A Eulogy for my Father, William Pendleton Hackney

June 5, 1924 - July 31, 2006

The law was truly his vocation:

An assiduous scholar, patient enough to teach the Rule against Perpetuities to a high school student or a harried associate at his firm.

He loved his firm, and his work there, taking pride in long hours and his successful conclusion of negotiations and agreements: refinancings and restructurings, complicated writings and remunerative results that were a benefit to all involved.

In the days before word processing he used to go to the printer’s at Herbick & Held late at night to proof-read and ensure the accurate completion of documents that would be signed the next day by the parties to whatever agreement he was working on. I went with him several occasions and in addition to witnessing his consuming attention to detail in the documents under his supervision, I saw his delight in the art of printing – he was fascinated with the California Job Case trays with their lead type and the techniques involved in putting out the finished product and running off the requisite number of copies.

Throughout his career he constantly and cheerfully made himself available to anyone at the firm with questions, and to brainstorm difficult legal and ethical problems, and he was sought out by all, from the newest associate to the most experienced partner. He always taught that it was as important to be a counselor as it was to be an advocate.

I know that his influence led me, and our step-brother Adam Dread, into the practice of law. Adam, who has new step-children of his own, told me, “It was my admiration for Bill as a stepfather and attorney, that inspired me to follow in his steps, and pursue a career as a lawyer. I only hope that I can be half the attorney -- and stepfather -- that Bill Hackney was. Thank you, man.”

We followed him not from any explicit instruction or recommendation, but simply because we imbibed his own large enjoyment of his work, and we admired the kind of intelligence he exemplified: a careful, thoroughgoing, tolerant, and tough kind of thinking and expression that we found irresistible and wanted to emulate.

His success and his enjoyment of life:

Cultural pursuits:

travel, reading

the theater


the symphony and chamber music societies

the unabridged dictionary open on a stand in the den, convenient to our frequent recourse to it at dinner and other conversations

the music quizzes during dinner – both classical and popular music: who wrote that? Who is singing this? – to the groaning irritation of us children sometimes, but enjoyable and educational nonetheless

Wonderfully combining his interest in literature with my mother’s interest in the professional theater, they went almost yearly to the Stratford Shakespeare festival with a select group of friends, and I’ll always remember the pride I felt as a bumptious teenager, when I was invited along and expected to participate in the discussions of the plays: their meaning, their context, and their performance.

Jeanne and I always felt honored and appreciated to be allowed to attend many of their gatherings at home as well: Parties for the theater people, for the lawyers, for colorful and entertaining mixes of what seemed to me to be graceful and grand illuminati and cognoscenti.

Cooking: he always cooked for his own parties large and small. Speaking of large, he and his friend Zelda Wilmurt cooked my rehearsal dinner which ended up to be 80 people! I still don’t know how they pulled that one off, but as with all of his dinners, it was delicious, plentiful, and surrounded with music and great conversation.

His cooking taught us at a very young age to eat “imaginatively” and “exotically” with such favorites as artichokes with hollandaise sauce (a seasoned emulsion of butter and egg yolks with lemon juice), flank steak and bearnaise sauce (butter and egg yolks with white wine and tarragon and shallots instead of lemon juice), steak tartare, escargot, liver paté, and other delicacies that no restaurant could match.

His enthusiasms included travel, and especially his various trips to Italy with Myrna, where he could joyously combine his enjoyments of architecture, art, and good food.

On his being our father:

My first memories include his holding me in his arms in the midst of what seemed at the time to be enormous and dangerously buffeting waves. I remember having a deep sense of security, which through his steadfast presence and openness to anyone seeking help, later translated into a sure knowledge that I could call on him for anything. Of course that trait in dad, his absolutely being there for us, for any need or request, became increasingly valuable to Peter and me to help resolve some of our youthful contretemps.

In short, he provided unflagging and unconditional support – actually, there were three conditions: we would have to listen to a lecture, we would have to promise to try to do better, and “ye gods!” he would say, “don’t you ever make that same mistake again!”

He taught us great habits: always try to be kind and courteous to others; always be reading one book or another; go to church regularly and faithfully contribute in some measure to its operation and function; recognize and respond to the needs of others as best you can.

He taught Jeanne not just subject-matter, but how to learn effectively, and he taught Jeanne how to dance with a gentleman, and how to expect a gentleman to act.

He taught me a work ethic that I’m grateful for to this day: that the pursuit of happiness is an entirely legitimate and worthwhile pursuit,

so long as it is conducted with honesty and integrity,

with strict adherence to the Golden Rule,

and with hard work whose sole standard of success is being able to answer this question: “did you do the very best job you are capable of?”

Penultimately, I need to share a few Quotations:

From dad’s friend and Jeanne’s contemporary, O’Malley Pitcher:

“Your dad was a second father to me, I loved living with you on Castleman St. for a time in between the Pitcher homes in Pittsburgh. I never rang the doorbell at your house while I was growing up, nor did I ever have to grow hungry. I remember the Sunday Hackney get-togethers after church when he cooked for everyone, and his piano playing which we all loved. I even loved dancing with him – he was a wonderful dancer! With a great sense of humor, I might add.”

Barret and Christopher similarly remember with tremendous fondness the Sunday brunches at Castleman Street: “the fun started when we got to Granddads for brunch afterwards. He would zip into the kitchen, don his apron, and start mixing drinks and cooking for all. We always waited in anticipation to see what he would conjure up to serve. His creamed chipped beef on toast, which was our favorite meal.”

And also from Barret and Christopher, after recalling the many enjoyments of meals, games, and laughter at a rambling beach house in Stone Harbor where the whole family would gather: “Thanks, Granddad, for helping to make our childhood a both pleasurable and adventurous experience.”

From my friend and contemporary Barbara Simon:

“Bill Hackney was the kindest, warmest, most welcoming man I ever met. He made everyone feel important when he listened with rapt attention and obvious pleasure.”

From Dad’s friend and contemporary Harry Schwalb, who has so graciously been our great friend before – and after – Dad married Myrna:

“He could put anyone at ease, he was a most courtly, diplomatic, gracious human being, and it was in his nature – it was nothing he put on."

And from Reed Kohberger, a childhood friend on Wightman Street and contemporary of Peter’s:

“I saw his obituary in the Post-Gazette today and immediately thought of you, Jeannie and Peter, and of how you all were very kind, happy, and decent kids. I’m sure that was a result of your Father’s parenting.” I’m sure it was too – to whatever extent that has been or remained true.

And finally, the peroration of these remarks:

I hope I will never stop looking to find and use – correctly – unusual and interesting words (I hope you may have noticed several examples in these remarks). And I hope I will never cease to be grateful to my father for everything he showed me and taught me by his actions and example.

But oh, how the world is different now. Although over the last three years dad was nowhere near the man he had been, and even with the special care given by our friend Millie, and more recently by Gloria, Lisa, Cynthia, Vernessa, Kesha, and Jason, he was helpless, in bed, reading primarily newspapers while listening to music and watching the occasional ball game with William and Matthew, doing puzzles with young Roger, chatting with Morgan, and being taken out to the occasional dinner or event in his wheelchair. It was sad, and dispiriting.

When he would try to speak to us about his pain and how unbearable it was for him, we would turn his words aside; we would insist that we needed him to get better, to get stronger, to walk again; and we would take him to more physical therapy, and more trips out in his wheelchair.

When the physical therapy and outings became to hard for him to bear, Myrna, Jeanne, and I told him we finally understood his pain, and he carefully and courageously made the decision to let go, and to let Nature take its course.

So, with all of the frustration and pain of the last three years, I thought there would be only relief at his passing. But that has not been the case: we miss you, dad. My life now feels like there is a big hole in it: the world is different:

+ on a bus or in a car driving over a familiar route, the world is different

+ Among my colleagues and in the busyness of my vocation, the world is different

+ With my family and friends, at a baseball game or a swimming pool, the world is different, and it will always be missing something important, something valuable, something admired and loved, until we are privileged to meet again, as Christian doctrine assures us that we will.

Despite the pain and the fatigue he suffered, and which was courageously and faithfully endured with him by Myrna, he really was a pretty lucky guy at the end.

As a colleague put it to me, “he was able to shape the final days of his life and face death with hope and dignity.” And I know he is happy once again, full of enjoyment, and asking us not for a requiem, but for a hymn of grateful praise.

Jeanne will read the last poem written by Dad’s long-time friend and minister, Charles P. Robshaw.

Once I found out the secret of the Universe. I have forgotten what it was, but I know that the Creator does not take Creation seriously, for I remember that He sat in Space with all His Work in front of Him and laughed.-- Lord Dunsany, "The Hashish Man"

Here is the homily by the Rev. Dr. Randy Bush, Pastor of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. And please feel free to visit some resources for Christian wisdom, secular wisdom, the funeral services for the author's brother and three dear friends (Jane, Carol, and Helen), a page of Litany and Hope, and the maintainer's site map.