James D. Dabbs (1936-2017)

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It is hard to believe that just a few short days ago we buried our father. Everything went by so quickly and while we expected he didn’t have much time left none of us saw him passing as quickly as he did. He will truly be missed and the impact he has had on our lives is evident.

There were a few things about him that I would like you to know about. Dad worked for the federal government his entire working career as a cartographer for the Defense Mapping Agency in St. Louis. He retired at the rank of GS13 (from what I understand the scale goes to GS15). Dad worked with the department for nearly 35 years running from Vietnam to the Gulf war and from punch cards to CD’s and clean rooms. We know very little about what dad did in his working career as much of it was classified. Every now and then you might get bits and pieces or clues about his work. The two things I remember putting together through various conversations were that one of his co-workers was integral in the creation of GPS as we know it and that they did the work that led to flight simulators. They did that by programing satellites to take stereo photographs on a grid of the earth (say every 20 feet) in order to measure elevation and create terrain maps that were eventually digitized into simulators so that pilots could be there before they actually went there.

The two most important things in his life were his faith and his family. Dad taught us what it meant to be a Christian. He had a high sense of right and wrong as well as justice. Doing what was right really mattered to him. At the funeral my brother shared a story about dad yelling at him for jaywalking. The little things mattered to dad. Doing what was right on the little things mattered greatly. You knew it because he would let you know. He didn’t cut you much slack. Dad cared about our upbringing. Who we became mattered a lot to him.

I remember the first time I took communion. I had been baptized the week before and the trays were being passed. It dawned on me that I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do besides take it and eat/drink it. I asked dad and he gave me a quick tutorial on what to think about and pray about during the Supper. That meant a lot to me and I have carried his advice with me to this day.

Not only did his nuclear family matter to him, so did his ancestors. Dad was an avid genealogist. He spent countless hours working on the family tree. He even traveled to libraries to gather this information in the days before duplicating this material was easy. He took copious amounts of hand written notes of documents that were not allowed to be copied, tracing our lineage back into the 1600s in Virginia. Dad knew story after story about our ancestors. He shared them with us regularly. It dawned on me the other day that dad is finally with those people he studied his whole life and I am convinced they are shocked at just how much he knows about them! From a biblical perspective our patriarch has been “gathered to his fathers” and I am quite sure he is at home there.

Dad struggled with dementia in this last few years. There was a side to dad that came out during that time that was truly touching. He was such a fighter during his life that a gentle side came through and he was at peace with everyone. This was such a gift of grace to us all. It was a true act of mercy to get to enjoy dad without all his defenses up that we had known the better part of our lives. We are sure going to miss our dad and we greatly appreciate all the blessings and kindness that have been given and shown to us over the last few weeks.

6 Responses

  1. Blessings on you and your family during this time of loss. What a treasure you have in being close to him during his final days.

  2. You and Andrew spoke so well of your dad at the funeral! I am thankful for your family, the history we share and even more so the future we share. Your dad was always kind to us and I know he lives here through the legacy he has left in his family, but also with his fathers as you put it so well. Praying for all of you!

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