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Thursday
Apr242008

Reflecting on a full life

My father is 90 years old today, an age that surprises him more than anyone. He knew he would never make it past the age his father lived to. Seven years later, he is still the center of a more vibrant world than most people get in their prime of life.

Last weekend, we gathered in San Diego to celebrate. It was the first time that all eight of his sons were in the same town at the same time for more than twenty years. With family only, children, spouses, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, there must have been more than 60 there, it was a time to reflect on how the world had changed in his life, and the effect that he had in changing it. There is no comparison between the less self-reliant life I live, and the always connected, always in reach life of the next generation, and his. (This is family history, not history, and exact ages and dates may be lost in the fogs of my memory and the frequent re-telling.)

Charles Considine moved from Minnesota to Burlingame, just south of San Francisco, when he was seven as his father, also Charles, was sent by Hormel to start a meat packing plant there. At fourteen, he was already hopping a train, jumping off to report to the plant for work at 4:00 am before going on to school. He continued this schedule through high-school, augmented by afternoons when he became the all-city tennis champion and played piano evenings as Chuck Considine and his band, sharing singing duties with his younger brother Bob’s fine Irish tenor. In summers, he learned sales working the routes of vacationing reps selling meat to butcher shops and delis. These routes were especially hard because each regular salesman would make sure his customers were especially well stocked before vacation.

He attended Berkeley, then known merely as Cal, and apparently had a great time of it. In my youth, I remember him still maintaining an active relationship with former professors. He played center on the freshman football team at a weight that today would barely qualify you to play cornerback. At some freshman outing, he and a socially prominent young lady were left behind in the wilderness, generating lurid headlines in the San Francisco papers. When asked how they kept warm, he was quoted as replying “we sang college songs”. This is quintessentially him; all the children learned all of the California fight songs, and Kappa Alpha drinking and love songs, during long car rides. Somehow he found time to sing in the chorus of the San Francisco Opera, and continued to perform with his band, including a gig at the lodge at Yosemite.

His senior year, he met “the most beautiful redhead” at the freshman dance. At the time, a welcoming committee of seniors met the two incoming lines of freshmen, men and women. Each freshman would shake hands with the president, and be whisked off to the dance floor by a more experienced senior, who would quiz him or her on home town and interests. The seniors would introduce their respective freshmen, get conversation started, and return for another freshman. He counted back, traded places, and whisked Thalia Kelly onto the gym balcony, keeping her to himself through evening and proposing to her at the end of the evening.

She accepted a week later. They dropped out of school after she turned eighteen that fall to get married. This may seem abrupt, and risky, but after eleven children and nearly sixty years, Thalia, or Mother, or Granny, was still with him this last weekend.

Before he dropped out, he, and two classmates, and a professor signed the charter creating the association of industrial engineers. He stayed at home during the war, an identified critical worker, in the Kaiser shipyards, tuning their processes to turn out a ship a day from each set of seven dry docks. He took time off from the shipyards to tune the Mustang productions lines to a 70-fold increase in production. Family stories of that time include the blackouts and the injured FBI agents living in their basement, keeping an eye on the neighbors and providing babysitting for the three young children who called them uncle.

After brief return to Minnesota, they moved to San Diego, Thalia’s home town. San Diego was about 135,000 people at the time, and just moving of the Navy’s hazardous pay list as a malaria zone. Chuck switched to accounting, building his business by teaching at the growing San Diego State and providing bookkeeping for most of the Catholic parishes in town. The family continued to grow.

By the mid 50’s, with seven children, the family moved to a cattle ranch out in the high chaparral, because he wanted the children to grow up with plenty of chores. We were up early every morning, doing chores before breakfast and the hour drive to town to attend a good school. His growing practice meant that we scaled the playground fence before 6:00 during tax season, that period between January and April 15 that drives accountants. In the 60’s, he continued this schedule while earning a PhD in math. We kids would sit in the car, doing homework and wrestling, on nights when he had class.

His practice increasingly involved real estate, and complex real estate transactions. Tax free exchanges, in all their permutations were identified by him. A key early case of his was accepted by the US Supreme Court before his client decided to settle. During the 70s, he was lecturing around the country, putting on as many as 40 three day seminars per year.

It was a good thing he was doing well, as he put all of his children through college, as well as silently putting through various talented students identified by his many civic groups. Most of us were sent to top boarding schools around the country as well. He always preferred being a silent donor, a silent supporter, but the range of is good works was always broad, and always personal.

For more than twenty years he has been fully retired. He has continued to send many to college, his grandchildren and others. His largest joy is the lunch he hosts every Sunday, in which any of his descendants in town are invited. Many college roommates of his grandchildren also make regular appearances at these lunches, with or without the person who originally brought them. He is enjoying two new grandchildren in the last six months.

He is a great man, and I am proud to be his son.

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Reader Comments (1)

The name Chuck Considine comes up several times a week at our house. My better half, Jay, speaks of him with admiration. There was nobody better at tax law and creative thinking. Jay also speaks about how Chuck had the largest private library of anyone he had ever known. I have heard others of what I call "the old guard" of real estate tell Chuck Considine stories. Your father is still held in high respect and remembered fondly.

September 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

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