It is an honor to have been asked to speak at this service for Rick. This is the second Eulogy I have given for an Odyssey of the Mind team member. The first was Yvonne Saville almost 20 years ago.
I thought I would give a brief history of my relationship with Rick. I first met him when he was a 7th grader at Capon Bridge Junior High. Mr. Sirianni, a fellow teacher, had told me before hand about an extraordinary young man coming to our school that I had not yet worked with. Mr. Hicks, another fellow teacher and I were working on a Texas T-1000 computer that the school had recently purchased. We were like monkeys in a Radio Shack but were giving it our best shot. Rick offered his assistance. I guess we sort of chuckled and said we were doing fine, despite the fact we were getting nowhere. Rick, seeing our increasing frustration approached us again to offer his help. So have you used one of these before, I asked? He said yes, “I own one and I know how to use it” he said with a great deal of self-assurance. Well, with that, we turned over the reins to Rick; his fingers danced over the keys as though he had been doing it since he was born. In short order, he completed the task before us and then went on to greatly improve on what we were doing. Needless to say, I was very impressed with this prodigy!
Rick continued to impress me and anyone who bothered to look throughout his junior and senior high school career. He won many science fair awards with several cutting edge projects and participated on several high school Odysseys of the Mind teams that all made it to the international competition.
The two of us spent countless hours discussing everything from astrophysics to artificial intelligence. He was a sponge, soaking up everything I was able to throw his way but his first love was computer programming. He learned computer languages the way most of us learn phone numbers.
He was a giving and gentle person who often was more concerned with others’ needs than his own. Most possessions were of little value to him unless they allowed him to expand his knowledge.
After Rick attended college for several years he decided that the pursuit of a formal education was holding him back so he quit and begin marketing his skills. As his reputation expanded, things went quite well as people learned of his ability, so the jobs began to roll in. It did not take long for people in company offices in the area to realize there was something special about this young man. He was smart, confident, articulate, and able to solve problems that others were unable to solve. More important, he was able to do it faster than anyone they had ever seen!
Permit me to pass on this brief antidote from Rick’s college days. Tom Pliska was Rick’s roommate his freshman year at Virginia Tech. He tells the story of waking up from a deep sleep with frost on his blanket and the wind howling through the room. He looked over to see Rick feverously typing away on his computer in front of an open window in nothing but his BVDs. Sweat was rolling off his forehead despite the fact that the room temperature was close to freezing. Tom jumped up and yelled for Rick to close the window! When he asked him what he was doing, Rick’s reply was, “I am programming.”
Rick stayed in touch with me on a regular basis with phone calls or text. He would often call me to bounce ideas off me in the hope that I might come up with something new and interesting. I always enjoyed the talks because you could never anticipate what it would be about. Sometimes we would talk for hours.
As an adult, (as close as he could get to being an adult) he continued to enjoy play or better said, the art of play. He had the most incredible collection of toys I have ever seen. When he became a father, he could not wait to share his extensive lego collection with his kids. As the good father, he was a mixture of strength, loyalty, fun and unpredictability which is, as most of us know, what lights the fire of a young persons mind.
Eric and Erin will both miss their father as much as any one could because they experienced him as their perfect father.
Your world and mine is a sadder place without Rick. His presence will be missed by many in various different ways. During my teaching career I met many extremely bright and capable students but, I have to place Rick at the very top of a very short list. He was in a league of his own.
I wish there were some perfect words to make this loss easier for all of us, but no such words exist. We will have to endure the pain of his absence for years to come. In order to fill that void, we must remember him as the happy enthusiastic young man who enjoyed immensely the people around him and loved with few limitations. It was his gift.
Rick, know that we will all miss you more than words can tell.