 miles to get you.
He worked most of his career for Arizona Public Service in Arizona and New Mexico, first as a lineman, then a maintenance supervisor, and ultimately as an instrument repair technician and foreman. He found most of his good friends, golfing partners, and beer-drinking buddies in the power plants where he worked for decades.
Ed was born in Phoenix—where he lived for 56 of his 82 years, including the last 30. He was the eldest son of Herman Lamar Tankersley and Phylis Cresswell Tankersley. He was predeceased by his younger sister Phyliss (“Sissy”).
A celebration of Ed’s life is planned for late February, where there will no doubt be a spread of his favorites: a large pot of chile, plenty of tamales, cold Budweiser, recorded entertainment by Merle Haggard and the Eagles, and lots of laughter and inside jokes from all who loved him.
Donations in Ed’s name can be made to the American Cancer Society.