I loved my Papa Bill.
This week, after 86 years of life, his body gave way to the entropy of time. When I found out the end was near I got in my car and drove to Florida from Boston. Normally I don’t make that trip by car, but having just been hit with a blizzard, Boston was shut down. The 1,500 mile journey afforded me some unexpected gifts, one of which was the opportunity to reflect on my grandfather.
Those who know me know that my family is not picturesque. We’re a messy patchwork with lots of frayed edges, for sure. But that hardly means that tender reflection is impossible. Of course, there are no perfect families. Yet, thinking on the life of my grandfather has produced three clear lessons I wish to learn from him. As a way of honoring him, I offer them to you.
It’s About People
William Herman Hall was born May 22, 1930. Growing up in the midst of The Great Depression, he spent his days working in his father’s grocery store and pinching whatever pennies came his way. Later in life, Bill would find great success in business. Yet, growing up in a depression had a different effect on him than it had on many of his time. Where lack made some miserly, it only served to show Bill what was really important — people.
As a businessman, and later on in retirement, he would become known as a relentlessly generous, jovial man who never missed a chance to be with his friends. Success was never about the stuff, it was just an opportunity to be with people.
As an achiever who often makes hitting goals more important than cultivating relationships, this is a lesson I want to learn.
Start Stuff and Mentor Men
Papa Bill went into business with his uncle right out of college. He took a small restaurant and innovated it into a career with multiple successful businesses. His entrepreneurial drive mingled with his love for people made him a business mentor for many. My own father has what he has and does what he does because Papa Bill approached my parents with an entrepreneurial idea. With capital both in money and wisdom, he did this with many young men, helping them build legacies that simply wouldn’t exist without him.
I can’t help but think this is incredibly Christ-like. As a dude who trying to kill his own messiah complex, I’m grateful to have the example of a man who didn’t need to be the star of the show. He just needed to know that his creativity was catapulting other men into their destinies. I want to be like that.
Give Your Burdens to Jesus
Like all of us, Papa Bill had regrets. His was not a perfect life. There were particular tragedies that weighed upon him for too many years. Humans are not designed to hold the weights of our own difficulties alone. But strong patriarchs aren’t quick to share pain. This is a tendency in my own heart — trying to pay forward the costs that my past follies wish to extract. But that’s a bill none of us can meet, no matter how successful.
In what would be my final visit with my Papa Bill, I took him to lunch. After an afternoon together we sat in the car, talking. I loved to listen to his stories, so I’d ask tons of questions. This was also the moment where, for the first time, I got to help my Papa Bill give his burdens to Jesus. He wasn’t a particularly religious man, but tears streamed down his life-worn cheeks as we prayed for the grace of God’s great burden-bearer to help.
In a few days I’ll drive back to Boston. The funeral will be over, families will return home, and the new normal will settle in uncomfortably, as it always must after a death. Time will probably afford me the chance to see much more to learn from my Papa Bill. But, if I can get these three lessons, I’ll be a little more like him and a little more like Jesus, and I’m more than a little okay with that.