Stever Aubrey was my grandad, and how lucky am I to have called him so. I am his second grandchild, one of an eventual 13, who was blessed to know him as a grandfather. The grandad I knew was retired, happy, successful, a talented artist and business-man, lucky husband of a wonderful wife, contented father to 5 fortunate children.
He was a man of incredible discipline, tradition, and kindness. "Hey pretty girl" he'd say every we greeted, "goodbye pal" every time we parted. I will hear him saying those words for the rest of my life. He drove saabs. He wore blue sweaters. The advertising genius he was, my grandad might have invented the concept of stickiness. He was iconic. The last time I saw my grandad he was 92 years old. I had been away for a while, and was moving to London and getting married. I went up to their beautiful house, a house he designed, on a plot of land he selected, a house where I had known countless weekends of childhood joy, swimming, hiking, laughing and playing, to see them before I left. At the end of my stay he came out to my car to say goodbye, as he had done every single time since the first. "Goodbye pal" he said, as he'd always done. "Goodbye pal" I said back. Our words were the same, but not our faces. The expression around his eyes said he thought we were saying goodbye for the last time. And once I'd reached a safe distance down their wooded road, so did mine.
As children our grandad took us on countless boat rides, drove us back and forth to tennis lessons and horse rides, and when we were very lucky, took us for rides through the Lyme woods in the back of his pick up. Coming to fetch us he would be standing there beside his Saab, waving in the air with a great big smile, tall, handsome and immaculate, and we would feel so lucky, so lucky he was there, so lucky he was ours. Something about belonging to Stever Aubrey made you feel special. I think we all felt so, all his grand children. My brother recently had a child of his own, and though my grandad was into his 90s when she was born, I am so happy he had a chance to meet her. "Hey pretty girl," I bet he said, and her life will be sweeter for it.
As a child, it was my grandfather's kindness, and gentle spirt that I adored. As a young adult, he was my literal role model. He loved Saabs, so I loved Saabs. He went to Princeton, so I wanted to go to Princeton. He worked in advertising, so I wanted to work in advertising.
But here I am, mostly grown up. I'm not an icon. I don't work in advertising. I've never driven a Saab. I didn't get into Princeton. But I have been very happy and fortunate, in large part thanks to him. When I was applying to Princeton, my grandad gave me his prized class of 1943 wool felt beanie. I had long declared I would be following in his footsteps and he proudly encouraged me. A few months later, after I hadn't been accepted, I humbly asked him if he wanted the beanie back. He looked me in the eyes with genuine pride and kindness, and told me to keep it. It was in that moment and countless others that my grandad taught me I didn't need to be just like him, to be like him.
Aside from his beanie, the greatest keepsake I have from my grandad is the sculpture he did of me. He gave all of his grandchildren our likeness, sculpted and cast from clay. Mine was the figure form of a ballerina, my then greatest passion. He supported every dream I ever had, without anything but encouragement and kindness.
There are countless other stories of my grandfather to share: how he weighed himself every day and still weighed the same as "the day he graduated from Princeton," how even his pajamas were elegant, and blue, how peaceful he looked sitting behind the wheel of his boat taking us for cocktail cruises through the Connecticut marsh, and how shortly before he passed away, one of his beautiful daughters was visiting him, and calling up the stairs to him, "daaaaad?" he responded that even after all these years, that was his favorite sound in the world. He was a hunter and a gatherer: I remember laughing over finding his buckshot in our thanksgiving pheasant stew, and the beautiful chocolate bouche de Noel he selected each Christmas.
But here is the story of my grandad that I take with me now. I aspire to his kindness, to his openness, to the large, loving and happy family he created. I also aspire to his success in his career, sure for the trappings, but also for the incredible fulfillment it gave him, and for his wisdom and intuition to do what he was good at. If I can achieve all of that, it will be plenty. That alone won't make me an icon, but I sure am lucky to have known one.