What can I say about my Dad? I could speak for hours and hours about him and about our relationship. I’ll do my best to give a deep glimpse into Dad, the man, the father, the son, the friend, the husband, the driver and so much more.
Hank Rippert, Jr. was born on July 7, 1945 in Fort Benning Georgia, where my grandfather was stationed. As a result, one of Dad’s early monikers was, ‘Georgia Peach’. His parents were Henry and Helen Rippert. My grandfather, Pop, was the youngest of nine siblings and one of just a few of them, to be born in the United States. His parents and older siblings emigrated from Hungary in 1904. Nana, my grandmother, was American Irish & English. One of her parents emigrated from Ireland, the other from England. Nana and Pop made their home in Roxborough, PA, in Northwest Philadelphia, with their two sons, Hank and Thomas.
From the stories I have heard over the years, Dad was a ‘good’ student, son, etc. At least from the outside perspective. His ‘favorite’ brother, my Uncle Tom, has the inside scoop on many of Dad’s behind the scenes shenanigans. It seems to me that Uncle Tom, the youngest of the two, always got the blame for troublemaking, and firstborn Dad was known as the ‘responsible’ one.
One little known detail about Dad’s life, is his study of architecture. During high school, Dad took a concentrated course on drafting and architecture. There he learned all the technical skills of the trade. He built models, did renderings to scale, painted, sketched, and more. Notably, to this day, I possess some of his drafting tools. In my grandparents home on Silverwood Street, there was a painting of a Venitian canal that Dad made during the Architecture program, hanging on the dining room wall. In addition to that, there were two of his pencil drawings hanging in my childhood home living room for many years. Consequently, one of those hangs in my home today.
Dad was in the Naval Reserves in the early 60’s. He would often say that the worst experience he had while he served, was jumping out of an airplane. Although, he did it eleven times, he never got used to it and said he would never repeat it. I recall his sharing with me about this when we saw an exhibit of military photographs at FoMPA during one of his annual visits. Dad spent time in Hawaii and Rota, Spain during his duty. Of course these times brought a sly smile to his face when mentioned. One can only wonder what adventures he may have had to inspire that smile!
Dad had a nearly lifetime passion for MG classic cars. The details may not be exact, but as I recall the story, his enthusiasm for these special cars was born when he saw a man in the neighborhood driving one. As a result, in that moment, he knew he HAD to have one of these cars. Dad went into sales after high school and was often on the road. As luck would have it, he found an MG for sale on a used car lot during one of his sales calls. It was a 1951 MG TD, number 8888. At that time, an MG was just a used sports car. Regardless, Dad had to have it.
Dad’s next step was to go talk to Nana and Pop as he would need their help to pick up the car. Consequently, on October 30, 1966, Dad and my grandparents drove together to that lot so he could make the deal. As Uncle Tom tells the story, it was a rainy day. Dad was a tall man, and when he sat in the MG, his head bumped the soft top. My grandmother exclaimed, “Jesus, Mary and Jospeh! How is he going to drive that car?!” Considering that Dad didn’t even know how to start the car yet, the same thought may have crossed his mind. Always determined, he figured it out and drove that special car off the lot, head bumping the top, for the first ride of the next 54 years with MG TD8888.
Dad helped Uncle Tom acquire his own TD on June 12, 1970. Uncle Tom had been riding a motorcycle for some time, much to the dismay of his family. You see, Pop had a motorcycle accident years earlier that nearly killed him. Both MG enthusiasts now, the two brothers began an additional avenue of adventuring to their frequent trips to the Jersey shore.
Next comes the story of my Mom and Dad. It was a Sunday evening. Mom had been out all day at a concert in Stone Harbor, NJ. She had met a guy who asked where she would be later in the evening. “The Ocean Drive”, she told him. After the event she went home for a nap and to freshen up. Now refreshed, against her father’s permission to go back out, she went to the Ocean Drive. She had forgotten her glasses, so things were a bit blurry. She saw the guy she met earlier that day and went to talk with him. However, when she got close, she realized it wasn’t him. It was my Dad. He was playing shuffleboard with the guys who all rented a house together in Sea Isle every summer. The two talked and Dad asked Mom out on a date.
The following Tuesday evening, Hank took Kathi out to dinner. As Mom tells the story, he was dressed to the nines and wore an ascot. On Wednesday, Mom cooked Dad a steak dinner. Little did she know at the time, that was about the only thing he would eat. Dad was donned in an ascot again and carried a bucket of champagne with him to the dinner. They were inseparable after that.
1970 was a big year for all of us. Mom and Dad were married on April 4th. At the wedding, I was about the size of an avocado in my mother’s belly. I was born on September 19th. For the next two years, my parents and I lived in Northeast Philadelphia with my maternal grandparents, Howard and Pat Pigott, Mimi and Poppy to me. Dad’s passion for MGs grew and the same year I was born, he founded the Delaware Valley Chapter of the New England MG ’T’ Register, also known as the DVC. Dad’s work in sales was going well. That combined with Mom’s job, they were able to purchase a home together in Ardmore, Pa.
The next decade was full with life’s ups and downs. Dad traveled a lot for work. Of course, things became more complicated, as they often do. On my twelfth Christmas, my parents announced they were getting divorced. Dad already had a condo in Charlotte, NC where he did a lot of business. We tried a family trip there, considering a move. Despite this, it wasn’t to be. One of the best things my parents did, was to fire their lawyers and come to an amicable agreement. They remained friends and we found our way through the challenges. Both Dad and Mom remarried by 1991. Thus, I always said I was lucky to have four parents after that.
Dad lived in Charlotte for nearly 30 years. He loved it there. He always talked about how when moved there, that he found a ‘pep in his step’ that hadn’t been present for a long time. He would joke about the warmer climates with those of us still living in chilly, dreary PA over the phone. When he came to visit us at the holidays, he was always cold.
As with any parent, child relationship, there were challenges through the years. For a long time, in my teens through my early twenties, I resented Dad for not being around more. Mom had attended every art show, choral recital, Brownie sale and everything in between. I’ll never forget one Christmas shortly after the divorce, when we were having lunch at Nana and Pop’s on Silverwood Street. Dad commented that he didn’t know that I like Lebanon Bologna. Daggers came out of my eyes, as my teenage mind made that mean he didn’t know me at all.
We struggled through those bumps and challenges with letters, post cards, phone calls, and regular visits from Philly to Charlotte and vice versa.
Dad met a kind and sweet Southern woman named Bette in Charlotte. Consequently, she was easy to be around, and we laughed and had lots of fun when we were together. Another great thing about Bette, was that she too really enjoyed ‘weird’ food, which meant anything other than Dad’s limited menu of steak and potatoes. Fun outings to get Mexican, Chinese, and other culinary delights were our own special times together, whenever Dad had other commitments.
During his Christmas visit in 1990, Dad announced that he and Bette were getting married. Every year he flew up at Christmas and came to our Ardmore home on Christmas Eve and celebrated with me, Mom, my step dad, Bobby, and usually about 20 other friends and family members. At this point, I was in my junior year at Maryland Institute, College of Art, and I was prepped to leave for a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland two weeks later. When Dad told me the wedding would be while I was in Scotland, I protested with great enthusiasm. I said, “You CAN’T get married without me there, Dad!”
I was at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London the day Dad and Bette got married. We did talk on the phone, and Dad said, “The only thing that was missing, was you.” I’m pretty sure I sent him more daggers with a heaping cup of I told you so through the international phone line. Consequently, I could never get Dad and Bette’s anniversary right. One year, I called a month early. Sorry about that, Bette. That was all between me and Dad.
Dad went through some different business ventures and some of his early experiences in Charlotte were difficult. There was one business partnership that turned sour quickly when the other guy did some seriously shady things. Eventually, Dad carved out his own company called Signature Graphics. He loved every minute of it.
At Signature Graphics, Dad handled pre press printing needs of many local businesses. He enjoyed being his own boss and cultivating relationships with folks from NASCAR, and then some. Dad developed friendships wherever he went. Charlotte was no different. Dad had a tight knit group of friends in NC.
Dad loved Frank Sinatra and jazz. He wore a ring on his right hand that he would tap with the music on the clutch or inside panel of whatever car he was driving. I’m grateful to have that ring on my altar. During one of Dad’s annual visit’s, he lost the ring. We retraced our steps the next day and he was pretty sure he took it off when he washed his hands at World of Beer on Fowler Avenue in Tampa where we dined the night before. Sure enough, the restaurant had it!
Dad and Bette relocated to Soddy Daisy, Tennessee in 2009. A year after that, I relocated to Florida. Which brings me to our annual visits. Dad came to Florida every year around the MG South event that happens every spring, usually in April.
For the ten years prior to Dad’s passing, we really discovered our groove. We both looked forward to the big visit together with great anticipation. I loved getting emails from Dad that simply said, “Dear One, 61 DAYS!!!!! Love, Dad” Sometimes he would send a card with a colorful post it note, count down written with a blue sharpie, stuck inside.
Once Dad was in Florida, we would always attend MG South in whatever city the GOF (Gathering of the Faithful) was that year. It was wonderful to attend those gatherings. I spent most of my childhood attending them and hanging around with other ‘MG kids’. Now I got to be an adult with Dad and appreciate his passion for the Marque and connecting with his nearly lifelong friends.
Once the GOF came to an end, we would head back to my area and begin the Art, dining, and other cool activities, segment of the trip. I always found unique and interesting things for us to do. On our last visit together in 2019, everything was so fluid and easy, enchanted. Even Dad said, “Man, this is like magic.” Dad wasn’t the kind of guy to talk about things being magical.
We had the BEST times together. There are a million more stories to tell. For now, this is where I’ll pause.
One thing I know for sure is that love never dies. Dad is always looking out for me. I get messages from him often. I’m so beyond grateful for every moment we shared.
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