In my very first article to you one year ago, I talked about how, on January 10th, 2017, the day I was sworn in as a State Representative, my family also celebrated the 90th birthday of my grandfather, W.E. “Bill” Howard. You all gave my family a memory we will treasure for a lifetime, and I could not be more grateful for that gift.
On January 10th of this year, my family once again gathered to celebrate W.E. Howard, as we remembered his life and honored his joyous passage to join our Lord in paradise. I’d like to share with you a few of the lessons I learned from him, and how I choose to honor his memory.
My grandfather, in no uncertain terms, shaped my life. He, like many in the Greatest Generation, lived through the most difficult of circumstances. Growing up in the Great Depression, he lived a very hard life; losing his father in an oilfield explosion, becoming the Man of the house at age 12, working to support the family, scrimping and saving every cent. He learned along the way to be cheap with himself and generous with others, which he continued to do throughout his life. He showed me how having nothing teaches you to place your treasure in the place it matters most, and that is people.
When, during his service in the Navy in WWII, his ship was sunk by a Kamikaze, killing many of his friends and colleagues, instead of idly waiting for reassignment, he sought relevant service and volunteered to work with a construction and repair unit in Guam and was instrumental in helping to build and maintain the infrastructure there. He taught me that physical and emotional trauma are things that we must deal with upfront. Confront the loss, come to accept the things you cannot change, mourn their loss, and the get to changing the things you can to make the world better.
That “Get it done attitude” was a part of his generation. They understood that if you didn’t expect much, you wouldn’t be disappointed; you had to put in all the effort you could for it’s own sake, that was the reward in and of itself. When he left the Navy he didn’t expect and education or a job out of the blue, he knew that he needed to make himself into a success, and so he taught himself bookkeeping, went to night classes on his own, and made himself into an excellent accountant. He taught me that, when you do the work for its own sake, rather than for the reward, the rewards will take care of themselves.
Later on in life, when he had saved and built his fortune, he gave much to those around him, investing in people so that they could have every opportunity to make the most of their talents and work ethic. One man who attended the funeral approached me to tell me how, many decades ago, Mr. Howard had employed his mother as a bookkeeper.
My grandfather followed the young man’s progress through school, mentoring him along the way; and, when he had completed law school, showed up at his door to help him purchase everything he would need to start his own law practice. He saw in that young man that same spirit of determination and self investment that bought him through the worst situations, and made sure that spirit could grow and spread to others.
There are so many stories just like from across his entire life, and in every one of them he never once asked for recognition, pubic acclaim, or attention for himself. The reward he sought was the joy of seeing other flourish, of knowing that the blessings and wisdom he had been given would be passed on, and, most importantly, that those to whom he gave everything he had would then go out and do the same.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 described him best - “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
Though his every action, my grandfather taught me that leadership is a verb, not a noun. It is a thing you do, not a position you hold. If you want people to give of themselves, don’t lecture them, guilt them, or coerce them; give of yourself first, lead by being the example they will want to follow. Show them a love and a light so bright that everything else will seem but a mere shadow in its wake.
We didn’t lose W.E. Howard this year. His body may be gone, but he lives on thought every act of kindness, every act of self sacrifice, and every act of love descended from the love and light that he gave the world; and that light will shine for generations to come.
My hope is that we do the same with the remaining members of the Greatest Generation. Learn their stories, their values, and their principles before they are gone from us. Those stories and lessons came at too high a price to allow them to vanish from existence.