Grandpa Harry: June 27, 1905 - March 30, 2011

April 01, 2011 by Victoria Strong

Harry Reese Gillespie

June 27, 1905 - March 30, 2011

My grandfather Harry passed away this week and I am devastated. He was 105 years old and while I know this is the normal course of life, this is an enormous loss for me and anyone who knew him. He was kind, thoughtful, generous, insightful and has been an integral influence in my life.

I have many fond memories of him throughout my childhood, but it is our adult relationship that perhaps means the most. I never got to have a fully adult relationship with my mother -- I was in college when she passed away -- but I did get to cultivate that with Harry (her father) and I cherish it. He was a man of integrity who had a healthy dose of pride and even though I was 72 years his junior he always made me feel that he valued my opinion and ideas and actually asked for both almost every conversation. He was an incredible person and has been a source of strength for me, especially since losing my mother and since Gwendolyn's SMA diagnosis, continuing to give me perspective and guidance up until he became ill a few weeks ago. I feel so honored and truly fortunate that he was my grandfather.

This is a post I wrote in 2009 about who he is and why he is so special. And below is a video of when we drove 5,000 miles in an RV from California to Mississippi to introduce Harry and Gwendolyn. The video is of that very first meeting. Bill and I had visited Harry many times as a couple, but because Gwendolyn cannot fly it was literally a dream come true for our family to make that "Sponsor-A-Mile" trip. It was life changing for us and I know it meant the world to Harry to meet Gwendolyn. The big introduction day was so meaningful, as were the days that followed of just being by his side, watching him hold Gwendolyn, and seeing her light up in awe of him. And I will never forget how boyish Harry was when the Mayor presented him with a "Distinguished Citizen" award. I loved how young at heart he always was -- even at 105!

I visited him again last July by myself and when my sister called that he wasn't doing well a few weeks ago I had the chance to spend a few days with him one last time. I needed those visits so very much and I think he did, too. I know he knew how much I appreciated him and adored him, but having the chance to tell him once more helps me as I search for healing. I am holding on to his words very tightly today and I know I will need them as I struggle going forward:

I need you to know that no matter where I am, I love you.

I love you too, Harry! Thank you for being you!

Talk About It

Oh Victoria, I am so deeply saddened in the loss of Grandpa Harry. From all that you shared with us he was a true gentleman in every way shape and form. Grandparents always play a special part in our lives, and everything they teach us along the way and the memories they create with us we carry forever and forever. My grandmother passed away on Matthew's 5th birthday, and although I was completely crushed I too carried her words of wisdom in my mind and heart. Through some of the toughest times it is those words that still carry me through. i know that Harry is now watching over you and protecting you in a different way, but he will always be with you! Please wrap yourself in the memories of him today, tomorrow and always and I hope that you find some peace in that! be well....sending you tons of hugs!! Lisa smile
Posted by lisa prokopetz on 2011-04-01 07:25:36
i am reading this on my prep at my classroom while there is another teacher teaching my kids in the classroom...i am a complete puddle!! As always your writing is so raw and honest and moves me to tears, chills and makes me think! (My students are a little concerned that their teacher is in hysterics right now) I love you guys and am thinking of you!! If you need anything-PLEASE let me know! XO
Posted by lauren on 2011-04-01 07:28:43
Victoria, I am so sorry to read about the loss of your Grandfather. The bond and history you have with Grandpa Harry is truly amazing. I am not good with word of comfort, but know that your family is in our thoughts and I hope you are able to find peace. Love, Jaime
Posted by Jaime Gooden on 2011-04-01 07:39:19
He is quite a guy. He left his earthly body but that man's consciousness is still here! I love that bolo tie you need to get that as a keep sake there is power in it! There was a fearlessness in men of that era you can see how sure and steady he is! You are lucky to have had him here for as long as you did!! My grandfather passed away about 6 months ago at the age of 94 and Shira on her own started saying prayers for him like she knew something or could still feel him. It's never easy to loose someone that is an inspirational part of your life. Our hearts and healing thoughts go out to you and your family!
Posted by Bradly Fisher on 2011-04-01 07:50:43
Victoria, I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. I know how much he meant to you and it is apparent what a great man he was. Life is about moments, just look at all those incredible moments you have pictures of, not to mention the ones (the even more important ones) you had when there wasn't a camera around. The picture of Harry holding Gwendolyn is truly priceless. A man holding his great grand daughter who is over 100 years younger than himself, wow. We will be thinking of you guys even more today (if that is possible). Tony, Kristin, and the BUG
Posted by Tony Burks on 2011-04-01 07:54:43
Sending lot of love to you, Victoria, Bill, & Gwendolyn on the loss of such a great man. We will be keeping your family close to our hearts. xoxo Debbie
Posted by Debbie on 2011-04-01 08:32:19
Victoria - I am so sorry for your loss. Your Grandpa sounds like an amazing man. I know you will continue to cherish every memory of him. xo Jenn
Posted by Jennifer on 2011-04-01 09:23:01
I am so sorry for your loss. Your Grandpa sounds like he was a great man and so very blessed just like you are. He made sure you knew you were loved. Praying for the family during this time.
Posted by Lisa on 2011-04-01 09:23:07
I am so sorry for the loss of your Grandpa. I pray that you will always feel wrapped in the love that you know he had for you and your family, and know that he is always with you in your heart.
Posted by Kim on 2011-04-01 09:28:23
Victoria, I am so very sorry for your loss. I have so enjoyed watching the video of Gwendolyn and Grandpa Harry again. It puts a warm smile on my face and makes my heart sing. Sending you all my love and are so lucky to have had a Grandpa Harry...he seemed to be a beautiful soul! And you all sure have a wonderful Angel watching over you now.
Posted by Tammy Duke on 2011-04-01 09:37:40
Thinking of you today. How wonderful that he and Gwendolyn had the chance to meet. What a remarkable man.
Posted by bridget on 2011-04-01 09:43:05
I, too, lost my mother (and father) very early on in life. The influences of my dear grandparents changed my life forever. They raised my sister and I, and I am forever grateful. I am so sorry you have lost your grandfather. Gwendolyn most certainly has a very special guardian now. When I think of the funny things my grandma would say (she was kind of quirky and could be a bit off-color) it helps me and I feel her around me. Like she is in the room. And I know she is holding Chloe. May you find peace, Victoria. This life is so hard.
Posted by Corinne on 2011-04-01 09:44:38
Our condolences to you. Those of us who've followed the blog for sometime clearly know how special this relationship was to you. Peace and comfort. Rolf and Trish
Posted by Rolf and Trish on 2011-04-01 09:52:50
Victoria, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. I will be praying that you will be filled with peace and comfort during this time. Your journey with Gwendolyn to visit your Grandpa Harry is something I have never forgotten. What a special thing that they were able to meet each other! Hugs. -Hilary
Posted by Hilary Craner on 2011-04-01 10:48:47
Victoria, I am so very sorry for your loss. The loss of a grandparent is never an easy thing, especially when there is such a deep connection. I will be thinking of you all and keeping you close to my heart in the coming days. Lisa xo
Posted by Lisa Moffat on 2011-04-01 11:04:16
Oh Victoria, I am so sorry about your grandfather. I absolutely loved hearing about him and LOVED the video of him and Gwendolyn. The words that he left with you have me in a puddle too. He was such a special man and I am so happy that he was able to be there for you. It's still hard... xoxoxox
Posted by Kristen on 2011-04-01 11:22:20
Sitting in tears, for your percious Grandpa........ words are so inadequate.........
Posted by Penny on 2011-04-01 11:29:03
Oh Victoria, I'm so sorry. I am so grateful that you were able to have Gwendolyn meet him. He sounds like an amazing man. Thank you for sharing all of those photos, very precious! Our thoughts are with you all at this time. It's never easy, no matter how old someone might have been. Lots of Love!
Posted by Lindsey on 2011-04-01 13:08:30
I'm so sorry to hear about Grandpa Harry!!! I think we all felt a special bond when you wrote about your amazing trip with Gwendolyn to let them meet each other. That trip is even more meaningful now. Sending big hugs to you and your family and hoping you have many Grandpa Harry signs to comfort you.... 'Lucy'
Posted by Helen on 2011-04-01 13:42:33
Victoria, I am so sorry to hear about your grandfather passing away. I feel your pain. I, too, had a very close relationship to my grandmother and even though she lived to be 93 years old, there is not a day that goes by that I don't miss her. I'm glad you were able to visit him one more time. You will always cherish those memories of him. My deepest sympathy.
Posted by Meike on 2011-04-01 13:46:34
Oh Victoria. That is perfect.
Posted by Margaret on 2011-04-01 16:08:09
So sorry for your loss Victoria. I am so glad that Gwendolyn was able to meet her great Grandpa. Sending hugs from Chicago.
Posted by Legally Fabulous on 2011-04-01 17:48:12
Victoria, I am so sorry for your loss. You write so beautifully. Loved the pictures, especially the one where he is sitting next to Bill, it's as though he is saying, "No listen here, I'm going to tell you how it really is!" Great shot. You and your family are in my thoughts.
Posted by Elizabeth on 2011-04-01 19:06:58
Victoria, I am so sorry for you loss...I know how special Grandparents can be! My grandfather passed away a year and a half ago and it was so hard! Addy and my Grandpa were so close and had such a special bond. The pictures are awesome! Hang in there!
Posted by Jennifer Garner on 2011-04-01 19:16:43
Oh, honey, I am so sorry. So so sorry. Hugs and lots of love to you all. :(
Posted by Devon on 2011-04-01 19:39:35
Victoria, I am so sorry to hear of Grandpa Harry's passing. The love you shared together was so special. My heart goes out to you. --Mari
Posted by Mari on 2011-04-01 21:31:54
Victoria, I am so, so sorry to hear about Grandpa Harry. I am in tears reading this. I remember the first time watching the video of Gwendolyn and Harry meeting and being so emotional moved by it. You can feel his love for his family. I loved hearing the stories about him, especially the one about toilet paper. Thank you for sharing those sweet pictures. I know that he has such a huge place in your heart and I am so sorry that you are facing this so close to Gwendolyn's D-Day. My heart is heavy for you. I wish I could take the hurt away. Sending you tons of hugs, love and strength. 'Just keep swimming....just keep swimming'
Posted by Jennifer Calafiore on 2011-04-02 00:29:49
I am so sorry. I know what you are going through. But what a wonderful life he must have led! How many wonderful things he has seen in his lifetime!
Posted by AnnaCH on 2011-04-02 14:48:24
I'm so sorry to hear about Grandpa Harry :( Sending big Hugs and all my love!
Posted by Dorothy on 2011-04-02 17:38:28
Victoria, we're so sorry to hear of your Grandpa Harry's passing. Ironically, Mark's 94 year old Grandpa passed away just one day later, on March 31st. After watching that incredible video of Harry meeting Gwendolyn for the first time, I can bet with pleasure that he and Bob are becoming fast friends in Heaven. They would (and will!) really enjoy each other. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers, knowing this is a tough time. Your incredible strength and goodness will get you through!
Posted by Jill Ashworth on 2011-04-02 21:23:10
Oh, V. I'm so sorry. ((hugs))
Posted by Cass on 2011-04-02 22:14:55
Victoria, I am so, so sorry to hear of Grandpa Harry's passing. I remember when you and Bill took Gwendolyn cross-country to meet him, the Sponsor-A-Mile thing was huge! Harry must have been so very proud of you, and so proud of everything you have done in the past 3 (almost 4!) years for Gwendolyn, and for SMA. My thoughts and prayers are with you <3 ((((HUGS)))) xoxox~ Sara K.
Posted by Sara Keenan on 2011-04-11 01:36:40
Victoria, My heart goes out to you on the loss of your Grandpa Harry. The tape of him meeting and singing "Happy Birthday" to Gwendolyn is something that never fails to bring a smile (and a tear) to my face. Thinking of you. With Love, Diane
Posted by diane on 2011-04-11 15:50:07

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