Since this would have been my husband’s 60th birthday, I think it appropriate to talk about the man to whom I dedicated my life. When we met in New York City, he was a headstrong, rail thin, hard smoking male on the cusp of becoming a man. He was a Marine Corps sergeant who worked a second job to make ends meet. I thought that was admirable and said a lot about him. He was just 21 when we met and really didn’t have any idea what he wanted for a career. He was thinking about going back to college. We dated for a while groping our way through the getting to know each other period. Both of us were cautious about new friendships, neither wanted to get seriously involved; we both were just having a good time. I had my career to get off the ground after leaving the Marine Corps; he was finishing up a four year hitch and thinking about going back to college.
The marriage word never came up and, truly, neither of us ever thought about it. But, then, things changed. He invited me to meet his family. Naively, I didn’t get the significance of such a move and probably neither did he. I am willing to bet our parents did. In tears, I admitted to my family that we would probably get married. It was a devastating, terrifying, wonderful admission. We were married a year later. I worked full time and he became a full time student at Columbia University. He loved attending Columbia, learning new things and hearing new ideas. I think that was the happiest I ever saw him. Money was tight since we couldn’t get student loans to supplement his GI Bill payments. So, he decided to get student aid by working through a school supported program that paid toward his tuition in exchange for his work. Choosing to work for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, then known as the VA, he found a home filled with bright, capable people who were like-minded.
He worked there from 1973 until 2000 when he medically retired. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he lived his last four years as best he could. One by one, slowly but surely, he lost all the things he loved. He worked when he shouldn’t, but loved what he did so much that he stayed and, I hope, provided good leadership born from an innate self, an upbringing that provided dedication, and an almost obsessive need to provide the best service possible to the veteran’s living in the area he covered. Finally, the end had to come and work ended with his farewell retirement party. He was lauded for his years of service and the love and admiration he commanded poured over the gathering. He and I had attended so many other ceremonies held for him, but this one was painful to watch. His 27 years of service ended on such a sad note.
This is not meant to deify him only to show that his work had meant so much to many of his peers and employees. There is now an award named for him created after his death. In truth, he was just a man with all the foibles and needs we all have, but a very special man. His impact was felt wherever he went. For his family, there were many absences due to work related travel, but when he was at home, he was there 100% always moving, always working, always providing time and energy for me and our children. We were a family who hugged and always said I love you to each other which he had instigated by doing it. Whether at home or away, he always knew what was going on at home and carried the worries that comes with family with him.
I loved this man more than I can express and bound myself to him mentally, emotionally and physically forever. Perhaps, that’s why when he died, everything seemed to fall apart around our family. It took time, years of time, to pull it all together again. It is to his credit that we are all surviving and thriving. We wouldn’t dare, even now, to do anything to let him down. On his graveside marker, it reads, “To be a great leader, is to be a good servant”. My husband was a good servant to all those he knew. His legacy will live for a long time.