Randy John Farrell was born and raised in New Orleans, the fourth of five sons (no daughters) in an Irish/French family. His father, by all reports a man with a violent temper and unreliable self-control, died when Randy was 12, and the young Randy was a bit of a hellraiser. One of his stated "career goals" was to be a getaway driver for the Mafia, and when he was finally caught stealing cars, he was offered a choice common in the Deep South of that era: prison or military service.
He chose the latter and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His occupational specialty was small-arms repair and maintenance; it's not clear if he was interested in firearms prior to his stint in the Marines, and he never was a hunter, but he was always skilled with the mechanics of things. (Jessica remembers him, years later, picking up defunct bicycles from flea markets and salvage yards, disassembling them, and then reassembling component parts from several different bikes to make new ones for her and her sister.) He began to get his life together in other ways as well, eventually finding peace in religion—not the Catholicism of his family background, but a more evangelical Christianity
At the same time, he was dealt a severe setback in the form of type I diabetes, which led to his taking a medical discharge from the Corps at age 19. His first marriage was rocky and fell apart within a few years but produced a son, Christopher. The day after his ex-wife remarried, Randy began dating Susan Markant, and they married in 1988. Jessica was born later that year, and her sister Heather two years afterward.
[Jessica with her dad, c. 1991]
The new family struggled, though, as Randy's health continued to deteriorate. His kidneys began to fail, and he eventually received a kidney and pancreas transplant, which was successful for several years. Tragedy struck again when Chris, who had followed his dad into military service (U.S. Army for Chris), died of a drug and/or alcohol overdose. Not too long thereafter, Randy went into organ rejection, the diabetes worsened, and things went downhill from there. Peripheral neuropathy rendered him susceptible to injury, especially foot injuries, and years of exposure to anti-rejection medications had suppressed his immune system, so he was prone to infection as well. Diabetes eventually resulted in blindness and, on occasion, altered mental state.
[Randy & Susan Farrell, 2000]
Shortly before we traveled to Arizona to visit her family (they had moved there, much to Jess's chagrin, in 2003), Jessica expressed concern that I might not remember her dad the way she wanted him remembered. I wrote to her:
I understand your concern, but I promise to remember your dad for what you’ve told me about him, not just what I see in Arizona. I’ll be thinking of a craftsman who scours Tucson and Phoenix for the perfect piece of hardwood to put into a table for which he won’t charge near enough; a joker who hides under the bed to reach up and scare his kids; a joker (again) who accelerates or hits potholes on purpose when his wife is applying lipstick; a protective family man who sits where he can see the front door of the restaurant; a Marine.
And so I will. When we got the word that he had taken a turn for the worst, we hit the road as soon as we could, but things went too slowly on our end and too quickly on the other. We are currently with family in Louisiana, awaiting the memorial service, and pondering the tragedies of life—but at least we are doing so together.
I'm especially glad now that I had that chance to meet Jessica's dad in April, and that I had the privilege of experiencing his sly sense of humour firsthand. I had been deferentially addressing him as "Mr. Farrell"; "Hey man," he said in his soft Louisiana drawl, "you can call me...um...yeah, 'Mr. Farrell' is good."