Inauguration to Eulogy to . . . You


Last week I invited you to write your inaugural address. I had been inspired by my wife’s energetic delivery of her forward-looking message on New Year’s Day. Right before Jennifer’s speech I had spent a lovely half hour chatting with Dr. Rachel Keith, who retired two years ago – at 80 years old – from her practice of internal medicine. I was awed to hear her stories of her pioneering days as a black female physician, fighting the bias that sought to block her from medical school, from residencies, and from establishing a practice. I couldn’t help but think of how insidious racism, sexism, and ageism are; that one could draw a lot of conclusions from the appearance of a 4-foot-11 inch, 82 year old, African American woman. And one would be absolutely wrong, completely missing the individual and the heroine within.

I was shocked and saddened when Jennifer called me three days later to say that Dr. Keith had died suddenly. We were already in the midst of the activities surrounding President Ford’s funeral. We were drawn into the reminiscences about “Michigan’s President,” who had navigated the country through a very stormy passage. And I had just come from the funeral of Wally Piper, an Iowa basketball coaching hall of famer, who in his late 70s had poured his heart into coaching his granddaughters and their friends (including our Cece) in basketball. Sometimes – especially around the Christmas holidays – it seems like the deaths come in bunches. This trio – doctor, President and coach — all remembered with extreme devotion by those who knew them, were of a special generation.

I couldn’t help but see the similarities in the accounts of these three heroes, who played to very different audiences. Strength was one similarity. Each of them was not afraid, at critical points, to be extremely unpopular. They stood against prevailing views when an important value was at stake. I would describe the other similarity as goodness towards others, or as plain human decency. Where our business, politics, and even our sports have become dog-eat-dog, cut-throat, ego-driven and often just crass and crude, these three lives speak of a gentler time. They were all fighters for their beliefs, but as was often said of President Ford in the past week, they didn’t turn their adversaries into enemies. They valued things that we don’t talk about a lot any more: courtesy, deference, respect.

We experience “the times” we are in. And often verbally condemn them. But we also make the times we are in by our own behaviors. The funerals of our personal, communal, and national heroes, and especially those from that era of “the greatest generation,” remind us of what we will lose if we don’t actively work to replant those values in our world. So I invite you to renew your strength of character – to stand for a principle no matter how unpopular – and your commitment to basic human decency. As we recall at these funerals, these are truly the abiding hallmarks of those who

Lead with their best self,


  • I agree with the characteristics of leadership that all three of these individuals seem to have displayed to those who knew them. My comment is tangentially focused on the overuse of the phrase “The greatest Generation”. Although we owe an immeasuarable debt to those who helped us win WW II. I challenge the self limiting phrase. Our founding fathers faced challenges, Abraham Lincoln led this nation through a war and positioned us for a peace that was un-precedented. The children on skateboards today I know will in their turn step up to and define their destiny in keeping America great. We must believe that freedom is purchased and maintained by each generation as a gift from the past to the future.

  • My wife’s grandmother graduated from Stephen’s College near the beginning of the 20th century. She delayed her marriage to Sandy’s grandfather for four years because she had to teach that long to be eligible for a lifetime certificate. Had she married earlier, she would have lost her teaching certificate. Four months after marrying, her husband died in the great flu epidemic that swept the nation in 1918. The young widow was 1 month pregnant at the time.
    Ilma Piepenburg went on to become the “principal” of Grand Ledge High School, although she could never hold that title as a woman. She would be delighted to know that Michigan has a female governor.

  • One of Dan’s best. Sure thought provoking. His words reminds me of my Grandmother who in the early 1900’s traveled from Ohio to Onaway Michigan where my grandfather worked in the logging industry. It took her three days – but she needed to go there to support her family. Given her strong faith, she founded the first Baptist Church in Onaway. Life took her on a rocky road with the lost of children, the depression and my grandfather (many years before her) But when she passed many years ago – for all of her 95 years she stayed true to her beliefs, her church and family. If I do 1/2 as well in my lifetime – I will have accomplished a great deal.

  • I concur that this is one of my favourite messages of yours Dan, I think because it strikes at the very simplest element of self leading and looking inward to look outward. Fix yourself before you start worrying about everyone else. Powerful stuff.

    David, I agree those kids on skateboards today will one day step forward and seek to lead with their best self also… at least I hope so, because I was one. Lets hope also that it isn’t just kids on skateboards in America, but the world over – lets broaden that horizon and thinking. Here in Australia and my home country New Zealand some world changers would be most welcomed too. I take your sentiment about that generation Dan and I think it is a good one. The respect and values that I see in that generation where certain principles seemed to ‘just be so’ seem to be being whittled away through such attitudes put forward through popular culture and ‘if it feels good, do it’ types of mentality.

    “I would describe the other similarity as goodness towards others, or as plain human decency.”

    I don’t think it is possible to describe it any more accurately without making an essay of it and it would almost seem that to know what is meant by these words you would have to know what is meant by these words. Best encapsulated by considering where the attitude of service has gone… heck, you can’t even go to a store often times nowadays where you are supposed to get service, and be served. Maybe this is one of the problems that the ‘self service’ movement has caused 😉

    Well, before I make an essay of it, alas too late, I take my hat off to this message and say thank you Dan – I am getting to work on my inauguration speech.

    • Daniel,
      Thanks for reaching across the world, and also for knitting together others’ ideas. Did the skateboarding prepare you for such manners on the playground of the blogsite?
      David, when I speak of “the greatest generation,” I speak wiht the greatest generalization! Nevertheless, from my narrow view, sacrifice for something greater was so deeply woven into their speech and action. I think of the thousands of people who joined religious orders, for instance, sacrificing the possibility of marriage and children to build a greater world. The level of savings. The building of churches and schools and the willingness to pay taxes for roads and bridges and, when necessary, relief programs.
      You close with a beautiful line of “belief” that freedom is maintained as a gift from the past to the future. My cry is that we do THE WORK that will indeed allow us to bestow that work to our children, as it has been magnificently wrapped and bestowed upon us. On this, I imagine we agree?

    • I am saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Rachel Keith. She was indeed one of my heroes. Many years ago, she was my doctor. I am reminded of the extra time she took with me; the precise care she gave to make certain that all areas of the body were covered as she attempted to diagnosis illnesses.
      Dan, thank you for your comments reminding us to keep the values that we hold dear; I am reminded that in leadership, we all have been empowered to take extra care of the things we have been empowered with.

      • Angela,
        It was extraordinary to read about and hear her medical partner talk about the kind of time she spent with patients, attending not just to their presenting problems, but to their entire well being. Thanks for sharing your reflection (which I will pass along to the judge).
        Dan Mulhern

  • I support the concept (always have) that adversaries should not be turned into enemies, whether I’m sitting across the table in teacher negotiations, working with a parent, or even when this superintendent dives into the political world.

    Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned came about because I listened to my adversaries. Once we decide not to take their words personally, we can see areas to address that our allies may not notice. My greatest mentors are those that can, with decency and a warm heart, point out on a particular topic that I’m full of it.

    People, individually and as a society, grow when they see a reason and are surrounded by the conditions that support growth. Growth and development must be nurtured; it cannot be forced.

    Our enemies are not Democrat or Republican, home-school parents or public schools, Japanese cars or software support from workers in India. Our enemies, and indeed the very issues that could make life worse for our children, are poverty, lack of education, poor economic productivity, and so on.

    There is plenty of WORK to go around. I shudder when I see people wasting energy attacking each other, instead of the real issue.

    Dan, this was one of your best in recent times! Sounds like you were inspired. See you at the U.P. Inauguration.


  • When we think of the sacrifices of others, it helps us to gain a perspective that we often lose in our daily activities. Standing taller is many times when we forget about our personal needs and work for those most in need.

    I truly enjoy your letters and the opportunity to learn how to lead with my best self.

  • Great column, Dan. Thanks very much for your continued words of inspiration. I’m enjoying everyone else’s comments as well. As I heard Bob Dole say at the opening of the WWII Memorial in Washington a couple of years ago, “…if it wasn’t for the Greatest Generation, this might have been a very different country.” Every generation has greatness, but we owe a lot to those who defend our country in every generation so that we can maintain our freedoms.

  • Great article, and I know I am constantly reminded of the racism today. Yes, the insurance rates in Detroit is one example, and “we” the ciizens in Detroit, white and black suffer everyday because of it. I am truly looking to see Governor Granholm make some profound moves to correct this problem, even if it means she stands alone.

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