Gary Gehlbach's Eloquent Eulogy About His Friend and Partner.
Rolfe and Cathy moved to Dixon with daughter Annie in tow in January 1979, when Rolfe joined the law firm of Dixon, Devine, Ray & Morin. Son Joey came along later that year. Gracie followed about four years later, and about six years after that, the twins, Luke and Mike, completed the family.
My wife Chris and I came to Dixon at the end of June and I joined the firm in early July 1979 and Rolfe and I practiced law together ever since. In our early months in Dixon, Henry Dixon, a significant mentor, sought to explore our strengths, assigning Rolfe a couple estate administration and real estate matters and me some divorces.
As the young associates, Rolfe and I confided with each other, and he readily perceived that neither my skills nor my personality lent themselves to a family law practice and politely but firmly so informed me.
I am eternally grateful for his keen perception and candidness. Not intent on being upstaged, however, I suggested to Rolfe that he relinquish the real estate and estate administration matters to me. We thereupon swapped files without telling Henry – sorry, Henry – and thereafter Rolfe never handled an estate or a real estate closing and I never did a divorce. A most pleasant and mutually satisfactory business marriage ensued. During more than 32 years of friendship with Rolfe and practicing law literally in adjacent offices, I learned a great deal from him. I also relied on him more than he ever knew. Rolfe was a deeply compassionate man who masked his “feminine side” with a stern countenance in dealing with hesitant clients and jovial levity with family, friends, and co-workers.
In the office Doug, Dana and I tend to be tightly focused on our work, and David is the cerebral one, but Rolfe always found time for laughter. His high-pitched laugh resounded throughout the office, giving the staff some much needed relief.
Rolfe loved the practice of law, especially the courtroom. The irony is that he was the consummate family man whose major practice was divorce law. He lived for performing before the court and excelled at appellate practice, arguing many cases before the Illinois Supreme Court and having at least one case before the United States Supreme Court.
In more than 32 years I never heard a harsh word from Rolfe – except for the occasional fire and brimstone tirade before a recalcitrant client. When that occurred, when a client was not following his impassionate advice, Rolfe’s verbal chastisement, calculated to make a proverbial sailor blush, invariably ended with Rolfe dismissing the client and then sauntering back to our offices with his jocular mien as if he had just returned from gear-grinding at Rotary.
Raising the children after Cathy passed away, Rolfe devoted himself to fatherhood and motherhood. The twins were not quite three and Rolfe readily assumed all the responsibility of raising and nurturing five children. To him family was the quintessential joy, his reason for being. Even when they grew up and began moving from home, Rolfe maintained the family cohesiveness, with Sunday dinner, á la Chef Rolfe, being almost mandatory.
During his children’s formative years, he subjugated his own needs to those of his children. When eventually he found Denise, his life was again complete. He accepted her daughters as his own and she warmly reciprocated.
As Rolfe’s sisters and parents have truly appreciated, he assumed responsibility for the family’s properties in Berlin, first expropriated by the Nazis and later by the Communists. Using a narrow window of time to file a claim for restoration of ownership, Rolfe studied German, hired German counsel, and, initially accompanied by his father, made numerous trips to Berlin where he adroitly navigated the intricacies of German law to regain title to several ancestral buildings. More recently Rolfe has selflessly managed his parents’ affairs.
Rolfe was quite learned and an amateur student of history. He enjoyed reading biographies and books on the Civil War and was fond of engaging in political discourse with family and friends. He may, however, have been a little ambitious when he would substitute a Civil War story for Junie B. Jones at bedtime for their granddaughter Kennedy.
Rolfe truly loved his family. As his office has always been next to mine, I have been inadvertently privy to his side of phone conversations with them. His terms of endearment, readily and openly expressed, rather than cause one to snicker or blush, always left me with a profound understanding of how deeply he loved and cared for them. He simply loved and appreciated people. His standard greeting for my wife was “Hi, sweetie,” and he meant that in the most kind way. I don’t believe Rolfe ever held a grudge.
Most amazing were Rolfe’s reactions to his wife Cathy’s and his daughter Annie’s deaths. Rather than pine disconsolately, his spirits were buoyed by the certainty that they were in God’s heaven. Many of you may remember the poignant eulogy that Rolfe prepared for Annie’s funeral, based on 2 Samuel chapter 12. Learning that his child had died, “David got up from the ground, bathed and anointed himself and put on fresh clothes…he asked for food…and ate. His officers said, ‘Why are you acting like this? When the child was alive you fasted and wept; now the child is dead you get up and take food.’ ‘When the child was alive,’ he answered, ‘I fasted and wept because I kept thinking “Who knows? Perhaps Yahweh will take pity on me and the child will live.” But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” As Rolfe paraphrased about his dear Annie, ‘I shall go to her but she cannot come back to me.”
I once asked Rolfe what was the foundation of his faith. The Shroud of Turin, he replied, as the actual burial cloth of Jesus. When in later years scholars and newer technologies cast serious doubt on the Shroud’s authenticity, I renewed my question. In his own gently dismissive manner he replied that it didn’t matter. His faith was solidified without the need for tangible proof.
The measure of a person is not how many biographies are published, or how many buildings bear his name, or how many testimonials are given. Rather, the measure of a person’s lasting legacy is not tangible at all but how he set and lived his priorities. With Rolfe, it was his Savior first, then his family. The law practice, Rotary and other worldly affairs were a distant third. We know with confidence that Rolfe is now with his Savior, and his beloved Cathy, and his dear Annie. Our aim, if we are to aspire to matters of truly lasting import, is to go to him, as he cannot come back to us.