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Widower set in his ways, right up to his dying day

Dick Wise came across as gruff to many, but he prided himself in doing things his own way.

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published April 22, 2007


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HUDSON - The next day was his 78th birthday, and that's when he wanted to die.

Dick Wise sat in the kitchenette booth of his small, cluttered trailer, where he'd been living off and on since his wife, Gloria, died 13 years earlier. The trailer was parked next to the house they shared, where a revolving door of kids and grandkids live now. Gloria died from emphysema in the house and Dick refused to sleep there after that because it made him sad.

She died on his birthday. They shared more than 40 years together. If Dick was going to die, he wanted to go when Gloria did. And - as a mean cuss - he was used to getting his way. He'd will himself to stay alive.

It was early, about 7 a.m., on April 4. His daughter Rita came to check on him. She brought him some ice water and a cool cloth. She washed his hands and the bit of leathery skin not covered by his beard, a massive white and ginger pelt that looked like it, if cut and spun, could make a few sweaters for the scrawny old man.

Not that he'd wear a sweater. At 77, he still went for the biker look: black tank tops, raggedy jeans shorts, bandannas wrapped around his thinning hair, a Camel unfiltered cigarette dangling from his lips. Though he loved the biker crowd, he never owned a bike. He didn't even have a driver's license.

"How are you doing?" Rita asked.

"All right," he said.

"Can I get you anything?"

"Get me a beer," he said.

"God, Dad," she said. "It's 7 a.m. You can't have a beer."

"Hell I can't," he said.

"What about some orange juice?"

"No," he said. "Get me a beer."

So she did. She cracked open a can of Busch and set it beside him. She started in on him again about going to the doctor. He'd been so tired these past few weeks. She found him on the floor one day and she thought he'd had a stroke. But he refused to go - which is what he always did. One time he got run over by a car. It took him three days before he'd let her take him to the hospital. He didn't want to pay to fix something that might heal on its own accord.

"I'm going to die the way I want to die," he said. "And I'm going to die tomorrow."

Then he roared:

"Go away. Leave me be."

So Rita left, thinking that it was a good sign he had the energy to shout, and went to the house with plans to check on him again in an hour or so.

"Maybe he'll make it till tomorrow," she thought.

* * *

Dick was born in Mansfield, Ohio, into an Amish family. His mother died when he was a child and his father put Dick and his two other children in an orphanage. Dick was later taken in by elderly relatives, but they died soon afterward. Dick joined the Army, where he learned how to smoke, drink, cuss and chase women, according to Rita. When he got back, he chased the neighbor girl, Gloria. They married and lived on a farm for a while - without electricity or a phone. Dick was a carpenter. Gloria stayed at home. They left Ohio and went to Missouri and then to Florida, where they stayed and reared their four daughters.

Dick and Gloria were, as told by those who know them, opposites. She was sweet, caring, never said a bad word about anyone, sent her children and husband off with love notes tucked inside their lunches. She liked lace and Chanel No. 5 and Merle Norman cosmetics.

Dick also had a good heart, but his was more of the onion variety. People had some peeling to do. If you needed help - some food, a place to stay, something built, something mended - he was there. But his honesty was brutal. He liked to stir things up, to say things to get a reaction. His hobby of choice was fighting.

Scrapping is what Rita calls it. Dick was a scrapper.

"He beat up all my boyfriends," said Rita, who is 47 and has never married. "That's why my last name is still Wise."

You could say that fights just seemed to find Dick. But it also helped that he had a fondness for places where these things naturally occur. He liked bars, cheap beer, shooting pool. He'd see things like a woman getting hit and knocked off her bar stool by her boyfriend. That would start a scrap.

"He never threw a punch somebody didn't deserve," said Rita, who took to wearing dresses when she went to bars with her dad, so she'd have an excuse to stay out of the rumbles.

Rita said her father, at nearly 80, hadn't scrapped for a while.

"At least a year," she said.

With all his scuffles, Dick has a pretty harmless record: drunkenness in 1960, vagrancy in '61 and driving without a license in '76. He was a carpenter and, even in the low times, he never would consider financial aid. He wouldn't even take his veteran's pension. He could make it on his own, he always said. Leave that money for people who need the help.

After Gloria died, Dick never dated again.

"Who'd want to date that ugly old man?" Rita said with a laugh.

* * *

A few hours later, on that Wednesday morning, Rita walked back over to the trailer with a fresh glass of ice water to check on her dad.

He was dead, his hand still wrapped around his unfinished beer. He didn't make it to his birthday. But, even in death, he was still sitting up and Rita thought he'd be pleased about that - that he'd go when his time was up, but he wasn't about to do it lying down.

Life Stories is an occasional feature taken from Pasco obituaries. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 19:19:48]


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