A eulogy to tell you how great Don was.
Read at the memorial service for Don Masters on July 28, 2006, 2:30 pm at
First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu.
Seventy-five years ago, on May 5, 1931, a boy was born to Juanita and Ray Dull in Kansas City, Missouri. They named him Donald Ramon Dull. As a young boy, his favorite hero was Buck Rogers, and he dreamed of exploring space. He had a younger brother, Gail, and the two of them always excelled in school. Gail was feisty, and many a time Don had to be a peacemaker. His mom had a surprise pregnancy late in life and blessed the boys with a baby sister whom they named Neta.
I first met him in high school, where we became good friends and then sweethearts. Although I lived a mile one direction from school and he lived a mile the other way, he often carried my books home from school, then walked back home. He did not have an obesity problem.
Neta, his baby sister, was the apple of his eye, though, and he often brought her along on our Saturday dates. I wasn’t too thrilled over this: can you imagine how difficult it is to get romantic with a guy when his baby sister is hanging around?
We did have a common goal: both of us wanted to see the world. Don attended his first two years of college on an NROTC scholarship and assumed he would see the world with the navy. I had observed a navy family in our neighborhood—he saw the world while she stayed home—and I said, “No way. Choose between the navy and me.” Obviously, I won.
In the Bible, Paul states it’s better to marry than to burn (he must have been a real fun guy, that Paul), and so we married when I was eighteen and Don was twenty—his father had to go to the courthouse to give permission since he was underage. I desperately wanted him to change his name to mine—I’d much rather be Elaine Masters than Elaine Dull—but Don, hard-headed Dutchman that he was, refused. Back in those days, if two people lived together but had two last names, everyone assumed they were living in sin. It was “love me, love my name,” so in order to get the guy, I took the name.
Fortuitously, at that time a recruiter came to our college and interviewed Don. The recruiter didn’t actually say who he was representing, but he said most the work would be done overseas. Ah! Travel! We soon discovered the recruiter was from The Company—the CIA.
Don was trained in communications and for twenty-seven years, he defended America’s freedom while posted in Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, The Netherlands, and Venezuela, then in the Orient in Okinawa, The Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. I got to tag along to all the posts.
When Don first went to work, his communication tool was a hand key and Morse code. He was often the only link with the outside world, connecting field agents with the embassy and on to Langley and the President of the United States. Don claimed the job was 95% boredom and 5% pure panic! Morse code graduated into teletype and computers, then satellites, and now the internet has made the position no longer necessary. A couple of years ago the division was dissolved, and Don mourned its passing like he would mourn for a favorite uncle.
People who worked under Don appreciated him and always said he was a great boss.
Don loved children and was wildly excited when I got pregnant—all four times. He enjoyed his kids. Having been an Eagle Scout, he served as Webelo and Explorer scoutmaster for many years. More recently, he has enjoyed tutoring immigrant children at Canaan Community Gospel Center in Honolulu’s Chinatown. One day, after mediating snide remarks and backbiting among the Chinese girls, he said, “You know, girls can be MEAN.” I guess he never noticed that in his own kids.
People used to ask me what we did with our children when we went overseas, and I would say, “they went with us.” I guess they were thinking in terms of a two month trip or something, but foreign service was our life, not our pastime.
As we accumulated grandchildren (fifteen at the moment, plus nine great-grandchildren) we took them places in America—family camp with National Wildlife, Disneyland, San Francisco. Don said, “No American child should grow up without experiencing San Francisco.” Cool guy, that Don.
He became a Christian when he was a teenager, and his faith slowly grew. In Manassas, Virginia and in Honolulu, he was an elder in the Christian, Disciples of Christ church. Mixing faith and fun, we took groups of church teens backpacking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sometimes several days at a time. Don loved to hike and he loved teens.
He was supportive of missions and financed most my trips to the tribes in Thailand. I remember once in Virginia, fed up with people in general, he said, “I’d like to dig a moat around our house and keep it private, just for us.” But here in Hawaii, bless his heart, he willingly hosted wall-to-wall tribal people in our tiny condo as they came to Honolulu to attend HIM conferences and to improve their English. God changed him on that one, big time.
Another way he changed was on that name thing. He finally agreed we could legally change our names. Like he said, I’d been Elaine Dull for 40 years. Now for the next forty he’d be Don Masters. He didn’t quite make the forty, though.
When he was a child, he thought as a child and spoke as a child, but when he grew older, he put away childish things—sort of. He traded in Buck Rogers for Captain Kirk and could lip-synch most the episodes of Stargate SG 1. He still had his eyes on space and shyly confessed to me he would love to be an astronaut.
He read avidly, gobbling up several library books each week on topics ranging from murder mysteries to weighty histories. He seldom left a bookstore without a book or two in hand.
When he retired from the CIA, we stayed in Northern Virginia several years. He trained with H&R Block, then opened his own tax office in Woodbridge, Virginia. He had the corner on Iranians because he bawled them out when they got out of line—seems they appreciated it so much that they recommended him, much to his chagrin, to all their friends. One said, “I like to do business with you. You understand us.”
He also served many Spanish stonecutters, wives dumped by their military husbands, and other strugglers as well as a good number of more wealthy patrons.
We moved to Hawaii nineteen years ago, partly for the weather, mostly for the people. Having spent so many years in the Orient, we were used to Asian ways and loved Hawaii’s aloha spirit. Don reveled in the tropical flowers, the sunsets, the mountains and ocean.
He was a tax preparer here in Honolulu, too, but worked for other people. As he said, “tax prep is just a few months and the office rent goes on all twelve. I’ll let someone else have the headache of meeting the expenses.” He didn’t want to do bookkeeping because that would have tied him up all year and he wanted to travel. After retiring from the CIA, he still loved to explore new places and see new sights, but it was a real shock when Uncle no longer bought those airline tickets for us.
The past few years, Don hasn’t been able to hike, although he has been able to travel. Emphysema and heart problems took their toll. In a rare fit of depression, he mentioned that he missed hiking and he chafed at his physical limitations. But true to his character, he didn’t dwell on it. He enjoyed what he was still able to do.
Like all good Scouts, Don was brave and loyal. Like most commo people in the CIA, he was fiercely patriotic. He was optimistic and buoyant, lifting me up when I was down. He was a fun guy, uninhibited at unexpected moments. He was my husband for 55 years.
In his final illness, he improved so much the doctor was amazed, and we were hopeful the miracle would last. But God had other plans. Like Scotty, God beamed him up and he finally got his longed-for space travel. I picture him now hiking all over heaven and marveling at the wondrous sights. He was excited about the move of First Prez to the Ko’olaus and marveled at the scenery, so much so that he asked that his ashes be scattered at our new church site. We talked a good bit about death and heaven and what we expected, and he mentioned that he never much cared for harp music—he’d rather have bagpipes. So Don, here’s to you—bagpipes and all. We love you.