Twenty three years ago I met Charlie McGee. He was white haired, approximately my dad's age, and, like my dad, a World War II veteran. Jim Fee, my boss at the time, introduced me to Charlie at the convention center in Seattle. Jim had just hired him as our national sales trainer for Protocol Systems, Inc., a young medical device company in Portland, Oregon. Jim was VP of Sales and marketing and I was Director of Sales. Charlie joined our team that day.
Over the years thereafter I got to know Charlie very well. He had grown up in "Philly." He came through an Irish bloodline, and was proud of it. Though he was about a quarter of a century older than me and I felt I was already starting to slow down, he would always say to me: "My best work lies ahead." I would look at him and think, "Aren't you ready to retire?" I came to appreciate that attitude of his. Charlie never stopped trying, never stopped working to improve the quality of what he did and the results he might achieve. He became, as Jim Fee would say, "The heart of the sales force." He inspired everyone. I attended many of his sales training classes, and though I'd heard his lessons before, they always made a new impression on me. Charlie had become a champion and he was teaching others how to be one too.
At lunch Charlie would tell me stories of World War II battles. He was one of the 15,000 paratroopers that had been surrounded in Bastone by 176,000 German troops (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Bastogne). He had some hair raising tales. He had a few sad tales, some funny ones and some that were simply scary. He had fought some very tough battles and lived to tell the stories.
By the time he came home from the war he had wracked up some glory, but had also picked up a bad habit. Alcohol had been his escape when on leave. Once he came home he found himself turning more and more often to the bottle. Eventually he lost his wife, his family, his job, and his self respect. He literally ended up in the gutter. It was a sad tale to hear from a past hero of WWII.
Eventually, he started to turn things around. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, gave up alcohol, got a job, found a new wife, and began again. He used to say to me, "Chris, if I hadn't been a drunk I'd be president of the United States by now." I didn't doubt it.
Once Charlie started his climb back from the bottom he advanced rapidly. By the time I met him he was starting his third career with a major medical device company. He had already earned two retirements and was working on a third. His financial life was in order. He was an active member of the Catholic church who supported several worthwhile charities. He supported over a dozen orphans in orphanages abroad. He was a featured speaker in front of as many as 10,000 recovering alcoholics at annual A.A. meetings in Los Angeles. He was committed to service and personal growth. And, he liked crossword puzzles. They kept him learning new words.
For the remainder of Charlie's life he was committed to doing better, achieving more, becoming a better man, serving more people, impacting the lives of others for the positive. He touched the lives of thousands of people. He used to say, "You are an experiment of one; there's nobody else in the world like you." He encouraged everyone to become the best they could be, to do their best, to challenge themselves. He did that himself right up to the end.
Charlie's been gone a few years now. You won't find him in a Google search. But he remains a vivid memory in my mind, and in the memories of thousands of others. He remains an example of someone who overcame, someone always on an upward climb. He was a good friend to me in that way. I remember him with fondness.
My own father, Roy Tew, who was featured on the History Channel (http://www.kued.org/productions/worldwar2/homeFront/interviews.php), and a local public TV channel for his service as the navigator in a B-29 in 26 missions over Japan during WWII, also holds the emotional scars of war time service. Like most service men, he doesn't talk about, or complain about the burdens the war forced on him. He has overcome the tribulations and emotional scars of that war, and gone on to have a very productive life as a builder, father, brother, son, grandfather, great grandfather, and servant in his church. In his 88th year now he continues to have an impact for good in the lives of his friends and family. The war, though not forgotten (he still attends the 19th Bomb Groups annual reunions), has been overcome.
When my father turned 80 I asked him, "What would you do differently if you had it all to do over again?" He thought about it a minute and said, "I'd be of more service to others." I was amazed, this was coming from a man who served others about 80 hours per week for as long as I'd known him. He had served honorably and valiantly in World War II. He had held responsible church callings, and gone beyond the call of duty as a father. I remembered long ago when my dad and his brother, Dean, built a home for their elderly mother, and didn't charge her for the work, even though they had plenty of work already just making a living. I wondered, "What more could you do?" I remember my dad waking me up many a morning at 4 AM to pick fruit on the church welfare farm as charity for others before he would go to work. I remember him in his 70's and 80's clearing the snow off the walks of all his neighbors, making secret donations to those in need, helping multiple young men and older men to serve missions for their church, replacing the roof of a neighbor, serving his siblings, etc. I remembered his service as a father, husband, son, and brother. I wondered, "If he hasn't served enough to satisfy himself, what about me? I've got miles to go before I sleep."
I thought about Charlie, and my father, as I read the recent bestseller, Unbroken, about an Olympian, Louis Zamperini, who became a prisoner of war in the war against Japan. Although he had been brutally tortured for 27 months, he never gave in, never gave up, and he eventually overcame all the ill effects of that torture, all the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional wounds that he received. He forgave the man most responsible for his continuous torture during his time as a prisoner. Louis, my dad, and Charlie had overcome the scars of war and made good things of their lives. They all came a long ways,and they never gave up.(see: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703514904575602540345409292.html)
Charlie was one of my mentors, along with my dad. I think about them now as I'm turning 60. I think about the lessons they used to try to teach me, often just by example. These good men are one reason that as I run these last few laps of life I hope to do better than I've ever done before, to achieve more, to help more people, to be a better example, to serve more effectively, to stand for good things, to witness of truth, and to inspire others to do the same.
I believe my best work still lies ahead of me. What about you? What will you do with the last few laps of your life? Will you finish strong?
(See this article: "You A Not A Has Been" https://www.area-info.net/articles/show.php?cty=Logan&st=Utah&article_id=1883