Tribute to Dan by his son Bram Desmet, as read at Dan's Memorial Service.
Dan’s story is largely that of a self-made man. One who, as my favorite author would say, “took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but his own vision.” That is how among other things we came to live in this country and then almost two decades later start our own family run company.
But to say Dan was a self-made man is not to say he was a man unto himself. Quite to the contrary so much of what defined Dan was his love for and dedication to others, especially his family and friends.
But, Dan was a fiercely intelligent man that truth be told could intimidate even the most self-confident among us with his sharp wit and unabashed convictions on everything from the mundane to the monumental. And yet those who loved him most may have been the ones who learned to stand up to and even spar with this force, this man who was our very own Lion of Flanders.
I for one can recall no point of greater self-growth in my life than learning to stand up to my father’s ideas and shear force of will. And as funny as it may sound this was the real beauty of being able to work with my father: the opportunity to not only learn from his immense knowledge, but to also learn so much about myself by being able to occasionally butt heads with one of the smartest and most insightful individuals I have ever known. Yet despite this Lion’s gruff exterior inside lay a giant teddy bear as any of Dan’s grandchildren can gladly attest to. Opa was the ultimate bear hug machine and as his grandchildren and all of his friends know he was also one of the most generous people you could ever meet.
Knowing Dan you could not be found wanting. As my mother recently recalled to me when Dan was in the Merchant Marines he had saved a bit of money while at sea for some time with little to do with his earnings except for save it. But as soon as he was back ashore he walked into a nearby bar and bought drinks for everyone inside. That was Dan, generous to a fault. Always believing that to die rich was a fools errand and that there was no shame in enjoying what you could while you could.
Over the years Dan and I became each other’s sounding boards, constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. And then a couple of years ago I distinctly remember that sounding board becoming an echo chamber. We would quite literally finish each other’s sentences and when we did we knew we were onto a good idea. Dan had always been a great and dedicated father to my sister and me but it was in working with my Dad over the years that he really became one of my best friends.
Dan and I ended up seeing eye to eye on so much there was seldom a reason for both of us to travel to any one meeting, but those rare occasions where the two of us were able to go out on the road together are some of my most cherished memories of my Dad. One such fantastic trip was last year when Dan and I attended IBC in Amsterdam, but we had made reservations rather late and my Mom had come over to Belgium to visit so we all ended up staying in Gent, the birthplace of both my sister and me. Gent, as my father was fond of saying, is not only one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium, but also one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Beauty aside those of you familiar with your European geography will note that Gent and Amsterdam are not exactly just down the road from one another. This made for some wonderfully long commutes to and from Amsterdam everyday, but also allowed for plenty of time for Dan’s famous storytelling. It is times like these that I will miss the most.
Dan swore me to secrecy with most of his stories on that trip, on more than one occasion telling me “you better not let your mother know I told you that story, she wouldn’t be happy that I told you.” The general lesson I gathered from these humorous tales is that my sister and I were WAY TOO WELL BEHAVED as kids and young adults and that we should probably have been up to a lot more trouble to properly live up to our parents, especially my Dad’s, trouble making legacy.
On a more serious note I also want to recognize my father as one of the most outstandingly supportive and loving husbands to have every graced our planet. As most all of you know my wonderfully strong mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly before Dan and is now in complete remission. While undergoing treatment he would not leave her side making the hospital essentially his new home. Despite knowing that a likely even tougher journey lay ahead for him in his own health battles he was solely focused on seeing her through her own tough struggle. His dedication to the love of his life was truly enviable and if we all endeavor to be as loyal to the ones we love as my father was the world will only be better for it.
And while I mourn the loss of my friend and my father, I mourn most of all for my children and my niece who had their Opa taken from them much too soon. Opa’s stories, Opa’s laughter, and that heart-warming smile are lost to them more than anyone else. So in closing I just want to say to Connor, Madison, Olivia, and Holden that your Opa loved you and that I know from his lips to my ears that you were the thing he cherished most in this world.