Family, community remember Mr. Round-Up

Photo: Randy Severe’s sons Ryan Severe, left, and Jarad Severe look up as they lift their father’s casket atop a horse-drawn carriage Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, following his funeral service at the Pendleton Convention Center.

The two sons of Randy Severe led the pallbearers as they loaded their father into the back of a horse-drawn carriage for the procession through Pendleton. Atop his casket, adorned by flowers, rested Severe’s favorite black cowboy hat.

It was an overcast Tuesday, Nov. 30, outside the Pendleton Convention Center, where at least 500 mourners gathered for the funeral service of the 70-year-old saddlemaker and former president of the Pendleton Round-Up Board of Directors.

Severe contracted COVID-19 shortly after attending the Pendleton Round-Up. His family does not wish to disclose whether he was vaccinated, daughter Darla Phillips said. He spent nearly two months on a ventilator at a Portland hospital before succumbing to the disease Nov. 21.

“He was so loved and cherished by all,” Phillips said. “He knew so many people and touched so many lives. And this shows the respect that he gained. There’s so much love for him.”

Mourners gathered at the service to comfort one another and share their memories of Severe. Many of the men wore cowboy hats, which they tilted low as somber country music filled the room. They told stories of Severe’s kindness, selflessness and how he made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. Nearly everybody remarked on his infectious laugh and smile.

“I think of him every time I think of Eastern Oregon,” said Dave Gamroth, an account executive at MicroGenDX in Portland and friend of Severe.

Severe’s procession began in the packed convention center parking lot and wound through town, closing roads as police led the way and the Oregon Department of Transportation blocked interstate exits. Dozens of cars followed.

“Even if they weren’t at the service themselves, they knew exactly who that was coming through,” Phillips said.

Tim Hawkins, a former Round-Up president, looked on as the Severe family carried his good friend’s casket, on its way to Olney Cemetery.

“When people thought of the Round-Up, they thought of Randy Severe,” said Hawkins, a lifelong friend who met Severe at Pendleton High School more than 50 years ago. “He went away way too soon. He had a lot of saddles left to make, songs left to sing, and a lot of people to grace his presence with.”

Sharing stories

A large table sat beside the hundreds of mourners at the service, covered in Severe’s belongings and photos of his life. There was his guitar, his leather boots, magazines and books about his saddlework. There was even a 1976 check and letter from U.S. President Gerald Ford for $379.75 made out to the Severe Brothers

The service began with the sounds of Alisha Mae’s “Dancing in the Sky.” Then the six remaining Severe brothers stepped to the front of the room one after another, some with tears welling in their eyes.

They painted a portrait of Eastern Oregon life with their brother: playing tag; riding horses; jumping off the big rock into the Umatilla River; skinny dipping and getting sunburns on their backsides; hiding dead rattlesnakes to pull pranks on the waitress at the local A&W, which banned them from the restaurant. Their jokes triggered low, muffled laughter.

Stewart Severe said his brother had a photographic memory for phone numbers. Every time he called, his brother would answer in that same upbeat, cheery voice: “Well hello, Stewart.”

“Rest in peace, my brother,” Stewart Severe said. “You set quite an example for your brothers. And I will be calling you again.”

And the service was filled with music. Paul Green, a family friend, played “Green Grass of Home.” A dozen of Severe’s grandchildren sang in unison a song titled, “Grandpa.” Some mourners swayed in their chairs to the music while others dotted their eyes with handkerchiefs.

Severe’s sons, Jarad and Ryan Severe, stepped forward. They told the story of how their mother met their father and fell in love with him as he strummed ballads on his guitar. They told about how their father had a firm but loving hand, adding, “Being in the leather business, there was never a belt far away.” They recalled digging post holes, spreading manure. They recalled a house full of fiddles, guitars and yodeling.

They didn’t have much growing up in the ways of nice cars or vacations, one said, but they had each other.

Family with Severe in final days

And as Severe lay in the hospital before he died, the five children fought to be next to him. Hospital protocol allowed just two family members to see a patient per day, Phillips said. But health care workers went to the hospital management and vouched for the whole family to see him. Then, two family members at a time rotated in to see Severe, Phillips said.

“It was pretty neat that they saw that compassion, that we really loved and wanted to be there with our dad,” Phillips said.

Curtis Severe said during the service that although doctors said Severe’s lungs were only operating at 10% capacity, he knew his brother died peacefully.

“Families are meant to be eternal,” Curtis Severe said. “And I know Randy’s will be.”

Phillips wrote a poem about her father that was on the back of the funeral program. The final two stanzas read:

“I wanna walk just like you

And I’ll get back on and ride

‘cause I know you’ll be here,

you’re just on the other side.

Your love and memory goes on

forever cherished by all,

In the toughest of times

I promise to always stand tall.”

The service concluded with poetry, music and words from Tygh Campbell, a former Round-Up director. Bishop Gary Edwards made the closing remarks, his voice cracking through the tears as he spoke to Severe’s loved ones.

“When it’s your time to go, you won’t have to tap an angel on the shoulder and ask where he’s at,” Edwards said. “He’ll come to you.”

As people stacked chairs and the room emptied, Rawley Stanley and Larry Enbysk lingered near the front of the room, sharing their memories. Enbysk talked about spending time with Severe on his ranch, sitting around the fire and playing guitars. Stanley spoke about bringing his 10-year-old daughter to Severe’s saddle shop in May. He knows the shop might not continue without his old friend from high school.

“How could it, without …” his voice trailing off. He repeated over and over again, “I could never say a bad thing about him.”

By 3 p.m., long after the service had concluded, the sun briefly broke through the clouds.

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