I’m going to depart from the normal format of these letters for one week due to the loss of my brother on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Forgive me for sharing some intimate thoughts, but I feel they have great value in the theme of our business development efforts to provide "more life!"
My brother Gary was my best friend through most of my childhood and adult years. He taught me a great deal, he supported me and had a tremendous influence on my life by always looking out for me and giving me the greatest encouragement that anyone could ask for. After years of struggling with Type 1 diabetes, he made his transition about 4 a.m. the day after Labor Day. The past six to nine months were a miserable challenge for Gary. He moved from the hospital to a nursing home and back again several times, never staying at the nursing home for longer than a week before something serious would take him back to the transplant or intensive care units of University Hospital in Madison, Wis. He had a foot amputated and lost his mobility. Eventually, he had difficulty feeding himself and taking care of the mundane everyday activities that we all take for granted. It was hard seeing my brother deteriorate. Yet as the end grew closer, I found my brother’s love for life increasing, and his patience, smile and humor maintaining a reverence for others that I know I never could endure.
Perhaps among the greatest tributes paid to his memory was at the funeral service on Sept. 16. The pastor from University Hospital spoke about Gary, choking back tears as he told us how, in just a few months, he felt closer to Gary than he did to many friends he’s had for years. Often, Gary would tell him that he should spend time with others who needed it more because he was quite ready to face the reality of his death. A priest eulogized Gary and the undying love Gary had for the small town he and I had grown up in, Princeton, Wisconsin., population 1,509 at the time I attended high school. Gary loved history. He had served as president of the local historical society. He helped others trace their genealogy and preserve the heritage of the city that has since grown famous for its Saturday flea market and revitalized downtown full of quaint, unique shops.
At the end of the service, a friend of Gary’s from college, Tom Gross, now a successful small business owner of a plumbing company in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, delivered a few brief memories of him. He recalled a time at the start of a new school year when Gary had asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He couldn’t recall what he had told Gary (he didn’t know what he wanted at the time) but he remembered what Gary had told him: "I want to be the richest man in Princeton."
If you know the story Frank Capra told about the character George Bailey in the film "It’s a Wonderful Life," then perhaps you can read between the lines to understand what Tom meant. More than 150 people attended the meal that was provided after the service and it appeared that at least twice that many waited in a long line to offer their sympathy to my family during the visitation and the service that followed. My family has received more than 200 cards, including several from the nurses and attendees at the hospital.
I never truly understood what was so important to Gary about Princeton, I’d long since moved away and his attachment to it was something I’d never given much thought to. But on Saturday, Sept.16, I found out that a lot of people truly cared about what Gary had cared so deeply about. The outpouring of love, respect and admiration over his commitment and dedication to the community through countless hours of service was truly powerful and moving. Forgive me, but I can’t help crying when I remember it.
What’s the point? A client recently completed his Company Story and in it he remembered a speech he heard at school that inspired him. It seems the speaker was a child of an alcoholic and had started the franchise for Super Cuts. He told the audience that often children of alcoholic’s live outstanding lives and achieve great success. My client has since risen from the shadows of that classroom to have several very successful businesses.
Your life, my life, everyone’s lives touch far more people than we can ever imagine, and what might be the smallest thing to you may have an indelible effect on others, good or bad. Gary had a mission. His wish to be the richest man in Princeton back in those college days may have had a different meaning than what Tom thought it to be. But I’m truly privileged to have known and loved my brother and to have been able to call him my best friend. I only hope that you -- and all of us -- may enjoy the richness of living and to have that many friends who remember us at the time of our death. Truly life is more than simply earning riches, for the greatest of these are the relationships that we share on the journey.