In Memoriam: Theodore Libath
April 21, 1918 - October 11, 2003
I want to tell you what I learned about this mortal life from Ted.
In my unofficial capacity in recent years as a patriarch of the village, I prayed at various memorial services, honoring those service men and women from Valley Stream who died in the pursuit of their duties and our freedom. Whether at the firehouse on Rockaway Parkway, just down the street from Ted and Agnes' palace, or at the bandshell and the new memorial at the corner of Valley Stream Blvd and Hicks Street, it was my privilege to invoke God's blessing upon the honored dead and the community which gave them nurture. At another venue, the front entrance to Central High, on Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, I listened one May morning to stalwart graduates of CHS read the names of young men who had given their lives for our country's defense. It fell to Ted to read. He started with a strong confident voice, but when he came to one name, he faltered, tried to regain composure, and then handed the list to another reader. The name that tugged at his heart was Owen Salvage, a boyhood friend, an airman shot down in New Guinea in World War II, and summarily executed by the Japanese. Ted and Owen had served together in the Rescue Company of the Fire Department. They enlisted together early after Pearl Harbor.
Ted, straight and tall, reserved, if always most cordial, standing by that door of this church handing out orders of service on a Sunday morning; Ted, the no-nonsense capable, knowledgeable executive with Sid Harvey; Ted, a driving force, with his will and his tools, in the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration; Ted, Agnes' lover and friend, and didn't they always make a perfect pair, true and tall together, handsome, made for each other; Ted, who insisted on calling me "Pastor" when others of the Greatest Generation finally got round to naming me "Bob"; Ted, the rock, the dependable one, the Redskin football player; Ted, Dad and grandpa, solid and strong; this Ted lost composure while trying to name a long lost friend.
I drew two lessons from Ted's example. First, that still waters run deep. Just because a fellow doesn't talk much about his heart or his faith does not mean emptiness, but reserve, an admirable reserve, which our Lord may indirectly encourage in that memorable observation at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that "not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven." The human heart is a mystery that only occasionally and then reluctantly offers up its secrets. There on the steps of Central High School's entrance, I glimpsed a heart rich with affection and loyalty. And I thought there, waiting to say my ceremonial prayer, "God bless Ted."
The other lesson I take from Ted comes as a confirmation of my own experience: that, in the words of the hymn, "those whom we have loved and lost awhile," are never really, finally lost. They stay with us, in our minds and hearts, until we at last are reunited with them in better scenes, lovelier pastures, grander feasts, and more triumphant gatherings with God and God's Christ. Hardly a day passes but I think, for instance, of my Mom, when I see her features in Robert twin; when I repeat one of those adages of which she was so fond, like "Good things come in small packages"; and when we admire the fall foliage which set her to singing, "This Is My Father's World." Owen remained in Ted's heart and mind long past the deadly treachery in New Guinea. Ted will be with you, Agnes and dear family, until the end of your days.
And then forever. Barbara's father (speaking of strong memories of those whom we have loved and lost awhile!) memorized many passages of poetry. Among them was this hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier: "I know not what the future hath Of marvel or surprise. Assured alone that life or death God's mercy underlies." The future may be a mystery but God's mercy isn't. And it is that merciful destiny toward which all of us are tending, some of us sooner than later. It comes with several faithful previews. Ted, the home reconstruction specialist, certainly will find his place in the Father's House, filling in Owen on the teeming, vibrant village the farming town of Valley Stream became, while waiting for us to join him at the feast in the banquet hall, through which windows the glory of God shines with the brilliance of a thousand suns. Meanwhile, down through the length of our days Ted will be often in our thoughts, sometimes in our dreams, and always in our prayers.
God of our days, those that are spent and those that stretch before us as if without end, we gather to thank you this morning for one of our number, a beloved member of our family and circle of friends, whose days on earth are done, our Ted, your son and faithful steward, Theodore. He was well-named, dear Father, Theo-dore, your gift to us. He spent his measure of days on those in whose company you placed him, his country, his village, his church, his friends, his family. And, in response to your commandments, he did it all faithfully, responsibly, thoroughly, kindly, with his own special brand of dignity. We shall miss him with the same heartfelt emotion he remembered, grieved, and celebrated those who went on before him to your house with many rooms.
On Ted's behalf we thank you for surrounding him at every turn with loving people. Above all, for your providence that through the turmoil of a great war he should nonetheless find the love of his life, a helpmate in every way, his Agnes, who held him as he held her, through all of the changes of this mortal life, with an affection far stronger than death. You continued to bless him throughout his days with children and grandchildren, each one of them a source of pride and celebration, and more than a little gentle bragging. We thank you too, on Ted's behalf, for the abiding friendships of this village, many of them nearly spanning his lifetime, people with whom he went to school and worked and served to preserve the memories and traditions of earlier days in this place. He was your sentinel at the church door on many Sunday mornings. He was your faithful worshiper who offered many prayers in this place.
Hold him now in your everlasting arms. Make for him, we pray, a bright and happy room among your stately mansions. Place him at your right hand at the great banquet feast of heaven. And send him, please, to welcome us, each of us, when at last we pass from death to life and cross the threshold into your eternal kingdom; for we ask it in the name of our Lord Jesus, in whose blessed name we hold fast to the hope of heaven. Amen.
The Valley Stream Herald, the issue for October 16th, contains an obituary that is more like a celebration of Ted's life in the village. You may access it at the following online address: