Gene Ediger Eulogy
Spoken by Chuck Currie
I have to admit that I feel somewhat inadequate to the task of offering this last formal
good bye to Gene. To hope that I can express in words the essence of the wonderful,
gentle friend that has left our physical presence is like hoping for a miracle.
But perhaps believing in miracles is not too much to ask of ourselves this afternoon.
Gene was our miracle.
Some people walk this earth in mystery - unsure of themselves, without vision of how the
world should be. Gene walked this earth - well, being so tall he more liked lumbered
through this earth - with purpose.
As a native of Kansas, he was a person of the earth, writing once that “much to the
chagrin of the Ediger women it is soil that bonds the brotherhood of Ediger men.
Although we were raised in an era in which the world around us was exploding with
change, the farm was our anchor. We continued to milk the cows, gather the eggs, hoe in
the garden and till the soil. Working with the soil, watching things grow and providing
for family was as close as we could come to doing God’s handiwork.”
Gene was a deeply compassionate and sensitive human being, and an ardent champion of
social justice. His wisdom, his sense of humor, his nobility, his unconditional love was
evident in his work as well as his every day life. Gene was a quiet, gentle, noble man
who was instrumental in providing significant and real change in the lives of the
homeless and poor in this community. Always quietly, faithfully, diligently working in
the background, he rarely received the credit he deserved. But Baloney Joe’s, and
Outside In, and Burnside Advocates Group would not have been the accomplishments
they were if they hadn’t been touched by Gene’s life.
Gene was considered a hero by so many who knew him. It seems inconceivable and
wrong that that he has died. Many of us have been left with a sense that the world
shouldn’t continue as normal, that there is little purpose in living in a world without him.
There is tremendous and legitimate anger that Gene Ediger - our friend, our hero - died so
young, so painfully.
Someone said at Spencer Marsh’s funeral that “to live in the hearts we leave behind is not
to die.” Gene will continue to live through us, his family and friends. He can mend our
broken hearts with his presence, we can converse with him daily, we can measure our
actions and motivations by his standards, we can live to his glory… a glory first reveled
in Jesus Christ and offered to us through Gene.
Gene saw homelessness and logically thought we should build homes. Gene witnessed
hunger and logically thought we should offer food. Gene saw lonely people in the streets
and logically thought we should open our hearts. In today’s society his logic- the same
written in the Bible - is looked upon as outdated liberalism. He never concerned himself
with political philosophy. All he was concerned with was right and wrong. He walked -
lumbered - this earth with purpose.
In the midst of the terrible things that he witnessed and endured, Gene never surrendered
to real anger. Instead he offered humor. When all of our lives at Baloney Joe’s were
uprooted by scandal, when the bomb threats came, when the reporters stalked us, when
our spirits were down, Gene found humor. Humor in his key chain that made atomic
bomb sounds, humor in the strange characters that walked through our door each day.
During the height of the dark ages - the Reagan administration - he dressed as Uncle Sam
for the homeless parade.
Gene also had no trouble poking fun at himself. Like the story he told of trying to
impress a waiter in Mexico by ordering in Spanish a box of souvenir matches, only to
have to waiter respond to his request by bringing exactly what Gene asked for: nachos.
The only negative thing we can say about Gene was that he clearly wasn’t bilingual.
For Gene living with AIDS was a terrible darkness, a temptation liked Job faced. I often
wondered how life could offer up such a terrible end and how his face could continue to
smile. The worst was in the last hours. A physical pain that can only be described as a
curse racked his body. He refused the temptation even then to surrender his soul to anger
and hate. In the few moments he had awake, he wanted to comfort us. “It’s all going to
be ok,” he said to a room full of friends 12 hours before he died.
AIDS only offered Gene another opportunity to serve. He joined the board of directors at
Outside In in 1990 and quickly became the board chair. There he oversaw the expansion
of programs to combat the spread of HIV among street kids. He championed needle
exchange programs and condom distribution. He lived his life to the fullest, but never
wanted anyone to end their life like he knew he would end his: before their time.
Gene wrote that “everything I do is more precious to me now because I know that my
timeline is shorter than I had hoped. Whether I have months or years, I’m committed to
doing the best that I can for as long as I can. And I’m going to hold dear to my values of
integrity, compassion and humor."
Even when he was very ill he continued to serve. Just one week before his death he
attended a meeting for the merger of Burnside Advocates Group and Oregon Housing
Now Coalition - and after the meeting he went to his doctor. He was known to work 60
hour weeks at Baloney Joe’s, and attended board meetings for Outside In when most of us
would have been reduced to staying in bed.
To me Gene was a trusted friend who could lift my spirits, a mentor who could impart his
wisdom, a teacher who could show me the beauty of life, and a hero who could fight evil
with a vengeance and laugh a happy laugh while doing it.
Gene knew that the power of God is greater than death. Our relationships are not severed
at death, but refocused beyond physical connection. As we lift our eyes above the illusion
of death, we will begin to see the eternity of life. Jesus did not die when he died, and
neither did Gene. Gene wants for us to be comforted and he would want us to live life to
the fullest; to create life-giving purpose to each other and to the world in which we live;
to making relevant and meaningful change.
In one of his letters Gene wrote that “even though I have good days and bad days, I’m still
active, engaging and fun loving. And although I’m not thrilled at the inevitable outcome
of this disease, my situation has a silver lining. My circle of friends has been incredibly
caring and supportive. They have become more than friends, they are my heroes. My
family has always been close but now more than ever they have lifted my spirits with
expressions of unconditional love and support. And through it all I have a renewed
appreciation of the beauty of life. Each new day is like a gift and I awaken with a sense of
wonder, awe, and excitement. And I know that ultimately everything will be all right."
I’d like to say to Gene’s mother, Helen, that our hearts go with you. You are to be
commended that you raised such a beautiful son. I hope the presence of the people here
today proves to you the high regard in which he was held in this community. He made a
difference. He touched our hearts. Our prayer is that your grief might move through you
gently. May you hold in your minds forever the truth we agree upon here today: Gene
still lives in the arms and mind of God. Keep your heart open to receive him. He will
yet communicate his love for you, for he lives on in spirit and shall not forget you. You
can be proud of him.
I’d like to say to his brothers and sisters, Ralph, Ray and Ilene, that your brother was a
true gift to our city. He spoke often of his family and loved you all. That love is just to
powerful to escape your hearts. He will be with you forever as well.
Rhonda, Gene’s sister here in Portland, you should be proud of yourself. You made
Gene’s transition from this world into the next a peaceful one. It was you who wiped his
forehead and held his hand the instant he died. Having you live in Portland made this city
more like home to Gene than anything else. Nothing can separate your love for one
To Paul: I know that you feel that you will never be the same, and you will not. Our
prayer for you is that you not give into the dark side of sorrow but rather let its light
illumine you. Sorrow can stretch your heart now, and more light can shine there than
ever before. Your bond with Gene was neither temporal nor temporary. You were joined
by holy bond, and so your bond lives forever. Receive him in death as you received him
in life. Gene will watch over you and protect you and send you all manner of good.
Gene had a poem that he wanted read today - one that I know was meant for his family
If I should ever leave you
whom I love
To go along with silent way,
Nor speak of me with tears,
but laugh and talk
Of me as if I were
beside you there.
(I’d come - I’d come,
could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief
And when you hear a song
or see a bird
I loved, please do not let
the thought of me
Be sad… for I am
loving you just as
I always have…
you where so good to me!
There are so many things
I wanted still
To do - so many things
to say to you…
Remember that I
did not fear… it was
Just leaving you
that was so hard to face…
We cannot see beyond…
but this I know:
I loved you so - ‘twas heaven
here with you!
Today we say good bye to Gene Ediger - a son, a brother, a partner, a friend, a co-worker,
a advocate, a hero.
Gene, my friend, we will miss your physical presence. But we will always know your
spirit lives with us. Thank you, Gene, for making us believe in miracles again.
‘twas heaven here with you!