Eulogy for Dale Lasater Mass
Our Lady of The Pines
I loved Dale as a brother, as so many people did. He was like that for me, easy to like, easy to love. But not always. He was a man of grace, of deep insight into many things, but especially people and cattle. He was the most influential person in my life. And he was that for many, many people. Dale Lasater is a giant among men, which is what makes it so hard today to even come close to describing him and his life. It is one of the greatest honors for me to be standing here. To put it into context, someone on the phone calling me about Dale said, “ The world just lost one of its greatest men”. And for all of us who knew him, that is not an overstatement.
I realized yesterday that besides being one of my closest friends, he is the oldest. He called me mano, short for hermano (which also means hand), and I called him bro. Bro Dale. Dale bro. I met him for the first time in 1965 when he taught my siblings and me fifth grade in Mexico on our home ranch, on his way to Argentina as a Fulbright Scholar just having graduated from Princeton University. He was relentless in and out of the classroom. Classes started at 6 am and ended at noon. He led us on horse pack trips on weekends into the mountains. It wasn’t enough to ride on horseback after class, we had to ride bareback, going for ten or more miles to look for arrowheads, and crystals or over the next hilltop. During the midday break he made us run on foot to the airport trap and back (two miles), with him in the lead, and then rewarded us with limeade with no sugar when we got back. He insisted that we write succinctly and to the point. He tortured us with his expectations and boundless energy and imagination. But let me tell you, it was fun.
Much later while I was a university student, we met at a Foundation Beefmaster Association convention in Reno and stayed up all night planning an epic horseback trip through Copper Canyon in Mexico – his idea. At the end of the night, instead of getting a little sleep, he insisted that we go climb a hill outside town to watch the sun come up. He was like that; endless, boundless energy in his pursuit of an unquenchable thirst for life. We never fulfilled that dream, but it became the focal point that inspired scores of letters afterwards between us. And many of you know how he liked to write letters.
In 1989, he invited me to come to Colorado to work with him at the Lasater Ranch. My family and I spent ten years with him, which led to our starting our ranching business in Colorado. If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure what we would be doing right now. Moving here was a turning point in my life, giving me an opportunity to live my dream. I realized one day while we were in the Lasater Ranch office together that I needed to write down one thing every day that I learned from him because there was so much coming from him: the way he used a word, God, marriage, faith, bulls, wives, traditions, family. I grew accustomed to his laugh and how he could keep you going long after you thought it was time to stop. I can hear his yipping now as he sits up there bestowing his smile upon us.
His family and his marriage to Janine was holy ground to him. It was his highest priority. Today I see his sons Alex and Tom sitting here with their loved ones. He loved you both. He was very proud of you. I see in you the reflection of a lot of Dale’s qualities. I see his light, his darkness, his grace, his roughness, his gentleness, his anger, his brilliance, his love and faith and his goodness. But, as you know, your pa was a not a day at the country club.
No, he was something entirely different. He was so many things. He was a man of deep intelligence and contemplative thought, yet he was a man of the earth. He could write books and just as easily, go out and sort a pen of cattle. He could lead discussions about genetics as easily as he could talk about a poem. The cowboy and his family were as important to him as the financier. He was a man of God like no other whom I have ever met. He was one of the most consistent and giving members of his community that there ever was. And he had a sweet tooth like no other. My son asked me day before yesterday, “Are you going to talk about how he liked sweets?” And he went on to describe an occasion at a cattleman’s gathering when he passed Dale coming the other way. He said, “He had a plate in his hand and on it was not just one piece of desert, but a well rounded selection of every choice there was on the table.” And Duke said he just grinned as he walked by.
After attending Princeton, spending time in Argentina, he fell in love with a beautiful woman named Janine from Spain and they were married in Mexico City and have celebrated life together in marriage ever since. I can remember meeting you for the first time Janine, when he brought you to our home in Mexico showing you off, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Soon after, he began his career in the cattle industry working in the cattle feeding sector, and you moved to Kansas to build a major feed yard, leasing ranches and growing an international agri-business as the CEO. However, the corporate world did not suit him.
A desire to write a book about his family’s legacy, “Falfurrias” a story of his grandfather – Ed Lasater’s life, his love of the family ranch by Matheson, Colorado, the foundation Beefmaster cattle herd and his family called to him and he and Janine moved their family to Colorado Springs. It was a place that he had always wanted to return to live, work and preserve. We all know that the future holds the unknown and embedded in it is always change, and always unpredictable. He knew this and still he worked hard to preserve the health of the land and his family’s ranch. And even though the energy and weight and tolerance and patience and extreme amount of time that he devoted to it were of almost super human proportions, this was what he wanted to spend his life doing. And he did. He spent every waking hour, in one form or another, trying to make it better, and he chose to do this over many many other things that he loved and was gifted in. Such as writing books.
I learned in the time that I spent working with Dale, that there were many reasons for his returning home besides this. Last week, I was working bison and was watching the flow of the herd across a hill in the rolling South Dakota prairie, down into a draw. It was raw and beautiful and Dale came flooding over me. I thought about how he would have appreciated bison if he’d been around them more. But he loved cattle. They took up his life. And he loved the people who came with cattle. He took personal interest in each one of us, not just because we might be customers, but because it was the way he related to life. People were the threads that made the tapestry that was his life. They are the colors, the organic stuff that he used to weave. He had so many relations with people of all dimensions, color and walks of life. He found people who needed help, whether it was a marriage in trouble, a severe sickness, or someone who needed to talk about their faith. He was consistently involved in local and state level cattle grower associations. He told me once that he didn’t have time for all the demand coming from different organizations, churches and groups in his community. But he did it anyway.
But it was also the land that pulled him. He loved open rangeland and especially the high prairie of eastern Colorado. It was one of the first things he took me out to see when I moved to here. I distinctly remember wondering what he saw in this flat, desolate place, but over time it has grown on me as it did in him as a boy looking for arrowheads on the ranch, working on horseback moving cattle, trotting around exploring. So when he went out on his horse last week, it was not the hard work or the many long hours of toil in the night that drove him. He went out to simply be in this land that he loved. To ride and breathe it and see the spread of prairie grass and deer and whatever else he came across. He was in his element when he was out there riding. He was taking time to be alone on the back of a horse in the majesty of what he saws as God’s creation.
Dale was a man of unfaltering faith. He took the hand that the Lord offered him and he moved in his life using the light of forgiveness and love in his heart. He used his faith to change things in himself that he wanted to change, he used it to open the hearts of other men and families. He never expected anyone else to follow his footsteps, but gently offered the opportunity to share his faith, and in his belief in the Lord as our savior. He knew there is an afterlife in heaven and I know he is there now, watching us and listening. He knew that he was going to a better place that is overflowing with top tier bulls, the deepest of green grass prairie land and good Mexican food with plenty of dessert. If we become angels in heaven, Dale is surely one now. And if he indeed liked flying around on horses as much as we think, I imagine he surely likes zipping around with his own wings now.
As I think about the time I have spent with Dale and what we have talked about and done together, I always come back to his relationship with cattle. I think cattle and cattle genetics put the brightest spark in his eye. He was unshakable in his work in the development of the Foundation Beefmaster Herd that he believed was based around linking genetic selection processes directly to their natural environment: nature and the natural rhythms of life – boiling the elements of cattle selection and culling to their most fundamental order. It is no wonder that Dale’s genius was his ability to reduce things to their simplest element. He took his father, Tom Lasater’s adage, “The most difficult thing in cattle breeding is keeping it simple” to the ultimate degree. He made no exceptions with animals that did not pass benchmarks in fertility, conformation, disposition, weight or hardiness, the five standards of the Foundation Beefmaster herd. He constantly sought ways to refine his insight into culling and selecting cattle by inviting professional cattlemen he respected such as Watt Casey, Guillermo Osuna, Bill Finan and Gale Evans among many others to spend time on the ranch talking and evaluating herd sire prospects. He believed that longevity was an important benchmark in the long-term economics and functionality of a beef cattle herd on open range. I have never seen anyone move the way he did around cattle, nor anyone select bulls the way he could.
So as we remember Dale, let us remember the gifts that he left us, the example he set, the standard that he used for living his life. The gifts that he left us are faith and forgiveness. Let us remember his sense of humor, his adoration of his wife and sons and grandchildren. His love for this land and for traveling in it on the back of a horse is a gift he gave many of us even if we may not enjoy it in the same way that he did. Let us remember his work with the land to make it sparkle and vibrate with life. Let’s remember the love he had for cattle and all animals, the part of him that drove him so ferociously. Let’s celebrate his life by crying and laughing together, knowing that he is still with us, and always will be.
Duke Phillips III
October 21, 2016