Eulogy - Delivered April 15, 2009
by stepson Kirkwood A. LeCompte
at Galilee Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach, VA
I know Brink is here with us today, and he’ sporting a huge grin. He is both thrilled and somewhat embarrassed – embarrassed that so many of you would willingly give up a perfectly good afternoon of golf to celebrate his life.
In my experience, getting Brink to talk about himself was almost impossible. He was truly selfless, and so I only know bits and pieces of his life story, some of which I want to share with you today. I know his wife and children are so happy that so many of you are here, and I know they want to hear your own stories about Brink at the reception that follows.
As long as I have known Brink, one thing has always been constant, Brink made you feel like the center of the universe. Every time he greeted you, you thought it was your birthday. His interest in you was totally unconditional and seemingly limitless. Wherever you were, he’d shower you with compliments, like, “Boy, I wish I had a swing like that – you know, you could give the pros a run for their money!” He embraced you like family without any preconception and without any expectations. He simply loved you.
Brink radiated positive energy. I never heard a complaint from him ever. Well, that’s not entirely true. After an hour of watching the Fox Channel, you might hear him railing against the Democrats and the liberal media. And I heard him complain once about those young upstarts like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus retiring from the game so young. And he had a very dry sense of humor, such that, if your golf drive hooked deep into the woods, and your approach shot buried itself 6 inches into the sand, but you somehow made par, he’d simply say, “Wow, I’ve never seen the course played like that before.” But that was it. Everything else was blue sky with Brink.
One of my earliest memories of Brink played out not far from here on court 3 of the Princess Anne Country Club almost 40 years ago. Brink offered to hit a few tennis balls with me – age 7. What I recall was an 8-foot giant of a man with catcher’s mitts for hands and a racquet grip so huge I couldn’t even wrap my fingers half-way around it. It occurs to me now, that his name shouldn’t have been Brink at all, but rather Grip. I say this because Brink’s grip helped him in every part of his life, whether he was gripping a racquet, a golf club, ski poles, the ship’s helm, the aircraft’s joystick, a computer mouse, a spatula, a TV remote, a deck of cards, or his favorite Martini. Brink had a firm grip on all these things.
I was blessed to have two fathers, Brink and Lee, often as part of the same golf foursome – blessed that is, unless they were both giving me golf advice simultaneously. Of course, we all learned many tips from Brink on the links, but the best of it came when we simply watched his effortless swing drive the ball 200 yards down the middle of the fairway and within inches of the cup.
So many golfers have told me that you know you’re in heaven because there’s no need to reserve a tee time. If that’s so, there are a few members of the Princess Anne who might say that Brink’s been in heaven for some years now. Of course, it may be he just thought tee times were for golfers with carts. Those cart drivers would see Brink, in his late eighties mind you, and considerately offer him a ride up the fairway, but they always got the same response, “I’d love too, but I need to keep walking to stay in shape for the ski slopes this winter.” The man was a force of nature – he was shooting par, skiing black diamonds, and chasing down tennis volleys until the very end.
I had the excitement of flying with Brink some 30 years ago. I didn’t ask to see his pilot’s license, I’m not sure anyone has ever actually seen Brink’s pilot license. Certainly a Naval Aviator and test pilot, who flew in Operation Torch in North Africa, and who survived as a carrier fighter pilot in the South Pacific, certainly that person doesn’t need to show credentials.
Of course, the one time I flew with Brink started at night, on the runway, in a pea soup fog. You literally couldn’t see the tips of the wings from the cockpit. According to Brink, it was just a little ground fog. All we had to do was get his tiny plane off the ground and there would be clear skies ahead. No problem. So the plan was for Brink to accelerate blindly down the runway while my father propped open the side door and peered into the fog with instructions to shout “left rudder” if the edge of the runway suddenly appeared. I sat quietly in the back, fixated on all the blinking red warning lights, and that’s when I realized, Brink never really made the transition from Test Pilot to civilian aviator.
Trust me; Chuck Yeager had nothing on Brink when it came to nerves of steel. Brink was brave, stoic, optimistic, but I suspect another reason he became a test pilot was that he could never tell anyone “no.” He was always willing to do whatever needed to be done. Like the time his carrier Captain decided they needed to launch planes off the deck with extra bombs strapped on, and they needed to determine whether that would work. So they catapulted Brink off the USS Sangamon in an attempt to defy physics. Despite a hopeful arc astern, the plane nosedived into the Pacific. Brink was in the Drink. Of course, escort carriers didn’t stop and turn around in those days, so he had to wait for the fleet to arrive and scoop him up. Clearly for this exploit and many, many others, Commander Evans was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and his entire crew, Air Group 26, received a presidential citation.
Stories of Brink just amaze me. The man learned golf from Ben Hogan, was introduced to his first wife by fellow Ensign Joe Kennedy, Jr. - yes, that Joe Kennedy - and he once got out of a slightly drunk driving ticket in California when the police officer turned out to be the crewman assigned to his plane on the USS Sangamon oh so many years earlier. Clearly, Brink had a firm grip on luck as well.
There are so many other stories that I wish I had time to tell: how he got the nickname Brink, his graceful skiing, his invitation to the French Open, and his secret life as a bridge player on Tuesday mornings. They are so many great memories for all of us to share.
I asked my boys over the weekend what they remember most about Brink. And they both had the same first answer – no, not golf – rather, a “Brink Breakfast.” A Brink Breakfast consists of 2 fried eggs, grits, sausage, toast, and a steaming cup of coffee and orange juice. In my experience, Brink was always up before dawn, ready with a cup of coffee for the next soul to awake, and an irrefutable offer to fix breakfast. Brink loved to cook and was quite good at it. He always had a firm grip on the spatula, a big position on garlic, and a secret love affair with Ossobuco. We plan to honor that memory with many a Brink Breakfast in the future.
Last week I visited with Brink, about an hour or so before he passed. I had just driven about 6 hours by car to see him, all the while reminiscing and realizing that every memory I had of him was happy, gentle, and loving. Not a single negative moment. I sat by his bed, talked to him about my boys, about family, about how we were all looking out for Jane, and I gripped his hand. It was no longer the catcher’s mitt I recalled from youth, and though it was clear Brink’s attention was focused on heaven’s door, there was a moment when he gripped me back. The grip is gone now, but, it’s Brink’s grip on my heart, on all our hearts that will stay firmly in place. We love you Brink. Godspeed and may you have clear skies ahead.