My dad's younger brother by 2 years, Don Wylie, was larger than life. He was energetic, vivacious, the uncle who would sleep until 10 because he'd partied the night before, but ask to store his 1960's Karmann Ghia in your garage for the summer because he couldn't find anyone to drive it to his home in California. (He lived in California!!! We were in snowy Michigan, but where he lived in San Diego it was like summer all year long!)
He settled down when, at the age of 34, he married a beautiful widow with two young children (the same age as my younger sisters). They met on Christmas Eve and were married in February, but they were soulmates and it was obvious that they were very happy together. Yvonne completed Don in a way that nobody else could.
After spending time in the US Navy, he earned his PhD and became a professor of Radio, Television, and Film at San Diego State University. As an aspiring actor, I thought his department was fascinating and exciting! In May of 1978, I was delighted to spend a couple weeks staying with them, and during that time was able to attend a couple special lectures at the university and meet some of his former students (one of whom was an associate producer on a big TV hit comedy series). To say that I idolized uncle Don would be an understatement!
Because of his time in the Navy exploring the world, he loved to travel. He often took his family to exotic places all over Europe, making new friends along the way. Many of those people remained friends for the rest of his life.
I was able to have a special closeness to Uncle Don and Aunt Yvonne through the years. Although we didn't see each other often, we always stayed in touch. They even came to one of the concerts of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus when I had a solo performance. That was a special highlight for me.
Uncle Don looked like his father (my grandfather), and had some of the same physical problems. He developed a cholesterol problem when he was in his 40s, and always stayed on top of the right nutritional studies to keep his cholesterol in check. (Aunt Yvonne being a nurse didn't hurt!) My grandfather died at the age of 65, and Uncle Don was so happy to have passed that number and then some. We had a huge celebration for his 70th birthday in 2003, and so many people came from all over the country to honor him.
We visited with them in 2013, just after his 80th birthday, but he wasn't the same. He had a stroke a couple years earlier that had left his brain with only parts of it functioning. He had trouble finding the right words, although you could see how hard he was trying to make his mind work the way it used to. He would laugh and whimper at the same time with the struggle. He enjoyed spending time with all of us, but he was pretty quiet during those visits.
Still, he was an influential factor in my life, and I was always be grateful for the love and respect that he gave me. He was a great man. He died yesterday at the age of 81, his wife of nearly 47 years at his side. He leaves a daughter Mary and son Karl, their spouses, and 7 grandchildren.