A Guamanian’s requiem: remembering my father, Dr. John Salas - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

A Guamanian’s requiem: remembering my father, Dr. John Salas

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Dad loved sunsets.

For the extent of his 70 years and 5 days on earth, there were few pleasures more simple than for him to watch the sun fade into the ocean on the island that he adored with every fiber of his being. He asked for little more than a nice relaxing breeze, the majestic array of color, the infinite sea contrasting the warmth of the sun as nighttime fell. He was a man with vast and impressive accomplishments, but at his core, a simple and humble person who stayed true to his roots, with modest desires.  Like sunsets.

And the occasional bag of Peanut M&M’s, without question his favorite treat.

Dad spent his entire life making Guam the very best it can be for all of us, so every once in awhile he’d just want to sit back and avail of some of the amazing 6pm visuals that nature provides, watching late afternoon turn to early evening.

(He would have equally enjoyed watching the sun come up, but any of you that really knew Dad knew he was NOT a morning person.)

And so this has bearing on something that happened in the last week. At daybreak the morning after his passing, I walked outside with the responsibility of having to make a series of phone calls you never want to make. Before starting, I looked up and saw the most incredible vista - you know the kind...the variety that even in this special part of the world we only get every once in awhile - where the sky is the bluest of blue set against clouds that are full and powder white, with sunbeams peeking gently down to illuminate the land.  I’d like to think he had something to do with that.

As cliche as it was in the moment, I smiled and said silently, “Thanks, Dad.”

My father never sat me down and specifically told me, but he held four virtues in the greatest regard throughout his remarkable life. They were his guiding principles and clarified how he conducted himself, how he raised his family and how he served his community: love, respect, education and hospitality.

LOVE - for family, for community, for music, for laughter, for food, for the lifelong friends whose companionship he cherished

RESPECT - for heritage, for culture, for faith, for progress, and for the future; embodying the essential Guamanian characteristic of honoring our traditions while moving us forward

EDUCATION - acquiring knowledge not for want of material possessions or power, but in order to live a richer life and have the privilege of helping others

HOSPITALITY - sharing our environment and making everyone he met feel welcome. He helped in no small part brand Guam with the identity it now enjoys on an international stage. Saying to a total stranger, “Here, I only have two scoops of rice...but please take the other one. What’s mine is yours.”

I’ve come to understand as I’ve gotten older that these are the pillars upon which he based his career, how he conducted himself, and how he forged relationships. He believed them with every breath, practiced them and let people know why they were important.

In the same way his father, for whom he had the highest admiration, carried himself, Dad followed suit with hard work, selfless generosity and quick wit.

My grandfather, Tun Juan Salas, spent his working years serving in the Navy as a steward, providing support services. By association, Dad adopted this tireless and dedicated work ethic to his own career path. Even when he was Head Honcho at the University of Guam, he’d tell everyone - from graduating seniors, to foreign exchange students, to wet-behind-the-ears freshmen - “If you ever have any concerns, anything at all, you make sure to come to my office and see me directly. And I’ll take care of it personally.” I witnessed this act with my own eyes countless times.

Despite his own laundry list of tasks as a university administrator, he’d constantly tell people, “I want you to have a positive experience here so you can be happy and do your best, and I want to see you succeed.”

Even as an executive, when he clearly didn’t have to (and when few of his peers at that level would), he was being, like my grandfather, a steward. He was putting others before himself. He was exhibiting love, respect, education and hospitality. And for me with my work as a newsman, I likewise consider myself a custodian of something much larger than myself. So that lesson’s not been lost.

While the last ten days have understandably been an emotional roller coaster, one of the most remarkable things I’ve personally experienced when sharing the news about Dad was when I made the call to his dear friend and colleague, Adolf Sgambelluri. Years ago they had made a pact: that whichever one of them went first, the other would deliver his eulogy, so you can imagine the colonel’s dismay at not being able to stand here today and share his words with you directly.

When I shared that Dad had passed, Colonel Sgambelluri immediately gave the phone back to his wife, his normally-booming voice rendered silent. I was in awe.

This is a man with years of the most advanced military training in the world. A distinguished, disciplined, experienced combat officer. A leader of men. An old school Marine. The hardest of the hard.

And yet this great, accomplished man, known for his ability to show courage under fire and handle the most extreme circumstances now was unable to string a sentence together because his compadre of more than four decades was no longer able to go to their weekly lunches at Linda’s and converse about life over rice and chorizos.

And the driving force behind this sentiment, of course, was: love, respect, education and hospitality. And between them it was mutual.

Nothing could be more representative of the impact Dad had on so many people. And for that, my family and I are truly grateful.

This is but one of dozens of anecdotes people have generously shared the past few days - too many to go over here in this moment, but certainly we’ll enjoy them with you as time goes on. And my mother, sister, Dad’s surviving siblings, godchildren, relatives and friends sincerely thank each and every one of you for sharing your memories with us. We’ve all got stories and we look forward to talking about them and preserving Dad’s legacy with you.

So what I would ask of all of you is not to mourn the death of a man, but to celebrate his new life. While we certainly miss him, we also take great comfort in knowing he’s no longer in pain and struggling. He’s finally reunited with his parents, brothers and brother-in-law. There’s an amazing barbecue going on in Heaven right now, I fully believe, with the people that meant so much to him.

Nana is making chicken soup and flour tatiyas...all while enforcing the VERY Chamorro rule that you can’t have something to drink until you finish all your food. Uncle Joe Salas caught fish and is lounging in the hammock, Uncle Dave Salas is telling hysterical stories, Uncle Vic Salas is drinking his trademark 40-ounce coffee, Uncle Dr. Carl Diaz is singing his signature harmonies, and Tata is sitting quietly, just watching in stoic approval. And Dad brought the M&M’s. (Peanut, of course.)

They’re all laughing and happy. Sharing love. Showing respect. Celebrating education. And enjoying island hospitality.

This thought gives me peace and the strength to go on. I hope it does for you, too. Because we can rely on the guarantee that our departed loved ones will always give us lasting gifts, whenever any of us need it: amazing sunsets.

And maybe, just maybe, in God’s eternal glory, Dad will get up early enough to catch a really cool sunrise, too.

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