Eulogy for Joseph Paul Overton
by Scott Overton
July 7, 2003
Over the past week I have talked to so many people about Joe and have read several tributes to him. Many times I have heard these words used to describe him: honest, friendly, fair, intense, kind, motivated, a leader, a teacher, a mentor, a man of integrity, one devoted to his family, his friends, to freedom, and above all, a man devoted to his Lord. And before one week ago, and for many years prior, I heard those same words when someone would speak of Joe.
No doubt many you have read or heard tributes to Joe from people all over the world; friends, economists, legislators, leaders in education, leaders in education reform, ones involved in many different aspects of giving freedom to people, or as Joe would often correct me, "giving freedom BACK to people"......the list goes on and on.
I am not speaking today as any of the above....merely as Joe's brother. I watched him, I learned from him, I watched his accomplishments mount even before he graduated from high school, and yes, all of those characteristics I mentioned before existed in Joe long long ago. I loved Joe more that I can say.
Joe was driven like no one I have ever seen before. Not only was he entirely devoted to whatever job he held and whatever task was at hand, he LOVED doing so many, many different things. He loved life.
His mind was never idle; a vacation to Joe was not "getting away from it all", it was more "a chance to go somewhere else and learn something new", be it about a new country, different cultures, or just to see and learn more about this wonderful world, no matter how big or small the item of interest may have been.
I remember clearly many years ago, when Joe was twenty years old. That summer, dissatisfied with the quality of cars being produced and how long they would last, (or wouldn't), he decided to build his own car. He sat down at his drafting table and proceeded to design his car. Not just a perspective drawing, but rather detailed plans of the frame and suspension. Then he went out, bought some welding equipment, some steel, and four shock absorbers from Sears. He came back home and I helped him cut the steel, weld it, and put the parts together.
Joe never finished that car; in fact getting not much further than I just described. That is one of very few instances where he did not achieve what he set out to do. Joe was not only not afraid to dream big, I think he was incapable of dreaming any other way. To this day, those frame parts we assembled that summer sit in my mother's garage, and the four shock absorbers sit, still in their boxes, in the basement. Perhaps in part because my mother thought maybe one day Joe would decide that the auto industry really really needed some change and a challenge, and figured why throw away what he had already started. And if he HAD decided to go forth again with that dream, and from that car, build an automobile company, I think it would have been a good idea to seriously consider selling your stock in the Big three.
I mentioned earlier the many tributes to Joe. Many of my friends who also knew him have seen them on the Mackinac Center's website, and what they said to me was echoed several times at the visitation yesterday: "I knew Joe was involved in this or that, I knew he worked at the Mackinac Center, I knew he traveled a lot, But I NEVER knew all that he accomplished. I couldn't believe it." My response: neither did I. I did not know how many people Joe had touched, nor the extent of his influence on so many people and issues.
Somehow, the more I learn of the feelings so many had for Joe, it makes my grieving more complete, more shared.
But with that also comes something that make me hurt more; the feelings that one normally deals with at this time, walking outside our house, knowing Joe will never again come up to our farm and walk along the river as he loved to do, watch the ducks in the pond, have dinner or be there for a question or two (or three or four), and just missing my brother, those feelings at times pale in comparison to the fact that I am now learning just how many people there are that had so much respect for Joe, that loved him, and the knowledge that I can never again look at him, shake his hand, and tell him how proud I am of him and thank him for his unending work for freedom, that is the type of pain that hurts so deeply.
The other feelings I mentioned when I walk outside at our farm, those now bring tears, and many at that, but I know that as time passes, the tears will turn into a sad smile, perhaps down the road even a little laugh as my wife and I recall something Joe said or did.
But the other, the fact that even though Joe knew my love and respect for him, as a man and as a brother, that I can never go back and tell him again, this time with a firmer handshake, with more emphasis in my voice, and more things to congratulate him for, that pain is the hardest of all.
One of the tributes to Joe reads, in part, "The Lord can always use good help." Now I am not one to question the Almighty, but I could not help thinking to myself, "Isn't it possible that we may need him a little more at this time? Can't we have him just a little longer?"
But we do not have him any longer, and I am reminded of two sentences from a letter my father wrote home to his parents when WWII ended, consoling them about the death of their son in the war. My father's brother was a pilot, and my father wrote, " ...he took out the insurance on our future and paid all the premiums. We, as the beneficiaries, must build the world that he must have seen as he was flying above the clouds".
Again, that was WWII, when our freedom and our way of life was in danger.
Joe knew our freedom is still in danger, and he fought many battles to preserve it. Maybe the best tribute we can give Joe is to continue to try to build the world he envisioned. I know there are many who will do just that.
There are two people I would like to thank with regard to Joe. First, Helen, thank you. On behalf of a grateful family, thank you for coming into my brother's life, thank you for the smile you put on his face, and the immense joy you brought to him. Thank you for the way you lifted his spirit, and put a different spring in his step when he walked. Thank you for being an answer to many, many prayers.
And Larry, thank you. This past week, talking with you, learning more of the times you and Joe shared, and your love for him, I am grateful to know that I am not the only one that can speak of Joe from a brother's perspective. One can never have too many brothers.