It was one of the great privileges of my life to be able to speak at my father’s funeral. As tomorrow will mark one year since the day that Dad left this earth and moved on to his next adventure, I believe it is fitting to publish the eulogy in this space. Here it is – this time, without tears – but with every bit of the same emotion as when I spoke the words.
EULOGY FOR JENNINGS L. WAGONER, JR.
January 30, 2013
It’s only been in the past few years that I have really recognized how much of my life I have subconsciously patterned after my Dad’s. As those who know me well will attest, I don’t always have a gift for recognizing the obvious.
Dad went to Wake Forest, and Wake Forest remained near and dear to him. Despite having grown up in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s University, I also went to Wake Forest. There was no pressure involved – it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Like Dad, I was active in fraternity life while in college. I didn’t pledge the same one – but I wasn’t trying to be different. I sought out the house where I felt the best fit. It was no coincidence that my Sigma Chi of the early 1980’s happened to be the house that best mirrored Dad’s Kappa Sigs of the late 1950’s.
Dad was a thinker, and a reader, and a writer. He taught me how to write by way of liberal application of red ink to any rough draft that I would show him. The corrections were sometimes difficult to take – but they always helped. In like manner, my kids and many of my work colleagues know that if they ask for me to edit a draft – I will edit the draft.
Dad was a worker. As a professor, his was not a 9-to-5 job. He didn’t clock out when he came home. I am sure that he spent many more hours working at home in his study than he did in the classroom or in his office in Ruffner Hall. While our career paths went in different directions – Dad was in education and I have been in law and business – our habits are much the same. He taught me that work is not the most important thing – but it is an important thing – and it can’t be done well in the space of an 8 hour day.
Dad was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and Scout leader. I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and am a Scout leader.
Dad loved high adventure – while he enjoyed all sorts of outdoor activities, he was drawn to those that involve personal challenge and a gut check – things that get the blood pumping and adrenaline racing. And, he particularly enjoyed making these experiences available to others.
He shared with me the challenge of climbing up a rock face, and the thrill of rappelling back down. I well remember how excited I was when my wife Jennifer finally let her determination – and my coaxing – overcome her fear, and took that first backward step off the top of the cliff at Raven’s Roost.
Together with some adventurous Sunday School classmates, some of whom are here today – Dad took on the world-class rapids of the Gauley River in West Virginia. A year or so later, he invited me to join that group on a Gauley raft. In the years since, I have organized many Gauley trips of my own.
I could go on with the parallels. I want to be clear that I was never trying to be Dad – I could never come close – but I was, sometimes consciously and more often subconsciously – trying to be like him. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I didn’t.
When I pass, I cannot imagine having that event producing anything close to the same outpouring of love and admiration that you and so many others have expressed. So many people have said wonderful things about the impact that Dad had on their lives. Dad’s literal shoes were a size 9 ½, but his figurative shoes were immense. Much too big to try to fill.
It has only been in the past few years that I have realized that he didn’t see it that way. My failures – and I’ve had some doozies – were not disappointments or embarrassments for Dad. He hurt with me. I was always humbled by him, but he never humbled me.
And he reveled in my successes.
As with most parents, Dad gave me many material things over the years. But, his encouragement, his pride, his affirmation, and his love were the most precious gifts that he could offer – and he showered me with them. Those are gifts that I can never repay – I can only hope that I can pay them forward with my own kids.
As with so many other things that I’ve done in following Dad’s lead, that just seems like the right thing to do.
Knowing another language can come in handy. For example, I recall enough from my high school and college French classes to be able to get by – or at least ask for directions to the bathroom – if I ever find myself in France. And, my years in law school and law practice armed me with enough arcane “Legalese” (not an actual language, but derived from Latin) terms and phrases to be able to navigate the legal system.
I also know corporate-speak. Most of that, however, is just plain silly.
The Wall Street Journal recently surveyed business executives to get their take on which corporate buzzwords should be banned from the boardroom. While I agree that all of the winning(?) terms are over-used, I think that a few do convey helpful imagery and are therefore worth keeping, namely “push the envelope,” “out of the box,” and “low hanging fruit.” That’s about it, though. “Going forward?” Unnecessary, extra words. “Game change?” Business is not a game. “Ideate?” What exactly does that mean, anyway? And “reach out?” I’m not sure why, but that one has always made me cringe.
Corporate-speak is so pervasive in the business world that I used to amuse myself by amassing my own collection of boardroom bromides. Here are some representative gems, all taken from real-world meetings, presentations, calls, and emails, and most uttered by otherwise smart and talented people:
“interesting data point”
“fortify our talent roadmap”
“brand refresh rollout”
“drive efficiencies and standardization”
“deliver incremental customer value”
“internal stakeholder support”
“socialize the draft to the team”
“socialize it for input”
“generate differentiated value”
“surface the concerns”
And the list goes on … but I’ll spare you.
As I look ahead to 2014, I realize that I have spent too much of 2013 focusing on what I have lost, and not enough on what I have learned. While I may be tempted to add “and good riddance to 2013″ after shouting “Happy New Year” tonight, the past year has taught me some powerful lessons. While they were hard lessons to learn, I am grateful for them. Here are a few:
There is never enough time with those we love. My Dad died in January. He had inoperable cancer, and we knew what the end result would be. We tried to savor the time that we had together before he passed. It wasn’t enough. I realize, though, that no quantity of additional days, weeks, months, or years would have been.
Time passes quickly. In my mind, I often feel that I am about the age of my eldest daughter. When I do, I’m ignoring three intervening decades. I’m not sure where they went, but I know that I can’t get them back. In another 30 years, I’ll be 80. I have a lot of living to do between now and then.
Nothing should be taken for granted. A few months ago, I walked into my boss’s office for my mid-year review, armed with the confidence that came from knowing that I had already surpassed my year-end revenue goals. I walked out with a letter from HR explaining that my position had been eliminated. Things don’t have to make sense for them to be real.
We are more than our work. The extent to which the layoff knocked the wind out of me has made it clear that what we do for a living should only be a part of who we are. Defining oneself in terms of something that can so easily be taken away is not a recipe for happiness.
Things may not be what they appear. Imagine the most “together”, confident, successful, popular person you can. Then imagine him deciding that his family would be better off without him, and ending his life. I received word of that happening to a friend a few days before Christmas. Regardless of appearances, we are all fighting a battle of some sort.
Hard lessons, but important lessons.
Be good to each other, and to yourself.
If we call them enough, will they overturn it? – Um, probably not, particularly if you organize your call-in campaign in public.
My brother almost flipped and wrecked his truck which had 4 wheel drive. – If this is true, his brother should turn in his man card.
There’s no power in Hollymead. MY HAIR IS GROSS HOW WILL I SHOWER I WILL BE BULLIED MY HAIR IS SO GREASY YOU COULD COOK BACON ON IT. – This one gets creativity points for working in the anti-bullying theme.
I mean did y’all not even consider what student/parents are hasseling through. – It’s her world and the rest of us are just living in it!
This is probably the dumbest decision you guys have ever called. – Really?
I am very disappointed in your judgment ACPS. Very disappointed. – Ah, playing the dreaded “disappointed” card. This guy means business.
I wish I went to school down here :) – No doubt posted by an amused northerner who is accustomed to school staying open no matter what.
It seems a little unfair to have school when some students can’t come due to they can’t even get up their driveway. – Interesting angle – having school will penalize those who cannot come. A budding lawyer, no doubt.
So I just walked outside and slipped on Ice trying to open my car again, and I cut my hand two seconds after impact with ground and now I need to go to a doctor in this weather. See what you guys have done? – When all else fails, try the guilt approach.
Lets not forget, if there is melting there are tons of creeks that run through out the Scottsville area that flood easily and prevent people from driving. – We might have a volcano eruption as well!
I don’t really care about going to school or doing homework or any of that. I just wanted to go snowboarding, hahaha. – At least he’s honest.
I didn’t do my homework… – Isn’t this what all the rest are really saying?
When I was in college, a fraternity brother was pulled over for a suspected DUI. It was late at night, he was very animated in his conversation with the officer, and his passengers had clearly had a few too many. The only problem with the stop was that the driver was a teetotaler – not only had he not been drinking that night, he had never had a drink in his life. He was eventually able to convince the officer of this, but it took some doing.
With that recollection in mind, I’m passing along an informative article with suggestions on what to do if you are pulled over for a suspected DUI in Virginia. A few caveats:
1) You should not drink and drive. Period.
2) The article applies to Virginia law. If you are in another state, the laws and procedures may be different – your mileage may vary.
3) In passing along this article, I am not giving legal advice. If you want legal advice, ask your lawyer.