His Name Was Jack Westley Atkins

Jack Atkins at the Grand Canyon.
Photo by Diane Taylor

The romance was fast and furious. He was 79; I was 77. He flirted. I was flattered. In no time, it seemed we were a couple. He lived in a room at his daughter’s home. I lived as a widow alone in my house with three dogs. We would make plans and he would drive to my place (never late), pick me up and we were off.

I loved being a passenger in Jack Atkins’ car. He talked more than I did, but we’d also go many minutes in silence, just thinking our own thoughts and admiring the Nevada scenery. We drove to the state he knew as a kid, the state of Washington. We drove to nearby Laughlin, NV for one-night staycations. (Jack did not snore, by the way.) We had innumerable barbecues where Jack cooked at local picnic sites. We went to New York for a week. We went to the Big Island of Hawaii for a week. (Jack had come to Las Vegas after spending most of his adult life in Hawaii.) We went to the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. We had a flat tire. We saw a man passed out along the highway outside of Laughlin. We bought beef jerky. We saw the Pacific Ocean.

Jack and I never argued. We were too old for that. My likes were accommodated; his were too. We mostly ate separately unless we were on a trip or at a dinner show. Because we lived separately, I had plenty of free time; so did he. Jack had three daughters in town, Darlene, Jackie and Charming. He often said he was very proud that he always kept his daughters safe. If his daughters had a car problem or some other kind of issue in their home, Jack was there for them. If I had issues, he was there for me, too, installing new faucets in two bathrooms, hanging a cordless vacuum, figuring out how to remove water from a rain-soaked patio, repairing a non-functioning window wiper on my car and even chasing down a roof leak.

Jack was handsome in my eyes. His skin was slightly dark, a testament to his Native American and Canadian heritage. He had a full head of hair. He had a great smile and always looked wonderful in my pictures. I loved walking behind Jack. His broad shoulders and slim hips were lovely. He always tucked in his shirts which is not common among men his age. I don’t know when he bought his first sparkly shirt, but that became a trademark when he was with me–the guy with the sparkly shirt–and he was with a not-so-remarkable lady.

When I met Jack he had been in Las Vegas several years and was full of energy. He had joined some line dancing classes. His remarkable memory made him very good at line dancing, He knew the steps to more than 300 line dances. He and I danced ballroom many times at Western-themed restaurants and with Craig Canter on Monday nights at the Tuscany’s Piazza Lounge. Later in one of the line dancing classes at Lake Las Vegas where he was recruited to teach, I was his student. Most senior line dancers are women, so Jack, who loved women, was in his element. Jack and I also went to many local concerts sometimes accompanied by friends Libby, Gerri and Pat.

Along the way I learned about Jack and the news was not all good. His mother was not around after he was about age three. His father was an alcoholic who when home was a menace. Jack slept outside in a local cemetery or in a nearby swamp some nights. He nibbled on a neighbor’s dog food when his own refrigerator was empty. No hugs. No allowance. He said his teachers were his mother and he liked school because he felt safe there. Somehow Jack figured out that if he worked he would have money so even as a kid, he had odd jobs. He also figured out that an education would be good for him and after saving his own money and taking advantage of classes and benefits in the Navy, he earned an electrical engineering degree. In his working life, Jack had a variety of jobs, everything from computer programmer to heating and air conditioning repair foreman.

Along with those good decisions came a number of bad ones, mostly about physical strength and street morality. Jack was three-quarters Native American/Canadian, and in grade school, along with other poor kids, was picked on. He learned to be physically strong and kept being a tough guy as he got older. He studied boxing, but called himself a street fighter. He was physically hurt fighting, he hurt others. The local police knew him well. Jack’s marriage ended in divorce. He then remarried his wife and later separated from her permanently. He had two other relationships (both women passed away) in Hawaii before coming to Las Vegas.

In between all that, sometime around age 40, Jack was dared by a friend to attend the friend’s church. Jack was back in his home state of Washington at the time. He took the dare and it changed his life. He told me he couldn’t believe a whole church full of people were singing together about Jesus. He said he actually cried and later attended several churches. What he heard, however, were different things in different churches and Jack’s stubborn brain asked what is truth. He then began a lifelong journey to study the original writings and commentaries of the ancient authors of books of the Bible. He learned Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic and became a resource for other Christians. His faith gave him great solace during his final illness. I won’t go into all of this, but his new faith in God was a life changing experience for him. The Jack I knew was the Jack that had changed. He couldn’t have been nicer to me in all ways.

Last February, Jack had an acute stage 5 kidney disease episode. He actually drove himself to an emergency room where tests revealed the extent of his disease and the hospital wanted to send him immediately for dialysis treatment. Jack did not want dialysis, but the hospital also recommended hospice care which he agreed to. I asked Jack to move in with me because his daughter worked and I could be with him. He did move in to an across-the-house bedroom with its own bathroom and TV. We lived together and separately because of separate TV preferences. Jack looked forward to his once-a-week visits from the hospice nurse and the hospice pastor.

Jack was pretty sick for about two weeks and then he seemed to be getting better. He resumed his regular walks at Wetlands Park and in the local shopping center; I went with him as often as I could. We watched TCM movies every evening at 5 p.m. holding hands throughout. He took an interest in projects at my house. He became available for evenings out and we took still more trips to Laughlin. For eight months, we had a great time as housemates. Every night when I changed into my nightgown, I would say, “Good night, Jack.”

About three weeks ago, Jack’s condition deteriorated and his three daughters decided to take shifts being with him during the day. I was able to go out when they were visiting. Jack made two visits to the nearest Nathan Adelson Hospice in-patient unit; the last one was just two days before he passed away. I had visited in the morning; his daughters were with him and called me when he died peacefully the afternoon of November 7th.

I am remembering now all the good times Jack and I had and I’m so grateful. He was a wonderful guy when I knew him. Good night, Jack.

Comments

19 responses on “His Name Was Jack Westley Atkins

  1. What a touching eulogy and so full of affection for Jack Atkins. As we all know, people will come and go in our lives and will somehow leave a lasting effect on us, good or bad. I’m so happy for you, Diane, that you had Jack in your life if only for a short while. He made your days wonderful and joyful. You can always go back to your bank of memories with him and should give you joy all over again.
    May Jack Atkins rest in peace and may God grant him angel’s wings.

  2. As an ardent reader of your Sunday articles, I will miss your adventures with your gentleman friend.
    Sadly, we seniors spend so much time reminiscing. You were blessed to have him in your life and the remembrances are fresh.
    God bless him and God bless you.

  3. Diane, I am so sorry for your loss. I, too, enjoyed all your stories about your adventures with Jack. You have some wonderful memories to go back to whenever you get lonely. I am so sorry I never got to meet Jack. He sounded like a wonderful man and made you so very happy. You have been blessed having two great, wonderful men in your life to have such memories to keep you going. May he Rest in Peace.

  4. Diane, I just read this and I am so sorry. I know how much you cared for him and how much you meant to each other. What wonderful memories you have of the two of you together and how beautifully you wrote about your time together. I am happy that he came into your life when he did and sad you did not have longer. I had been thinking about you for the past two weeks, and I will call you.

  5. Oh my goodness! As I read this today-November 12- five days after his passing, my heart is sad for you yet so happy that you experienced the fun times and love with Jack. You have a gift for writing and shared from your heart.
    Beautiful experiences you two shared.

  6. Dear Diane,
    I was saddened to learn of your loss. What a blessing it was to have had Jack in your life. When we are lucky enough to have wonderful people in our lives, it’s sometimes difficult to move on without them. But the beautiful memories we have will continue to warm our hearts.
    With love, Cathe

  7. I am so sorry about Jack. Gotta give him credit for making his own decisions and living life to the fullest with you these last few months. I will call you.

  8. My heart hurts for you Diane.
    Jack, the person in your testimony, was a once in a lifetime find. Hold all those beautiful memories in your heart.
    So sorry for your loss.

  9. Diane,

    So sorry to hear this. Makes me glad that we were able to get together at Tuscany in July. He will be missed.

    Ron

  10. Diane, what a wonderful description Of Jack, such loving memories we all have of him. He and I had some very lengthy talks. I was so completely interested in all the things he shared with me, about his childhood, teenage years growing up and then the teachings he did. What a smart,kind, loving, wise man he was. I will never forget him! God Bless you and give you comfort………

  11. Oh Diane,
    I’ve loved reading your stories about Jack-what a wonderful man and great companion he was. This is the most beautiful eulogy I have ever read. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Nancy Nichols Risser

  12. What a beautiful eulogy. You couldn’t have explained better what Jack meant to you. I was fortunate to go out with the two of you on many occasions, and Jack was always the life of the party. He knew everyone’s name and gave everyone a hug. Some of us get lucky twice in our life, you and I have now gone through that experience. We learn to appreciate the blessings that we are given.
    I know how much you will miss him, but hopefully we ladies will move on with all of the wonderful memories of those special men in our lives. May Jack rest in peace and God bless him.

  13. Thank you for telling us about Jack and his event filled life! So many wonderful and varied challenges that made him the man you and many friends got to know during his final years. I’m glad he also got to enjoy your company and friendship. God bless both of you!

  14. I met Jack at the skyline dancing the line dancing he did so well, I always compliment him on his sparkling shirts and he always dressed so neat . I enjoyed watching him dance ,I will miss him he was such a wonderful person and I’m glad he found you Diane and you had such a great relationship and you both were happy together
    Dance on Jack
    Condolences to the family
    Barbara Breglia

  15. Diane, First, I’d like to express my sincere condolences to you and Jack’s daughters. Your write up gave me some more insight as to what a great guy he was. He and I met met casually and in a more awkward situation created by a friend. I notice Jack one night at The Hideaway and I seemed to recall someone that looked like him. A friend that I was with approached Jack and said to him as he pointed in my direction, that guy over there thinks he knows you. With that, Jack strolled over in my direction and I stood up and shook his hand. We were strangers no more, we were instant friends. We shared many commonalities and had some good laughs. We saw him on a regular basis at hideaway and once even saw you both going into Galleria mall and I got to meet you. When we didn’t see him, I always asked, where is Jack? I was recently informed of Jack’s illness and my heart sank. I’m still very emotional about his passing.

    Again, thank you for the enlightening information about a great guy. Truly one in a million.

  16. What a wonderful tribute, to bring together so many pieces of Jack’s diverse background, and to share all with us. Brought tears to my eyes, through your talent for writing, filling in so much of what made Jack, Jack. A person truly one of a kind, with so many gifts to offer. Glad he shared them with you. While Jack brightened your life, you enriched his final years with your generosity of spirit and companionship. God bless you both!

  17. I loved reading your story over and over Diane. This is Jacks youngest of 3 girls, Jackie. Your story keeps me happy. He enjoyed his last days with you. He always was on the go. Stopping in to say hi and going on a road trip with Diane. Lol! He loved it! Thank you for everything you do. My sisters and I made a new friend. Staying close to you makes us feel close to our dad. Love and Aloha Darlene, Charming and Jackie

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