Gone Fishing – Tribute to my dad

“Gone Fishing” is what the note said on the table. It was nothing new for my father as he enjoyed heading to the lake after a hard day’s work. When my brother came home and saw the note, little did he know it would be the last thing dad would ever write.

Two weeks earlier dad hopped down the steps of my freshman dorm saying, “Two more weeks kiddo and you are all done!,” then he wrapped me in his big daddy arms and kissed my cheek, for the last time. It was the night before finals when my sister showed up in my dorm fishing through her purse for tissues and took me home.

Daddy and his kids outdoors!

Unbeknownst to us the week before his death, dad had taken his Honda 750 all over town visiting folks he hadn’t seen in months, even years. We found this out as the droves of people who came to the funeral home in waves for hours on end would say, “I can’t believe it, he was just at our house last week.”

For dad it was a matter of genetics. His father’s first heart attack was at 42, my father’s at 46. He was only 54 when he went fishing for the last time. With the only friend he had who was not a believer or proficient in CPR, not that it would have helped.

It was a May evening and dad and Ron were bringing the boat back across the lake when my dad got a big hit on his line and reeled in a lovely specimen, just a tad under regulations. His friend said, “Neil there’s no one around, just keep it, them’s good eatin’.” Dad who had a knack for doing the right thing replied, “No we’ll put him back he’ll make a good keeper next season.”

As they rounded the corner of the lake, the limestone bridge where Route 422 traversed was awash in a golden hue of sunset. Dad said, “That is exactly how I picture heaven; all bright and glittering like that.” Little did Dad know that within moments, he would get to cross over a similar looking bridge into eternity.

Dad had been a rebel in the army and raised his share of heck as a young lad. But his life and my legacy changed when he came across a man who told him about a certain fisherman, a “fisher of men”. The man was Billy Graham in 1968. Billy Graham had gone fishing in Pittsburgh and reeled in a keeper, my father.

From then on my dad changed his life and set out to learn as much as he could about Jesus Christ. He studied, he read and eventually he taught and counseled. This tool and die operator found himself a child of a King and a fisher of men. Many of those he led to the Lord had their own stories during the funeral and some share still years later.

Dad, an avid fisherman and hunter, loved being outdoors in the Lord’s creation but the quietness of a lake, fishing with a friend was truly his favorite place to be. As much as he loved to reel in a bass or a salmon he loved reeling in people to the kingdom.

Ron said that Dad put his rod and tackle against the car and turned around. Ron walking toward dad, saw dad’s face break into a smile. “It looked like he was seeing someone he knew and was happy to see,” Ron later explained. “I thought your brother or someone he knew was behind me. When I turned to look I saw no one. When I turned back around your dad was slumped down with a smile on his face and a peaceful happy look.” Forty-five minutes later, dad was being whisked into an ER but he was already home.  

His friend went through a serious health crisis as his blood pressure sky rocketed and depression of losing one of his best friends set in. Through my dad’s witness in his life and in his death, Ron came to know the reason for the smile and gave his life to Christ. That day, the Master fisherman had gone fishing and took home a real keeper. Even to the end, dad was a fisher of men and he did his best to stock heaven.

Neil E. Pilston Sr.     January 1932 – May 1985

Daddy as a teen!

15 Replies to “Gone Fishing – Tribute to my dad”

  1. Connie,

    As soon as I saw your e-mail/weblink via the e-day distribution list and saw it was a tribute to your dad, I had to immediately click to your blog. I must have been only eight or so the last time I saw him, but those summer visits to the Conneaut cabins will always be precious memories to me. I remember the essence of your dad so well….such a peaceful, loving, joyful spirit about him…Thanks for sharing this tribute! So beautiful that I can feel the tears coming to the surface. You are blessed to have had such a great earthly father…and what great hope that he had and led others to know the ultimate Father. Awesome. Sending my dad this tribute link now.
    {{{{Cyber Hugs}}} –Michelle (Camp) Croyle

  2. What a beautiful story and tribute to your dad! I especially love the photos you shared..quite a handsome teen! 😉
    Love you,

  3. Connie,
    What a beautiful tribute to your father. This week, my husband and I were talking about our dads (both in heaven). At our daughter’s wedding my father-in-law told each one of us he loved us, not something Les did. Not that he didn’t express in other ways, but never verbally. He died of a heart attack one week later, age 63.

    My father was 87 when he left this earth. Although he had been sick and going down hill for several years. The last week of his life, he told me three times that he was dying. And we talked about seeing Jesus face-to-face. What precious memories I have of my father’s passing.

    You have inspired me to write about it as a tribute to him. You can read about it later day on my blog http://www.myquotesofencouragement.com

    Thanks for your openness.

  4. Connie, You are a wonderful daughter, I know your dad was proud of you, as you know I knew you dad and mom very well and was in their wedding. Neil was always special and had such a great sense of humor. God bless you and your family and we all know Neil is looking down on us, I’m sure he got to see many old friends when he got to heaven. Give my best to your mom. Barb

  5. My dear Connie…..
    Thank you for sharing the wonderful tribute to your father and my brother. If I live to be 100, I will never forget sitting behind you at the funeral….and hearing you say, “My Daddy…..”; the tears streaming from those blue, blue eyes (just like his).
    Loving you…..Aunt Sandy

  6. A great tribute to Neil. I remember taking my wife with Neal and Ann Lee out to a lake back in PA., catching bass and other fish. At the time we just enjoyed fishing together, and I see by the dates that Neal wasn’t a Brother in Christ at that time, but I remember just how kind he was, and sometime after that we moved to Indianapolis through the assignment from the US Army. My wife is with Jesus now also, and she had something in common with your dad, a Believer and an avid Fisher “Woman”. I am glad your mom forwarded this to me. Fred Cowan…PS: I will be seeing your mom in September at the Har-Brack 58th Class Reunion.

  7. I knew your Dad very well. I grew up with him as I just lived two doors down from your Dad & his family on Cambridge St. when we were growing up. I have continual contact with your Aunt Sandra. This was a nice tribute to him.

    Paul Lassinger

  8. My dad has been gone for over ten years now… What reminds me of my dad are those cool,little gadgets, pocket knives(he had a collection of over a hundred), Mustangs, and his red sweater he wore to pass out presents. My dad didn’t find Jesus till 3 years before he died at the age of 70… He was a great dad, did I mention he was my step dad! thank you to the men that may not start the job, but step in to finish the job! Dad’s are great!

  9. Ah, Connie, how blessed we are to have been loved and mentored by Dad. Still miss him every day, so glad we are assured of seeing him again! I love you, thanks for sharing this!

  10. Connie,
    BEAUTIFUL!!! We were both blessed with amazing Dads!
    It does make me sad that you lost him at such a young age!
    He did a great job with raising his daughter!!

  11. Connie, this post brought tears to my eyes. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. 🙂 This month marks the 20th anniversary that I lost my mom to breast cancer. She had an incredible relationship with the Lord as well. Anytime I read a post of someone who has lost a loved one, I think about how they’ve met my mom and the thought makes me smile. Beautiful tribute, Connie.

  12. Beautiful tribute written from the heart. Made me cry. God is so good to give us glimpses of Heaven and His Presence during the sacred moment of one’s passing into eternal glory. Hugs to you!!!

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