Eulogy by Frank Rodriguez
Johnny Rodriguez Memorial Service
April 23, 2005
We are here this morning because my brother Johnny had an accident on Friday April 8th while kayaking the Zambezi River that runs between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Uncle Johnny is in Heaven riding dinosaurs.
A few days ago, I was speaking with my son Riley who is five years old, and I asked him: “Where is Uncle Johnny?” He said: “Uncle Johnny is in Heaven riding dinosaurs.”
Riding without a saddle.
While living in Chile a few years ago, my brother taught himself how to ride horses without a saddle. For Johnny, riding horses with a saddle lacked sufficient challenge to be interesting. I would not be surprised if Johnny is riding dinosaurs in Heaven right now…without a saddle!
Our close family.
Johnny was born in Indiana on June 27, 1966. Together with our sister Mirtha, we grew up in Hialeah. Our parents still live in the house where the three of us grew up. The stability and support from our close family has always been a source of strength for each of us.
Our 1975 bike ride to Westland Mall (age 9).
Johnny loved adventure. My earliest memory of Johnny’s love for adventure dates back to 1975 when he was nine years old. He persuaded Micky Hernandez, Tony Perez and me to ride bikes to Westland Mall, a forbidden destination because that trip required us to ride our bikes through areas with major traffic.
Johnny’s travel in Europe (summer during college).
During his college years at the University of Miami, Johnny travelled in Europe with a backpack and a Eurail Pass. Johnny inspired me to travel in Europe by myself for about five weeks starting in May 1988. Travelling in Europe is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The experience challenged me to live beyond my comfort zone and taught me valuable lessons about the journey of life.
Johnny’s trip around the world through Eastern Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and South America (summer after graduating from college).
After graduating from college, Johnny purchased an airline ticket that allowed him to travel unlimited miles around the world. During that summer adventure, he visited countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the South Pacific, and South America. Do you remember the famous image of the lone protester who halted the progress of advancing tanks for over 30 minutes during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989? Johnny was in Tiananmen Square that day, and I am sure Johnny was standing near the protester cheering him on!
Johnny’s 1992 trip to Africa inspired me to start Corporate Creations.
In 1992, Johnny graduated from law school at the University of Southern California. After planning a six-month trip to Africa, he received a job offer from a major law firm in Miami called Shutts & Bowen. He was torn between accepting the job offer and going on his trip. He called me for advice, and I suggested that he call the law firm to explain his goals. Johnny ended up working at that law firm after taking a four-month leave of absence for his trip. I admire the integrity he showed in negotiating that leave of absence. With that act of integrity and many others like it, Johnny inspired me to start my own business. In January 1993, I started Corporate Creations. Johnny joined Corporate Creations in October 1993 immediately after leaving Shutts & Bowen. From late 1993 through early 1998, Johnny worked with me and helped increase the sales of Corporate Creations by over 800%.
Johnny’s travel in North America (after selling his Corporate Creations stock).
A short time after selling his Corporate Creations stock in 1998, Johnny purchased a flatbed truck with a sleeper camper, then drove from Hialeah up the East Coast to Nova Scotia, then west across Canada, periodically crossing back to border states in the United States. He continued travelling west to Alaska where he perfected his world-class snowboarding skills. He drove south through California and eventually drove back home to Hialeah.
Johnny’s travel in Argentina and Chile in recent years.
After his North America tour, Johnny moved to South America and lived in Argentina and Chile for several years. During that time, he snowboarded many white-capped mountains in Argentina including those in Las Lenas, Bariloche and Ushuaia, and he kayaked numerous white-water rivers in Chile, including the Futaleufu River in the Patagonia region and several rivers in Pucon. In August 2003, I invited my son Dillon and my parents to join me on a trip to Ushuaia in Argentina to visit Johnny. During that trip, Johnny taught Dillon and me how to snowboard. During that trip, I witnessed Johnny’s amazing snowboarding skills, and realized that he is more driven than most people I know. Unlike most people who focus their ambition on their career, Johnny focused his ambition on snowboarding, kayaking and adventure. When asked about Johnny after that eye-opening trip, I always said: “Johnny is an adventurer…and retired attorney.”
Johnny lived on his terms.
Johnny lived on his terms. He was adventurous, passionate, bold, candid, driven, opinionated and charismatic. Johnny is someone who challenges you, your attitudes and your assumptions. I know that he made many of us rethink some of our attitudes and beliefs. Most important, Johnny lived his life by constantly challenging preconceived notions. It is easy to say that you will be motivated by relationships and experiences instead of money and material possessions, but how many people retire from their career in their 30s and pare down their possessions to fit inside a pickup truck and camper so they can freely travel to new places and meet new people? It is easy to say that you will go outside your comfort zone and not let fear hold you back, but how many people travel to far-off places where they don’t know anyone? It is easy to say that you will not be constrained to live the life that other people expect you to live, but how many of us actually live a life that we alone have chosen?
Johnny’s “close calls.”
When I first received the news about Johnny’s accident on the Zambezi River, I thought that his death was due to the very dangerous nature of the river. The day after Johnny’s accident, I spoke with his roommate in Africa who is an expert kayaker. Johnny’s roommate told me that there have been less than 100 deaths out of about 500,000 people who have kayaked or rafted the Zambezi River. Those incredible odds mean the actual risk is much lower than the perceived risk. I thought back to how many “close calls” Johnny had through the years: Johnny hit a tree and flipped his car sideways on his way home from obtaining his first drivers license; Johnny was in Tiananmen Square in China during the protests of 1989; Johnny was on a train returning from Machu Picchu in Peru when the train derailed; Johnny travelled the infamous “gun run” through northern Mozambique, a dangerous stretch of road known for attacks by rebels; Johnny nearly fell off a mountain while snowboarding in Argentina. Those are only the close calls that I know about! Yet each time, Johnny literally walked away without serious injury.
Flaco’s day to go to Heaven.
Johnny loves animals. In particular, Johnny loves his three cats — Kimba, Cabron and Flaco — who travelled with him on many adventures. Once while travelling in Alaska, Johnny realized that Flaco was lost. Johnny drove back about 20 miles to the town where he thought Flaco had snuck out of the truck. Johnny recruited the children in the town to search for Flaco. After several hours, Flaco was found in the bushes chasing lizards. Flaco did not die that day. Many years later, Flaco died in Argentina when he was hit by a car. At the time of his death, Flaco was doing what he loved; Flaco was chasing lizards! That was Flaco’s day to go to Heaven. Like Flaco, Johnny was doing what he loved when he died on April 8th; Johnny was kayaking. That was Johnny’s day to go to Heaven.
Johnny died in a state of grace.
I take comfort in my belief that Johnny died in a state of grace. By that, I mean that he seemed to be in a really good place in his life, one filled with a peace and happiness I had not seen in him for a long time. I will be forever grateful that Johnny and I talked a lot and visited together while he was in Miami from Thanksgiving through the end of February this year.
Johnny lived life to the fullest.
Abraham Lincoln said: “It is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years that count.” Do you know many people who have had more extraordinary experiences, met more people from different places, or who have seen more of the world than Johnny? Probably not. Johnny compressed a lifetime’s worth of experiences into his 38 years. Some people live more than twice as long as Johnny did, yet have only a small fraction of the experiences he did. Johnny left us a lot sooner than anyone would have liked, but you cannot deny that he lived his life to the fullest.
Johnny died while doing what he loved.
Because Johnny died while doing what he loved, I refuse to see his death as a tragedy. Moments before he died, Johnny was immersed in the experience of being surrounded by a vast, untamed wilderness, with exotic wildlife, and a wild, beautiful river. His last moments were filled with natural beauty and adventure, and I think he is satisfied that his last moments on earth were spent doing what he loved to do.
Johnny enjoyed the moments of life.
Johnny opened people up to new possibilities and points of view during his life. For example, a few months ago, Johnny was asked why he stopped taking pictures of the people he met and places he visited. Johnny said that he realized a long time ago that he was spending too much time worrying about getting that “perfect picture” and not enough time enjoying the experience that the picture was supposed to capture. That was the end of Johnny’s picture taking.
Johnny embraced the journey of life.
During his life and through his death, Johnny has taught me to move beyond pain, grief and anger and to do whatever is necessary to make life more fulfilling and more thrilling. The river is often seen as a metaphor of life itself. Life runs along its course like a river to the sea, with its share of calm waters, turbulent rapids, hidden currents and unpredictable turns and bends. I believe Johnny would tell us to get our feet wet and make that journey, even if you don’t know what lies around the bend. In fact, jump in and make that journey right now because you don’t know what lies around the bend, and this may be the last chance you’ll get to make that journey. Johnny wouldn’t have it any other way.
Spanish Version of Esteban’s email.
Hoy es un dia muy triste para mi. La noticia me estremece y me alegra a la vez. Compartiamos con el “Cubano,” como le deciamos con mucho carino aqui, el amor por la nieve, los animales, y por supuesto el kayak. Yo le ensene a remar, y conmigo bajo sus primeros rios en Chile.
Hoy en la manana enterre a mi perro, y mas tarde lei tus lineas. Quiero decirte que apesar de la gran tristesa que pesa sobre mi, la alegria en un pequeno lugar de mi corazon se enciende porque murio feliz, haciendo lo que el amaba.
Hoy en honor a el, voy a bajar el rio que mas le gustaba. Se llama “El Liucura.” Mientras vaya navegando solo por su canon y flotando por sus aguas, voy a intentar de recordarlo a mi lado en sus primeros dias en el rio, como cuando un padre sostiene a su hijo y le ensena a caminar.
Mi esposa, mi hija y yo perdimos a un hermano. Vivimos solo buenos momentos con el. Me regalo muchas cosas antes de irse en Octubre del ano pasado, pero hoy con su muerte, me regala el gran recuerdo y la conviccion de que hay que vivir con toda la pasion que el vivio.
No podre estar ahi para darle su despedida, pero te decimos yo y mi familia que amamos a tu hermano y sentimos el pesar de tu familia.
Un saludo y abrazo para tus padres, para tu hermana, y por su puesto para ti.
English Version of Esteban’s email.
Today is a very sad day for me. The news makes me shake and makes me happy at the same time. We shared with “The Cuban,” as we called him here with great affection, the love for snow, for animals, and of course for kayaking. I taught him how to kayak, and with me he navigated his first rivers in Chile.
This morning I buried my dog, and later on I read your email. I want to tell you that despite the great sadness that weighs over me, the joy in a small place in my heart lights up because he died happy, doing what he loved.
Today in his honor, I am going to navigate the river that he liked the most. It is called “The Liucura.” As I navigate alone through her canyon and float on her waters, I will try to remember him by my side on his first days on the river, like when a father sustains his son and teaches him how to walk.
My wife, my daughter and I lost a brother. We lived only good moments with him. He gave me many gifts before leaving in October of last year, but today with his death, he has given me the gift of great memories and the conviction that it is necessary to live with all of the passion that he lived.
I cannot attend the memorial service, but my family and I want you to know that we adore your brother and we feel the sadness of your family.
I hope that learning more about Johnny today will be a source of inspiration for you to live each day with more passion than yesterday. My family and I thank all of you for your love and support. Your warmth and thoughtful words have been a source of strength for us. Look around you. We are Johnny’s legacy. He has touched our lives in ways we will remember forever.
Johnny, as you look down from the white-water rivers and snow-capped mountains of Heaven, know that you will live forever in our memories and in our hearts. I will love you forever.