Saying Goodbye to a Truly Loyal Son

They gathered on the North Side of Chicago the other day to remember, celebrate and pray an amazing fellow into his final journey.

How fitting that the church, Our Lady of Mercy, was topped by a golden dome and likeness of Mary. For you couldn’t find a more loyal son of Our Lady’s University than Richard Savage, Notre Dame Class of 1930.

105-year-old ND alum Dick Savage will cheer the 2013 Irish team from above.

105-year-old ND alum Dick Savage will cheer the 2013 Irish team from above.

On January 7, this kindly man celebrated his 105th birthday. A little over three weeks later, he left this life – and left so many folks with great memories.

If you ever met Dick Savage, you were a friend for life. I had the great privilege of spending several afternoons with Dick in his living room on Francisco Avenue, amidst piles of correspondence, mementos, gifts, awards, photos — asking him to recall every possible detail of his time as a Notre Dame student.

For Dick, you see, was the final living link to Knute Rockne, the last man standing who could claim he crossed paths with the great coach while attending Notre Dame.

Dick told of the adventure of joining fellow students making a train trip to New York City for an ND-Army game. One school year, when he lived down Notre Dame Avenue a bit, he and his buddies would often see Rock coming or going from campus to his home on St. Vincent Street. “Hello, men,” was the invariable greeting.

After graduation, Dick returned to Chicago and built a career, but more importantly a legacy as a tremendous family man, community member, and parishioner. He was the father of one son and six daughters, including best friend and caretaker Florence Ziolkowski; grandfather of 30; great-grandfather of 62; and great-great-grandfather of one. And a beloved uncle and brother, and friend to folks far and near.

For so many in the Notre Dame family, the arrival of Notre Dame Magazine each quarter begins with a quick flip to Dick’s “column” – the Class of 1930 notes. For several years, of course, he’s been the only member left, but Dick continued to write about a host of ND friends, as well as recall stories and memories, his own and others. As such, he developed friendships with members of the extended Notre Dame family from coast to coast, of all ages.

Dick was a regular attendee of Notre Dame reunions and Senior Alumni football games, driven in his later years by his “kid brother,” now 96-year-old Don. Dick never failed to rave about the kind treatment he received from ushers and others on campus.

At the funeral, Rev. Joseph Tito described Dick as involved, engaged, curious and caring right up to the end. “He was involved in the building of this church over 50 years ago, and over the years was always available to help in a variety of ways.”

He was always there, remembering and honoring others. That’s why a 50-plus grand-child can recall receiving a Liberty silver dollar for her eighth birthday, from Grandpa’s “amazing coin collection.” And she cherished his “Irish charm and genuine interest in people.”

Dick would be the personification of “other-centered.” His mind, wit and spirit remained sharp for all 105 years. He was passionate about Notre Dame and all it represents. Besides the Fighting Irish, his other sporting passion was the Cubs. Born in the year that the Cubbies last won the World Series, he literally spent a lifetime “waiting for next year.”

But his kindness and generosity never waited. He was there for others, always.

His own words may have said it best:

“I won’t be canonized but I do hope the good Lord says, “You gave it a good try.’”

During Communion at the funeral, following a beautiful singing of Ave Maria by cantor Kristen Lynch, came the familiar strands of Notre Dame, Our Mother.  Perfect.  Just perfect.

Not a dry Domer eye in the house.

Rest in peace, my friend. We’ll raise a glass for you next time we’re at Jury’s.