How do I want to be remembered?
This week I attended the funeral of a dear, well-loved family friend. Ottie was not only a friend of the family but a former fellow KFC franchisee. And he was a mentor of mine. Not in the typical sense in that we worked directly together or that he gave me regular advice but I strove to be more like him every time I was around him. This man was so important to our family that he was asked to speak at my own father’s memorial about my dad’s life in the KFC business. Ottie was smart, fun-loving, giving, dedicated and ethical. And he had probably the most polished sense of fashion and style of any man I have ever known. But what I really respected about him was his ability to command the attention of others not by being over-bearing but by the fact that people respected him for the man he was and how he lead his life. And today it showed. As I approached the chapel 20 minutes before his service I joined about 400 people who were also there to pay their respects to a great man.
One of my life mottos is “Weddings are optional; Funerals are required”. Funerals aren’t for the dead but for the living. Families of the deceased deserve to see and hear how much their dearly departed impacted others. This is a small price I think we should all pay in their time of grief. But there is also a benefit to attending a celebration of life of such a person. You learn parts of their life that warrant your attention. The parts that make you say to yourself am I doing enough in my life and how do I wish to be remembered when my time is up?
Normally one would cringe at the thought of a two hour memorial service but somehow I couldn’t hear enough about my friend Ottie. And true to form, I learned parts of his life I knew nothing about. Like how he escaped an abusive home life from his step-father at the age of 12 to go live with his aunt and uncle on their farm in Oklahoma. I learned how in 1958 he was certified to fly every fixed wing aircraft that was available to the Air Force at that time, including helicopters. I heard of how as a business owner he made sure his employees were treated with fairness and respect and he create opportunities for all people that were unheard of at the time. But what I heard that touched me the most was the multiple stories of his unselfish generosity and kindness.
One story that was especially meaningful to me was about the time Ottie saw a man pushing a shopping cart down the street carrying his personal belonging with his wife and children in tow. I have to admit there are times I will see the same scene today and what comes to mind for me is what stupid mistakes have these people made to put them in this situation. It must be their own fault they are on the street. I admit my own short comings sometimes. But my friend didn’t think this way. The story was told of how Ottie pulled up to the man and handed him a $10 bill as an act of kindness. But the story continued that as Ottie drove a few blocks away he pulled his car back around to where this street family was. He got out of the car and asked the man what was his problem. The man told my friend that he had recently got back from military service and he couldn’t find a job and he and his family now had nowhere to live. To my mentor, this would simply not do. So he packed them all up in his car and took them to a motel where Ottie paid for them to stay. Most of us would have simply stopped there and called it a huge act of kindness. But this great man returned in a couple of days to check on them and realized the motel where they were staying was too small so he once again packed them all up and moved them to a place with larger accommodations. But he didn’t stop there. In the coming days, Ottie arranged for the man to enter a class to become a commercial truck driver, all at my friend’s expense. This was the act of a great man. And there were many more stories during the service of how this truly generous and giving man lead his life through honesty, integrity and a giving heart deserving of all of our respect.
So as I was driving the two hours home from this distinguished man’s service I began to think of his example. How am I living my life and what would be said after I am gone? If Ottie’s selfless acts of kindness and work ethic was a bar for all of us to be measured how would I rate? I am a believer that there is a lesson to be learned in life every day…and I had just been schooled.
I came to the conclusion there is much more in life I can offer. Oh, I consider myself a generous father, friend and boss but there is more I can do. I need to look for more opportunities to help those in need. I need to volunteer to help those who just need a helping hand but do it with a giving heart. And I need to not judge the book by its cover as much as I have previously. When I see that man or woman on the side of the road with the cardboard sign to not make a judgment about how they got there but think about how I can help them get away from there. I have been blessed in life with opportunities so how can I give guidance and assistance to others to help them succeed? This was the unforeseen generosity of my friend Ottie. He showed all of us that were lucky enough to celebrate his life this day that one man can truly make a difference and how you live your life matters.
So I ask you how do you want to be remembered.
Are you doing enough?