Last week I invited you to write your inaugural address. I had been inspired by my wifeâ€™s energetic delivery of her forward-looking message on New Yearâ€™s Day. Right before Jenniferâ€™s speech I had spent a lovely half hour chatting with Dr. Rachel Keith, who retired two years ago â€“ at 80 years old â€“ 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 couldnâ€™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 Fordâ€™s funeral. We were drawn into the reminiscences about â€œMichiganâ€™s President,â€ 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 â€“ especially around the Christmas holidays â€“ it seems like the deaths come in bunches. This trio â€“ doctor, President and coach — all remembered with extreme devotion by those who knew them, were of a special generation.
I couldnâ€™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 didnâ€™t turn their adversaries into enemies. They valued things that we donâ€™t talk about a lot any more: courtesy, deference, respect.
We experience â€œthe timesâ€ 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 â€œthe greatest generation,â€ remind us of what we will lose if we donâ€™t actively work to replant those values in our world. So I invite you to renew your strength of character â€“ to stand for a principle no matter how unpopular â€“ 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,