Kathy Otter Williams
Thoughts on my brother Danny
By Kathy Otter Williams
August 20, 2011 Celebration of Life
Good afternoon, everyone. I am Kathy Otter Williams, or as Dan called me, “Kath.” I am Dan’s favorite sister; never mind that I am his “ONLY” sister!
As you've heard from my brothers, Danny was our “little” brother. In reality, there was nothing "little" about Dan Otter. I think the expression “live large” was invented just for him!
Dan was even born large: weighing over 10 pounds at birth!
He grew tall, 6’3” and was a physical, brute of a guy. But as big and brutish as he was, Dan had a gentle side. When he met someone new, he always bowed slightly, offering his giant hand in a warm and welcoming fashion and smiled ever so genuinely. When you were with Dan, you always felt protected, with his size and gentleness.
Dan was competitive: He loved to win and relished achievement! He loved Rugby and remained very active in the St. Mary’s Old Gaels as well as the SMC Alumni club. He couldn’t play rugby for SMC while IN college as he went to SMC on a football scholarship. But he soon joined in! Dan would PROUDLY show me those “raspberries” on his forehead after a rugby tussle. I would wince! I just couldn’t watch my little brother get hurt!
He was loving: When he loved you, he adored you. He was fascinated with your story, and couldn't wait to tell you about Vicki and the kids.
He was proud brother: Dan gave me away at my wedding. He was tickled to be the one who filled in for our father. He was larger than life with pride walking me down the aisle.
Dan was a generous man. It’s kind of ironic that Dan lived in the gambling capital of the world, as he wasn’t much on betting on roulette or craps or slots. He told me, “It’s too hard to earn to just be putting it on the table!" Yet, he would treat a dozen of us to a 5 -star wine and food pairing dinner or send a gift of small fortune for graduation to one of his nieces or nephews. Those were his investments!
Dan loved a silent auction to support charities. He was always hoping to raise more for the cause. “Hey Dan, I think that borders on "bid-fixing," but I guess it's okay to tell everyone now.” When he really wanted something he'd assign one of us to the bid station and tell us to bid $1,000 when the previous bid was only $400. Anything for the cause!
His love for Keep Memory Alive and the fight against brain diseases brought him to volunteer himself as a “lab rat” (as he called himself) to a special study at the University of Wisconsin last year. You can read the official story in the KMA magazine but backstage he loved traversing the college town, stopping into various pubs and becoming fast friends with the locals. He was so excited to be of service to future generations, particularly to all of our children, all the cousins, that he detailed every test and suggested that anyone fearing a spinal tap was wimpy.
He was a large part of my 55th birthday surprise in 2007. With a 10-gallon commercial sized Swiss milk chocolate ice cream container in one arm, and a large envelope in the other, Dan gave me the gift of a lifetime, and now a forever cherished memory! A trip to Tuscany, accompanied by Dan! Imagine spending 7 days with your grown up little brother in a tiny room with twin beds in an 11th century refurbished Abbey! We had so much fun being spontaneous and stopping at restaurants or buildings or street fares along the way that looked fun! And of course, Chianti was requested at just about every meal! We took a cooking class at the Abbey with about 15 other people from around the world. Dan with a rolling pin and flour on his nose was a sight to see!
Dan had integrity, he was responsible, optimistic, and had high expectations. We all know how intense he was, with a stare of those chiseled blue eyes.
But he was Playful: laughing, witty, he loved music and horsing around on the dance floor. Fun: he would try anything! He had to cram it all in!
Achiever: Mr. Magna Cum Laude went on to attend an Executive MBA program at UCLA and delighted being the first class to completely use computers for study, interaction with class and communication with Professors. Dan just couldn’t be a member of the team, he had to be Captain; he couldn’t just be part of the scouts, he had to be the Cub Master, or the best athlete, or the President of the Business Club.
Dan got a kick out me calling him Forrest Gump. He loved to travel. He was constantly bumping into celebrities, or politicians, and of course, with that camera, he insisted on having a picture! He even sent me a picture one time of him with Fess Parker, aka Davy Crockett, entitled “Forrest and Fess.” He always sent me a postcard from wherever he was, beginning as a 12 year old in Hawaii with Mom to the last one from the Galapagos Islands that I received this past Monday, one month-to-the day that we lost him. He tracked down our Chilean cousins, showing up with Vicki and kids explaining he was a long lost 2nd cousin who needed money. That was Dan's wit. That was Dan’s curiosity.
But of all the large descriptions of Dan, I have to say that Dan was a Family man. I think no expression describes my little brother better. He always pushed our aging mother to new and larger heights. He encouraged mom to finish junior college, who then attained an AA degree after 7 years. He sent her on educational trips to Elder hostels. When our mother’s mental health began to deteriorate, he suggested she permanently move to Las Vegas. It would have been easier for him to leave her up North, but he saw an opportunity to bring her closer to his growing kids. We have countless pictures taken by Dan of silly, happy moments where Gramma enjoyed little Dani, Cush, and Katie.
He married into the wonderful LARGE Fouce family. He adored Vicki, and everywhere he went he shared tales of what the latest antics and activities of his children were. When I was looking into some old emails, every one I clicked on said, Otters in Spain; Otters in London, Otters in Chile, Otters in Hawaii, Otters in New York or even the Las Vegas backyard, and so on. My favorite is an email captioned "Lucky Man!" containing a loving portrait of Victoria and him. When the economy changed in the past few years, Dan decided to conduct his business out of his home. He was actually excited about his business being a little slower, and he told me he was excited about the opportunity to be involved in his kids’ lives on a daily basis. He would often call me with the kids in the back seat, on the way to school and have them sing or say hi to me.
The last time I actually saw him, I remember looking up, way up, and telling him how much I loved him and what a good man he had become. I don't know what made me do that, as it was a little mushier than my normal self. I told him how proud of him I was and how special it was to be his big sister. He looked at me with that big smile and a bit sheepishly, gave me a nod and took his special success in stride.
Yeah, Danny was larger than life and a huge part of all of us. He said so many times, “Live Large!”
Dan loved a great party so it is incumbent upon all of us to enjoy his living spirit here today and know that his passion will always live on through his wonderful wife, amazing children, and all of the cherished large memories he left for us.
My name is Tom Otter, the youngest sibling present here. There is only a 3/1-2 year span between the oldest Ed and myself, so our parents were pretty aggressive at establishing a family early on. This was a result of our father getting married late in life and as I was thinking about what to say, it dawned on me that our father would have been my current age, 57, when Dan was born. Another interesting note is that Dan was 5-1/2 years my junior, so you might say that with that much of a spread between our ages that Dan was an afterthought or late comer. On top of that Dad was ill for the better part of Dan’s youth so Dan really did not have a strong father role model. In fact, Dan lost his Father when he was age 12.
So how did this fatherless young kid become such an overachiever and an inspiration to us all? I think a huge influence for Dan, starting in high school, was football. I remember him telling me that he was not the most talented athlete, but that if he worked harder than the next guy he would excel and reach his goals. Also, he did not want to be thought of as just a “jock” so he became the student athlete of the year. When he saw himself having success he kind of “got it” or “figured it out” early on, and began to apply that goal setting and work ethic to every area of his life. His achieved success in his business life for sure but more importantly in his family and relationships
Of course he had a huge competitive nature as well. He loved to tell stories about his Rugby games and how early in his first office job he was getting friendly reminders that he might want to take up less of a contact sport because more times than not he would come to work with his forehead all marked up from playing without a helmet. But it did not stop him, as he loved to compete. The difference with Dan though is he made it a point to develop lifelong friendships off the field with his football, rugby, and later on cycling buddies. Dan had a knack for making friendships with “highly spirited” individuals. If you meet some of his rugby buddies that are here today you can understand what I mean and the effect of playing without helmets.
As a brother I loved him so much, as we always liked to joke or kid with each other the way male siblings do. Up to the football days as the older brother I used to be able to remind him from time to time to not mess with me, or he would suffer the consequences. But I guess at a certain point in life he decided he had enough, because he let me wear his helmet once and then smacked me in the head. I was so mad I was ready to unload on him until I saw the fire in his eyes and knew he would not back down. I could not believe how much he had matured and we both had a finer appreciation for one another.
Another thing that used to tick him off was when we were at a party and I would introduce myself as the “younger” brother because I had hair. Finally, in going through pictures for this memorial I found an extraordinary number of them in which Dan and I were enjoying a cigar and a glass of wine. It was great to see him kick back and show that big smile with the ever-enlarging forehead.
Dan was a busy guy who made it his goal to do the best in everything. It was so important the he was the best husband to Vicky, best father to his kids, the best uncle to his nieces and nephews, and so on. He always remembered birthdays and holidays. He had over 2000 contacts in his phone. My nephew Nick said he became “The pre-destined patriarch of the Otter family.”I know that instead of us older siblings becoming an inspiration for him, he became an inspiration for us.
I believe Dan is in heaven, as he knew God and Jesus. Of course with Dan, he always related everything to sports as he told me more than once, “I want to be on the winning team.” I can just picture him right now in a pickup game or riding bicycles with the Apostles. If he could speak with us I think he would say to us all, “live life to the fullest, but be ready, and have your priorities in order.”
Could I have all the nieces and nephew stand up for just a second? I encourage you, if you get a chance, to talk to anyone of them. They can tell you individually about the impact Dan had on their lives and how much he stressed their education and to reach their full potential.
Finally, in the most ironic of circumstances, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our first grandson just an hour or so before receiving the news about Dan’s accident, the exact same day. I wanted to introduce the next Dan Otter to you, this is Jaemeson Daniel Otter. I am confident that through the eyes of his uncles and cousins he will be filled with stories of Dan.
Victoria has asked me to speak on behalf of Dan’s Global Rugby community. My name is Donald Munro and I am Dan’s smallest rugby friend.
Rugby is a sport that finds you and when it does, it keeps you forever. Thankfully, it found Dan after his college football days. The Old Gaels (some of whom are here) were a good team, not a great team, but we were a much better team because of Dan. He was quite a sight with his huge noggin all taped up and was a ferocious tackler that never stopped running. Never. The V-man as he was known, due to his enviable athletic shape, was a compelling force, the ultimate warrior teammate. Opponents would say before the game, “ OK, who’s got the V-man, hey.. watch out for the V-man… Oh No, not the V-man.” You see, he was like the Terminator. He just kept going at the target… there was nothing they could do, no way to escape. In Rugby and in life, The V-man came at you with a vibrant personality, with joy, with exquisite sportsmanship and an allegiance to fair play and to modesty. And when the contest was over and the drinking and singing began, The V man was in the thick of it, everybody’s best mate. He loved to spontaneously yell out people’s names, anytime, anywhere. For example Jim Beatty sitting over there might get a.... Jimmmmbooooo. It always felt really good to receive Dan's unique vocal salute, his recognition.
One time, Dan was asked to give a motivational speech to some young school children. Already a successful business man, you’d expect him to show up in his suit and talk about building shopping malls and signing a rock star tenant like Costco. Not so. Dan entered the classroom in full rugby regalia, boots and all. He probably still had mud and blood all over his shirt. I can see him now towering over those kids talking to them about training and teamwork and the joy of competition and of course about passion, heart and courage, qualities he embodied in spades. On reflection, it must have been terrifying for those poor kids but I am sure they are better for it.
Dan’s love for the game continued long after he retired from the field. He went to Australia for the World Cup Rugby tournament: Made a lot of Aussie mates. Then four years later to France where he made even more mates, from everywhere. Of course, he had tickets for the New Zealand World cup which is next month and I know he was truly looking forward to the trip. My brother who lives in Brazil is going to be there with his 18 year old son. I was so excited about them being there together, bonded through the love of the game and also through me. How wonderful I thought that my own dear brother would be hanging out in some far off island nation with my devoted friend, my own American brother Dan Otter, a loving, kind and decent man whose brotherhood extended to so many here today.
Soon after I met Dan in 1983, I took him to a spectacular spot at the top of Mount Tamalpais with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the San Francisco skyline on the other. He was in awe— Dano awe. He was inspired— Dano inspired. And he said to me in his direct, loud and unvarnished manner “why does it take foreigner who has just arrived in this country to show me this amazing place in my own hometown backyard.” I honestly think that it was at that precise moment, standing next to me on that mountain, that Dan resolved to be a global traveler, and an explorer. And when Dan made up his mind, changing it was no easy task! This decision to travel was a good thing because he would never have ripened enough to have captured Victoria’s interest, let alone her heart. And following this great epiphany, expressed with great, fanfare, we went down the mountain to Stinson Beach to lunch at a place called the Sand Dollar. Dan immediately engaged the barman and regaled him with his new favorite story about his friend “the foreigner” who showed him the glorious mountain spot etc. etc.. The barman was of course politely fascinated. Then Dan told the waitress the same story. She was also politely fascinated. Then after a few beers, he told a complete stranger, who had now replaced me as his new best friend. ….As you all know, with each telling, Dan’s stories developed a patina, a depth. He had the capacity to embrace everything with cheerful confidence, with simplicity, freshness, boldness and yes, wonder. I believe this constant retelling of stories was his technique of reliving the richness of the moment, of grinding it into his memory and carving out meaning. His respect for the cherished moment serves as a reminder to all of us here to follow his lead. On and off the field, I admired Dan’s core values, his instinct to always do the right thing, to live by the Golden Rule. I respected his optimism, his discipline, his determination and the ability to get stuff done. Dan was all about good actions and good deeds. He was a man enchanted by life.
Dan visited me when I lived in Manhattan and then again when I lived in London. I remember taking him to a pub called the Anglesey Arms. He said it was the greatest bar he had ever been to. The next night I took him to another pub called the Grenadier and he said that was the greatest pub he had ever been to. With Dan, things just got better and better. Of course I am pretty mad at myself for not spending more time with Dan, for not accepting his invitation to join him on numerous adventures. But I thought I had plenty of time, especially as he had just bought a flat near me in San Francisco. But Dan would want me to be grateful for the time we had. After all, there’s no whining in Rugby and he certainly did not embrace the shouda, woulda, couda crowd.
So Dan, thanks for the many very fine times. Thanks for the big bear hugs and the affectionate kisses on my bald head. Thanks for protecting me on the Rugby pitch and from myself when things were not going too well. I needed you in my life.
You live on in our hearts now, and don’t worry ... we will keep your memory alive. And, most importantly, we will be there for Victoria, Danny, Christian and Katie, always, as you were for us.