Our dad, Richard P. Luikey, Sr., 79, of Millbury, passed away on Thursday, January 30 in St. Vincent’s Hospital. We miss him immeasurably but we’re buoyed by the knowledge that he’s now enjoying permanent summer by the water in a place with no illness and no snow, and where you sip Diet Coke and catch a fish every time you cast your line. We’re focused on the happiness that we found in the way he lived, not in the sadness of his passing. He was neither a somber nor a formal person, so this is neither a somber nor a formal obituary.
He leaves his wife of 53 years, Carol (Gudas) Luikey, his daughter Christine (Luikey) and her husband Robert F. X. Roy, Jr., his son Richard Luikey, Jr. and daughter-in-law Kelley (Johnson), grandson Tristan and granddaughter Arden, his sister-in-law Jo (Elliott) Luikey, and his nephew Peter Luikey, Peter’s wife Katherine (Madore) and their daughter Thea along with numerous cousins.
He was born in Worcester to Anna (Stakun) and Peter Luikey. He is predeceased by his parents, and by his brother and friend, Robert Luikey.
He graduated from Commerce High School in Worcester and then earned an Associate’s degree in Forestry Management and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Nichols College and a Master’s degree in Education from Worcester State University. He joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard during college. His unit was activated during the construction of the Berlin Wall and was based in Giebelstadt, Germany. He then served in the U.S. Air Force.
Growing up in Worcester he spoke Lithuanian before switching to English in school. This enabled him to enjoy the company of his immigrant grandparents. Our grandmother often laughed about how his unexpected language skills would win him a free bulkie while grocery shopping with her in “The Village” or on Water Street.
When asked to describe his father, he began with “Well, we were always together…” and this bond shaped many of his life’s interests. These included a love of the outdoors, an appreciation of nature, an affinity for the ocean, fishing, Cape Cod, fixing things, fishing, understanding engines of all sorts, fishing, and making his children the priority in life. Did we mention fishing? Together with his father he ran Pete’s Bait from the family basement at the bottom of Vernon Hill. He knew every river and body of water in the Blackstone Valley from their expeditions to collect bait fish.
He liked to tell stories about his time on duty. These began with clearing the road of pebbles before a high-ranking visit during basic training at Lackland AFB. He skied for the first (and last) time in Austria while staying at USO facilities on leave. His group traveled into the former German Democratic Republic (“East Germany”); he remembered the somber faces and unsmiling pedestrians. They had an audience (“Thirty seconds!”) with the Pope in Rome. The German barracks were located in a former children’s camp where the walls where covered with Disney cartoon characters.
He began his teaching career in the Sutton Public Schools before moving to the Millbury Public Schools. He spent the next 37 years in Millbury, teaching mostly sixth grade. He used humor as a teaching tool and had great concern for students who might not ordinarily enjoy coming to school. He loved to take his classes outside to explore the environment surrounding the Shaw School. He developed a system of trails around the school property and a curriculum for teaching science using the outdoors as a laboratory. He was a strong believer in public education at all levels and often said that the public school system was the great equalizer – and that an educated citizenry was an essential element of a functional society.
He made many friends throughout his career. He reminisced fondly about his colleagues during his retirement. He hosted end of the school year pool parties for his work friends - we kids were mortified to see the backyard and pool fill up with our own teachers.
For years he ran the “Night Life” Adult Education program for the Town of Millbury. He believed strongly in public service and volunteered as a member of the Town of Millbury Conservation Commission for over 25 years, many of those as Chairman.
We inherited his love of Cape Cod. He loved the comradery of a campground setting. We spent summers camping at Bourne Scenic Park and later Sandy Pond in Plymouth. Through camping he made lifelong friends whose company he cherished. In retirement he transferred his love of camping to the RV world. He explored the East Coast from Maine to the Florida Keys with Carol, Chris, and rescue cats Sammy and then Blackie. A highlight of each RV trip to and from Florida was stopping in the Lowcountry of South Carolina to visit Richard, Kelley, Tristan and Arden.
Speaking of retirement, he fulfilled his lifelong ambition to spend winters in Southwest Florida along the Gulf Coast. He adored the friendly, lushly landscaped community in which he and Carol settled for 17 winters. He made wonderful friends with whom he kept in touch year-round. He loved the warmth and followed the New England weather so he could laugh about the snow while staring out at his palm trees. We are grateful for those sunny years and those friendships.
He was a family man before all else. As kids we’d grasp his pinky finger so as to not get lost in public – or while fighting the crowds in Spag’s. We thought he knew everything that could be known.
He constantly encouraged us to become educated and go out to explore the world. He was deeply gratified to watch Richard become a pilot, settle on the water with Kelley, and expose Tristan and Arden to outdoor experiences around the country. He talked for hours at a time with Chris about the world, human behavior, how mechanical objects work, her adventures in the labyrinth of higher education and why his cell phone was “malfunctioning” again (hint: user error) and all sorts of curious phenomena.
He and Carol explored the historic and natural attractions of the National Capitol area during the years Chris and Bob lived in that area. He was eager to hear about Bob’s international travels. He especially enjoyed the daily time spent with Chris when she moved back to Millbury to try to make life easier. Surprise visits from Richard (who might be flying clients into the area) were big hits.
We have many people to thank where medical issues are concerned. It’s been a long journey but haven’t walked it alone. First and foremost, we thank Dr. Robert Black at Reliant, his nephrologist for over 35 years. Dr. Black went above and beyond for our family on countless occasions. He is a hero. Dr. Deepti Kumar, his dedicated cardiologist, provided us with compassionate care and wisdom. It was always a relief to see her walk into his hospital room. Drs. Kumar and Black consulted colleagues and worked closely with the hospital team to the end. He received outstanding primary care from Dr. John Platt and Dr. Luna Hidaya as well as care from many specialists at Fallon and later Reliant.
We thank the nurses, assistants and unit station staff on 24 North at St. Vincent’s Hospital for their commitment, expertise, and hugs. Chris would like to thank hospitalists Dr. Rahul Gandhi and Dr. Bibek Koirala and their residents for their willingness to provide a mini medical education and to discuss his care from a holistic and human point of view.
We’ve benefitted from the knowledge and care of medical professionals from around the world including the U.S., India, Pakistan, The Philippines, Nepal, China, Hungary, Ghana, Cuba, Russia, Syria, Romania and Lebanon and probably beyond. It’s comforting to know that a person so interested in exploring what was around the next corner received care from all corners of the globe.
On that note, we owe the past 32 years to Dr. Raja Khauli, his University of Massachusetts Medical Center transplant surgeon. In 1987 Dr. Khauli performed a lifesaving kidney transplant. Our dad was known for his sense of humor. In the operating room Dr. Khauli showed him the picnic cooler containing the two donor kidneys and asked, “Do you want the right one or the left one?” The reply was: “I want the best one.” Dr. Khauli gave him that.
We want to say a word about the astounding level of care our mother provided to him. Unlike in professional nursing, there were no days off. No one could have worked harder than she did. He told us that he knew she had a heart of gold.
Please consider honoring him in one of the following ways. These issues were meaningful to him:
(1) BE AN ORGAN DONOR. Organ donation is literally the gift of life. In our case, the gift of an astounding extra 32 years of life.
(2) ADOPT A SHELTER PET or lend your support to a local volunteer-based animal rescue. He adopted our family animals and was deeply offended by animal neglect.
(3) DONATE FOOD OR FUNDS to a local food pantry. He said recently that it’s criminal for children and eldery to live with food insecurity in this country.
We have a final request: please jot down in writing a fond recollection about our dad. You can direct your written memories to Carol, Chris or Richard at Post Office Box 336, Millbury, MA 01527. We will treasure them.
Our lives won’t be the same without him. We think back happily and are grateful for his full life. We know he’s laughing about this winter weather from a warm place with a big striped bass on the end of his line.