In Memoriam: John Christopher Rawson — 12/5/52 – 4/12/74

I the wake of Easter, we are reminded that the reason for this holiday is to celebrate Life. For Christians, this has been a celebration of Life Everlasting and the Salvation that Jesus made possible for Mankind. Pre-Christian traditions also took time at this high point of Spring to celebrate the rebirth of nature after the bleakness of Winter. Familiar Easter symbols such as rabbits, (life abundant) eggs, (life emerging from lifelessness) and bright flowers (life reborn) have their origins in these Pre-Christian celebrations, though the symbolism applies fittingly to the Christian celebration.

Yet, as the Book of Common Prayer reminds us, in the midst of life we are in death. Last Friday, Good Friday, commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus and his earthly death. For many years, each Good Friday is also a time of personal remembrance for me, because it was on Good Friday, 12 April 1974, that my brother Chris was killed in an airplane crash. Though it has now been thirty-eight years, this loss is still with me. It is not a fresh pain, of course, it simply is a loss that I have grown accustomed to, but which nevertheless remains a loss.

Chris was a wonderful brother. The passage of time, as is natural, has caused me to forget any flaws and to remember only the good things.

When Chris was in his early teens, at a time when my father was considering an employment opportunity in Saint Louis, Chris decided to design an old-fashioned flatboat to take on a drift down the mighty Mississippi. He drew elaborate plans, did research on materials and costs, and spent time at the library to learn about similar designs. Ultimately, he built a 1/20th scale model of his plans in balsa wood. This plan was never realized (my father declined the job offer) but we had that wonderful model for many years.

Chris was deeply involved in Scouting and attained the rank of an Eagle Scout. For many years he spent his Summers as a camp counselor at the Boy Scouts’ Camp Emerald Bay on Santa Catalina Island off of the Southern California Coast. He introduced my twin brother Rob and me into Scouting. We three did a great deal of hiking together with our troop, and we “conquered” many of California’s tall peaks. I have an especially fond memory from the Fall of 1972. Our scout troop was hiking in the Grand Canyon. At that time, Chris was attending school at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. As night descended on our first day in the Canyon, I was startled to hear a familar voice call out: “Rob and Jamie Rawson had better answer their older brother!”

Chris had hiked all the way to Phantom Ranch where we were encamped to join us for the long weekend! He led us on several day-hikes where he served as a well-informed tour guide sharing with us younger Scouts things he had learned about the geology of the canyon in a class at college. Chris supervised some pretty fancy meals as well, for he had packed in some steaks and potatoes and other non-standard camp fare. The Scout leaders were especially glad to see him, for he had ensured his welcome by bringing in a case of beer! (Just for the adults!)

Chris had many interests and enthusiasms. He loved drama (he played the comic-relief role of the porter in a production of MacBeth) and he loved stagecraft (he once designed the set for a college production of Jesus Christ Superstar.) He was fascinated by film and the movie business and he made several 8mm films, including his magnum opus, Kincaid’s Gold, a thinly veiled rip-off of a Hollywood film of similar name.

In the last year of his life his great passion was flying. Chris joined the Air Force ROTC. He took training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in the summer of 1973. The training was intense, but he took the time to mail a small Texan cactus to me and Rob for our cactus garden. During the next year he took opportunities to fly whenever he could.

Good Friday, 12 April 1974 was a stunningly beautiful day in Southern California. The air was clear, the temperature mild. It was a day so perfectly lovely that I well might have remembered it ever after just for that. I even recall thinking that afternoon what a fortunate day it was.

Rob and I had arisen at 4:00 am to accompany my mother to the Los Angeles Flower Market to pick up the stock for the Easter weekend at our flower shop. After we had finished cleaning and preparing the immense load of flowers back at the shop, Rob and I went to a local lunch counter. We ordered chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, only remembering too late that we should not have ordered meat. Fortunately, when the waitress brought the sandwiches, the cook had gotten the order wrong: the sandwiches were tuna! (Which was just fine for Good Friday.) It certainly seemed a fortunate day.

We were watching the broadcast of Ben Hur that evening when the telephone rang, delivering the stunning, tragic news.

At that time, and in the decades since, I tried to understand the “why” of this loss. There was no reason, no purpose, no greater cause served by Chris’ death. It simply happened. In the midst of life we are in death. On the threshold of the Easter celebration of Life and Rebirth a life was lost. I long ago concluded that the “why” of this loss will remain unknown to me in this life. There is no compensation possible, there is no “getting over it,” there is only getting used to it. And it would serve no purpose to be angry or resentful for the loss. It is not unjust; it is not just. It just is.

But I write this not to bring down peoples’ spirits after a wonderful holiday, rather I write this to remember a fine person who has been gone far longer than he lived. I recall him very often, and he well deserves to be remembered.

So as we celebrate Life and Rebirth, as we rejoice in Spring and think of delightful things, we also remember too those who are not here with us. Easter embraces both reflections.

John Christopher Rawson 1952-1974

Chris Rawson. Taken 11 April 1974.

W. C. Rawson, Sr. 1925-2007

On this day in 1925 was born a man who has been for all my life one of my greatest heroes – probably the foremost – and an inspiration, and a role model, though I cannot claim to even begin to come close to embodying the high standards that he set by his example. He was a true hero in many, many ways, most of which are unrecorded and unheralded by the world at large, but which are nevertheless heroic.

As copilot of four-engine bombers for the 493rd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, he flew 30 missions against Nazi Germany as lead plane in his squadron. He flew both B-17s and B-24s, making him unusually qualified to comment of the relative merits of each. For his service he was decorated with multiple Air Medals and twice received The Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, he married, and took to studying law at Georgetown. But when the United States Air Force was formed as a distinct branch of the military, he rejoined and served until 1969, however it was not until 1999 – thirty years after he retired – that he received his final Citation from the Secretary of Defense, enough material having been declassified to permit the issuance of the Citation.

So, as I say, he was a hero officially.

But he was even more a hero in ways that are less formally recognized. He and his wife of fifty-five years raised six kids and put each one through college. And the two of them never forgot their primary role as parents: to be teachers. He took his role as a teacher to be one of his most important duties. Whether around a meal table, working on an engine, or hiking in the mountains, he continually taught. And not merely facts and figures, but values and morals and beliefs. And he continued this important role unto the next generation, teaching his grand children.

And he was a hero at the very end of his life, eduring with as much patience and good grace as possible the affliction of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS or “Lou Gherig’s Disease.” As Dylan Thomas advised his own father, he would not “… go gentle into that good night,” but neither did he rage. If I were to find myself in the same circumstance and face it so well, I’d be proud indeed.

My father as a young US Army Air Corps officer in 1945.

So, today, upon the occasion of what would have been his 87st Birthday, I send out this in tribute to one of the finest human beings I shall ever have the pleasure and benefit of knowing; though I know and have known many outstanding and astounding people, he stands out from them all: my father, William Charles Rawson, Senior. As fine a man as I have ever known: a wonderful father, an irreplaceable teacher, a courageous and heroic gentleman. It is true, he was not flawless, for no one is, but his virtues were many. And I can say with all sincerity: If I am ever accounted half the man he is, I shall adjudge myself a success in this world.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’

Julius Caesar, V:v