I was honored to be asked by Patrick Devlin’s parents to deliver the eulogy at Patrick’s funeral today. I have written before here about Patrick’s struggle with leukemia and his father’s use of CaringBridge to share the struggle with family, friends and caring strangers around the world.
I am Steve Buttry, Patrick’s uncle and godfather. I welcome you on behalf of Carol, John and Kathryn. They appreciate your love and support, not just today but for the past nine months, more than we can say. I welcome you also on behalf of the extended Devlin and Buttry families gathered here today, including his grandparents, Jim and Mary Gene Devlin. And I welcome you on behalf of family who could not join us here, particularly my mother, Patrick’s grandmother, Harriet Buttry, who desperately wanted to be here to honor her grandson and comfort her daughter. Unfortunately, Mom’s health does not permit such travel. Your presence today and throughout Patrick’s struggle and your presence in his life provided strength and comfort for this family and we thank you from the bottom of our broken hearts.
We gather in a state of sorrow to honor and remember Patrick Devlin. I was actually planning for many years to be here about this time to honor Patrick. I promised him several years ago, when he started on the Scouting trail, that when he made Eagle, I would come to his Court of Honor. If not for leukemia, Patrick would have finished three more merit badges and his Eagle service project, and many of us would have gathered here with hearts filled with joy, rather than grief, to recognize his life and achievement.
When I came to visit last weekend, I found hospital staff members in Patrick’s room, consulting with John about the reading lights for parents that will be part of Pat’s Eagle project. The drugs and the illness left Patrick groggy and barely able to speak throughout my visit. But still he was working on his Eagle project. He had planned to interview me for the Communication merit badge that weekend, but he was unable to converse, so I told him we would do the interview later by phone or email.
As you may recall, we learned of the relapse in July, about a week before Patrick’s 16th birthday. I’d like to read you the letter I sent him, accompanying my present.
One of the great honors of my life was my Eagle Court of Honor. To achieve the requirements for Eagle and earn that high honor made me rare among young men. The lessons of perseverance and excellence that I learned along the way have served me well throughout my life.
I hope your condition improves enough that you will be able to resume pursuit of the Eagle requirements and receive your Eagle medal at a Court of Honor yourself. But I want you to know you have already earned your Eagle medal, so I am giving you mine.
You may protest that you haven’t completed the official requirements and that you don’t want special treatment. That is fine; an Eagle should hold high standards. I am not giving you this medal because I am relaxing standards. I am giving it in recognition of the fact that you have met high standards that the Boy Scouts could not reasonably set for every Scout to achieve. The Boy Scouts could not reasonably require a young man to learn all that you have learned about the human body and modern medicine. The Boy Scouts can set requirements for an ordeal of physical stamina that lasts a weekend, such as you met to join the Order of the Arrow. But they could not require young men to persevere through an ordeal such as you have endured since December.
As you well know, three points of the Scout Law are that a Scout is obedient, cheerful and brave. You have obeyed orders from doctors that would tax the patience of any Scout. You have maintained good cheer in the face of pain that would have turned any optimist sour. You have shown inspirational courage in the face of a disease that strikes terror in adults three and four times your age. Whatever your Eagle service project will be, I doubt it will provide greater public service than the inspiration and example you have given family, friends and fellow Scouts through your courage. I am ready to declare you a fellow Eagle Scout.
I hope this is the first of two Eagle medals for you. I hope you receive another in your own Court of Honor, with your Scoutmasters and peers (and me) there to give you the recognition you deserve. I also hope you will beat leukemia and someday pass this medal along to another deserving Scout whose amazing achievement doesn’t quite fit the more reasonable requirements that the Boy Scouts set for Eagle.
With love and respect,
I should add that two of Patrick’s Scout leaders, Chuck Gilroy and Clint Buxton, told me at the wake yesterday that they, too, see Patrick as an Eagle Scout. I have been in touch with national and local Scouting leaders, and at the memorial celebration to be held in a few weeks, Patrick will receive the Spirit of the Eagle award.
That’s too somber a note to end this eulogy. Patrick was a fun person who liked to laugh and to make other people laugh. So I want to repeat one story you probably recall from John’s journal on CaringBridge. But before I do that, I want to thank John for that labor of love. You helped us share your struggle and Patrick’s struggle. You honored your son by sharing his story and you served family and friends and caring strangers who never got to meet Pat but were touched by his story as you told it. We thank you for sharing the intimate experience of illness and death in such an open and profound way.
But back to laughter. I hope I can bring a smile to this somber chapel by reminding you of Patrick’s observation when a bright blue chemo drug discolored his urine. Pat said he had outdone those clichéd Packer fans who only bleed green and gold. And if he had known of the particular timing of his death, he might remind us that he never really wanted to see Brett Favre play in Viking purple.
I’ll tell you about the last time Pat made me laugh. As I already said, he was barely able to speak when I visited just a week ago. He would nod or shake his head in response to questions and seldom spoke more than a word or two. He drifted in and out of sleep. John was showing me Pat’s huge toolbox filled with Star Wars miniatures and explaining to me the strategy games Pat and his friends played with them. John said Pat had more than 400 of the characters, and a weak voice from the bed said, “464.”
One more note on laughter. Not long ago, Mimi and I were rereading The Little Prince and as the title character prepared to leave this Earth, his words made us think of our own prince, though he would prefer we think of him as a clone:
“People have stars, but they aren’t the same. For travelers, the stars are guides. For other people they’re nothing but tiny lights. … But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else. … When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh.”
So tonight, when we look up into the starry Vermont sky, listen for Patrick. You’ll hear him laughing.