Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

The Flame

I do not want to go softly into the night;

Instead, I would like to be thoroughly used up when I am done.

To burn as brightly as possible until that last flicker of light –

Leaving nothing but the memory, I gave no ground.

No sanctuary to the dark,

Providing a light to others…

a steady guide to show the well worn path

in the twilight of life.

February 20, 2021 Posted by | Personal, Poems | , , | Leave a comment

The Ghost of Yesterday

The ghosts of my yesterday’s haunt me,

They call out in the darkness,

Whispering softly in the cool night’s air.

Beckoning me back to the memories of my mind,

Silent sentinels guarding the door to those thoughts –

Which still remain, unspoken friend to my soul.

You can never know, the secrets they hold.

February 6, 2021 Posted by | Personal, Poems | , , | Leave a comment

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce says “No” to new sales tax

Mecklenburg County Chairman Parks Helms speaks to North Mecklenburg citizens in February 2001 at a “Flexliner” Demonstration in Mooresville.  Photo courtesy Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Every day, I speak with business owners struggling to make payroll. Families who have endured hardships this past year unparalleled in our lifetime, and while there is a glimmer of sunshine peaking through the dark clouds which enveloped our nation almost a year ago, we still have a way to go before we get back to the economic prosperity we enjoyed this time last year. Yet, even as we rebuild and emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, there are those in city leadership who would raise taxes on our goods and service, add to the existing challenges of business owners, and increase the cost to consumers.  As ridiculous as it sounds, there are actual discussions taking place in Charlotte about whether they can get North Mecklenburg voters on board for a sales tax increase for transit.

A far flung idea?  Not really, North Meck voters have had a history of supporting transit. In 1998, the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation which allowed Mecklenburg County to enact a local sales tax dedicated to public transit after a public vote. Mecklenburg County residents reaffirmed their desire to improve public transit options once again in 2007 by approving this dedicated tax by an overwhelming 70% vote. The north Mecklenburg communities of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville voted for this tax primarily based on the promise of commuter rail arriving from Charlotte.

The Lake Norman Chamber represented over 1,000 active business members, and loudly advocated in favor of this dedicated sales tax for public transit because of what commuter rail and expanded bus service could mean to commerce and economic growth for the Lake Norman region.

In 2001, several local Lake Norman area business and community leaders were taken on a highly publicized “Flexliner” transit ride on the old Norfolk Southern rail line from Charlotte to Mooresville. It demonstrated the promise of how commuter rail could positively impact the north market. 


It was that promise of opportunity and the vision of greatly expanded transit options from Charlotte to North Mecklenburg that persuaded our residents to vote in favor of the transit tax referendum in 2007. But history proved those visions to be mere illusions and false hope, as public transit and rail lines were improved everywhere except in North Mecklenburg. The Airport area, the University region and the residents of South Charlotte all saw change and growth. North Mecklenburg was left with no improvements other than more options for the already underutilized buses from the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Instead of getting new rail lines from Charlotte to Lake Norman as promised to gather our support, voters from North Mecklenburg received little more than a lesson in “bait and switch” politics. 

Almost a decade later, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners, a limited liability corporation created by Cintra, signed a comprehensive agreement for the delivery of I-77 toll lanes. In response, Lake Norman residents voted overwhelmingly to cast out elected officials, both local and statewide, who pushed I-77 toll roads down the throats of our citizens, instead of meeting our actual needs and creating expanded general-purpose lanes which were introduced in other areas of the Charlotte region instead.

Now, in 2021, during the greatest economic and healthcare crisis of our lifetime, Charlotte City leaders are once again considering the expansion of light rail which could cost between $8 and $12 billion. According to Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla, “You are talking about $150 per person a year or $600 a year for a family of four for something those of us in North Mecklenburg will receive no benefit from.”

On Monday, January 25th, the Board of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, representing the voice of business in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and the greater Lake Norman region unanimously, voted to oppose ANY further increase in sales tax, for ANY purpose, during this adverse economic climate.

With so many businesses, families, and organizations struggling to just meet the bare minimum costs of living and operating expenses, it is clearly the wrong time to even consider such a measure. More to the point, when it comes to whether or not North Mecklenburg voters will vote to fund another Charlotte Transit Tax……well, that train has already left the station.

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

January 27, 2021 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Taxes, Transportation & Road Improvement | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Staying Afloat

The following column from Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bill Russell salutes the patience, perseverance, and promise of our regional business community as we face the pandemic of 2020.

Staying Afloat

Last month, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony opening the newly renovated Lake Norman YMCA. That day, as leaders of the YMCA talked about the hardship and challenges of a capital campaign during the wake of COVID-19, the most devastating physical and economic threat of our generation, each person referenced the hard work and commitment of volunteers, donors and staff.

In my comments to those who gathered to celebrate the accomplishment, I shared how the local YMCA was essentially my second home during the summers when I was a young boy. Even today, I vividly recall the pickup basketball games, practicing my hoops, and the hot summer days out by the pool.  Looking back, it is hard to believe I did that each day, Monday thru Friday, 9 to 5 until my dad picked me up after work.

Today, the debate rages about whether our schools will have virtual or in class learning.  Governor Cooper has ordered a new restrictive stay at home order going into effect this Friday for the hours of 10 pm until 5 am, which will largely impact our hospitality businesses. While I am most concerned about the impact this virus has had on the health of our families and friends, I also am reminded daily about the economic toll it has had on business and commerce. 

Perhaps no market segment has been hit harder than our hospitality, tourism, and fitness industries. When many could have just folded up – I am aware how our Lake Norman businesses stepped up to the plate. I was impressed last May as Vinay Patel from SREE Hospitality talked about how his hotels worked to keep his employees on board in the face of a dramatic downturn in occupancy.  Chef Wes Choplin with Choplin’s Restaurant created meals for kids in need of a hot lunch.  While his business and other local restaurants suffered under the pandemic, he took care of 700 area children each week. Simply spectacular!

Our Lake Norman YMCA had planned a massive capital campaign and major renovation to begin February 1, just weeks before we realized the devastation of this virus. The leadership of the YMCA rolled the dice, took a risk, and plunged head on into the renovations gambling that the facility would be ready for the start of camps this past summer. The generosity of Lake Norman residents and stakeholders was amazing as the YMCA raised $2 million dollars over the course of three years. Even more amazing was the fact they also served 437 campers this summer – all with appropriate COVID 19 guidelines being met from June 15 to August 14th.

While COVID is seeing spikes statewide, relief is just around the corner as vaccines have now been approved and front-line healthcare workers and the elderly may see distribution within the next week as Operation Warp Speed begins implementation. COVID 19 has been an insidious threat to our nation but it has brought out the best in our people – working together to help each other stay afloat during a rough and turbulent storm.  We have stared down a disease which knows no partisanship, religion, or race.

But one, which at the end of the day, will be beaten back.  The storm has not yet passed but the ravaging winds are subsiding and just over the horizon the sun waits to kiss the gentle waters and make calm the new day. I can see that day.  It’s just ahead.

Wishing health and happiness to you all.

Bill Russell

December 9, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lesson I Learned from Coach – Ray Parlier

The below article was written for the August issue of FLAME.

I am not sure there is a single principle more important than simply loving your people. I’ve always enjoyed reading books by John C. Maxwell, and in one of his books he had a statement from President Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Ray Parlier

Pictured Ray Parlier (Center), former Athletic Director of Furman University with Bill Russell (Left) and Robby Dawkins (Right) who both led the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce as National Presidents. Parlier, who died in 2017, left a Legacy of Leadership on thousands of young people as a Coach and Mentor.

In 1985, I met a man named Ray Parlier. Ray and I were very involved in the South Carolina Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and later he would lead the state organization as President. He also became one of my political advisors when I was National President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.

While Ray was extremely successful in the Jaycees, his real impact was shaping the lives of kids at Furman University where he served as Athletic Director during the time when it claimed its only National Football Championship. Ray’s influence on me was profound, but his greatest lesson was to love your people. If you demonstrate how much you care about the people you lead, they will follow you anywhere. People always came first with Coach Parlier and he was a master at making you feel special.

He called until it was too late to talk on the phone. Then he would switch to addressing postcard after postcard thanking folks for the smallest things. Ray was a fierce competitor and he believed everyone had a place on the team. The quarterback who made the perfect fade pass was important but so was the trainer who conditioned the players. Ray gave out more plaques and incentives than anyone I ever met and sometimes it was the smallest tokens that people desired the most. It was not the size of the reward but the appreciation for the job well done. I am not sure I ever saw as many grown men hug each other as they did under the leadership of Coach. He made you feel good about yourself and your effort.

Someone recently asked me to what I attributed the success of the Lake Norman Chamber I lead here at Lake Norman. Location is a critical factor for any business, but it really benefits those who make their home at the lake.  We have businesses that work their plan, take advantage of our networking events, and our outstanding personal growth and business programming. However, the thing that sets our chamber apart, which enables us to be the “Best of the Best”, is our appreciation of each other. You must show folks how much you care. It is the foundation of leadership.

I still remember a Saturday morning in Charleston, S.C. when I had just been elected President of the South Carolina Jaycees. Coach Ray Parlier put his arm around me and hugged me tight. He then looked deep in my eyes, with a wide smile across his face and reminded me, “Bill, love your people and they’ll love you back.”

As I look back on a life that has spanned six decades now, that may well have been the single best advice I ever received.

Bill Russell

 

 

 

August 18, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Light in the Darkness

The following article was written expressly for the May issue of Flame. To read articles written by other Lake Norman Business and Community Leaders visit:  https://bit.ly/2zxxktD

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “In every individual’s life, comes that special moment when he or she will be called upon to do something great, and what a tragedy it would be, if at that moment, they were unprepared for the task.”

G Russell May Flame

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden.

Growing up as a boy, I would spend weekends with my grandparents.  On a Saturday night after supper, Granddaddy Russell and I would sit on the backdoor steps where he would polish his shoes.  He always wanted to look his best for Church the next morning.

I still recall one evening when he asked, “Billy, have you got those shoes shined up for church tomorrow?”  I recall answering that my shoes were still shined from the week before.

Not one to be deterred, Granddaddy examined my shoes, gave me a stern look, and simply handed me the brush and polish.  Granddaddy would sometimes spit on his shoes as he polished them to bring them to a high luster. And I would spit on my shoes as well, because that’s what granddaddy did.

Afterwards we would retire to the dining room table to do our “lessons.”  That’s what he called reading and studying the bible passages we would review the next day in Sunday School.  I would have much rather watched television, but granddaddy said we had to study for church.  “But why do we have to read all that?” I would ask.  “We’ll be reading it again tomorrow.”  He would point out.  “You need to be prepared.”

As I write this column, we are three weeks into a “Stay at Home” order imposed by Mecklenburg Country and the State as we wrestle with the physical and economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The illness has already claimed thousands of lives here in America and could rage on for weeks to come.

I am not sure anyone in the world foresaw the severity of this outbreak and there is no question our federal and state agencies were unprepared. As grave as this issue may be, I do believe we can emerge from it a much better community and nation.

Few of us will ever face a crisis as dire as this event unfolding before us. While the community, country and world are filled with anxiety and fear, there are many who are emerging as leaders. Not just the healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines, but everyday Americans looking to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s as simple as donating to a cause or delivering food and other essentials to those in need, our community is pulling together!

This temporary pause also gives each of us time to reflect on what is important not only in our business but in our personal lives. Each of us can use this time to reprioritize goals and set new objectives.  A great many of us have discovered new technologies to communicate with clients and friends which we not have previously utilized.

But the biggest opportunity may be the opportunity to be the person you can be after the pandemic and not the person you were going to be.

As a little boy, I could not have imagined that a virus could single handedly stop the American economy and hold our nation hostage. But perhaps this is the moment in time Sir Winston Churchill spoke about. An opportunity when we are called upon to be our absolute best – and a time when we dare not fail in that task.

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

May 3, 2020 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Bless You Mrs Trumbell

The following column was written for a special publication called Flame. The contributors to this monthly online publication are business leaders and coaches in the Lake Norman region. I am fortunate to be a contributor.  Below is my column about a woman who used Faith to influence my life – Mrs Trumbell, a Bible Teacher who visited Finley Road Elementary School in Rock Hill, SC when I was a little boy. This article was written Pre-Pandemic.

A couple of weeks ago, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon which was keynoted by Mark Johnson, North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He shared what our public schools are doing to get students “Career Ready” as they look at two- or four-year institutions. According to Mark, some students are pursuing apprenticeship programs, while others may elect to go straight into the workforce.   The Chamber also used the luncheon to recognize three Lake Norman teachers as the Outstanding Educators of the Year.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction speaks to Lake Norman Chamber members on what teachers are doing to get today’s students “Career Ready.” Photo by John McHugh, Ocaid Photography

As we sat at our tables during lunch, invariably the subject of “Which teacher influenced you the most came up.” I listened intently as several business owners and managers shared their stories, recalling fondly, how this special instructor significantly touched their life.

Leaving the luncheon, someone stopped to ask me, “Was there a special teacher in my life?”  To be sure, there are quite a few memorable mentors who have made an indelible impression. But the individual who comes to mind was not an educator in the conventional sense. She wasn’t paid to do her job, yet she had one of the most fulfilling roles any teacher was ever provided.

When I was in third grade, a retired lady would visit our elementary school once a month.  She would hand out little red Bibles to the children and spend half an hour telling Bible stories.  Our parents had to sign an approval form before we could attend her story telling sessions.  Those who did not want to participate could go to the back of the room and take a nap or play with some of the games and puzzles kept there.  However, many of us chose to listen to Mrs. Trumbell’s stories of David and Goliath and King Solomon’s Mighty Temple.

Today, fifty years later, children do not have the choice between taking a nap and Bible stories.  Religious displays have been banned in public buildings and on municipal grounds. As we approach the Easter Season, you are not likely to see offensive crosses to some in a retail store, but there will be bags of candy and plenty of baskets for the Easter Bunny.

Prayer in school, invocations at sporting events, and references to the Ten Commandments are being challenged by the ACLU and those who are offended at the thought of religion threatening their freedoms.  Separation of church and state is their battle cry.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting in which the discussion centered on the declining work ethic in today’s employees.  The Internet is filled with marketing campaigns by major retailers with strong sexual images targeting millennials and we continue to read heartbreaking stories committed against children by their parents.

The state of our workforce, our families, and our communities tell me that people like Mrs. Trumbell are sorely missed.  I agree you cannot legislate morality. However, we as parents, community leaders, and volunteers can work with children and help them understand and appreciate simple values.  The education the children receive at home, through the examples set by parents, are stronger than any instruction they can receive at school.

An issue I am very concerned about is the very bitter, divisive way we treat each other in social media.  Friends, coworkers, and family members are using adjectives such as racist, sexist or perhaps just ignorant, if someone dare disagree on political policies or candidates.  Perhaps a greater concern for me personally, is what impact does that have on our children – the generation which will succeed us tomorrow?

The students educated today are the business and community leaders of tomorrow.  I applaud our elected leadership who insist God still has a place in our society.  To whom we pray is less important than the fact we should pause each day and give thanks for the blessings from above. We are all so fortunate to live in a nation founded on strong principles and paid for by the blood, toil, and sweat of the generations who came before us.  We should never forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we could enjoy the privileges we have today.  And let us pause and give thanks for these blessings, while America still has a prayer.

W.E. “Bill” Russell CCE, IOM

President & CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

 

 

April 7, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Fighting Chance

Scarlett

Scarlett and Mike LaPierre.

Last month, business, community, and elected leaders gathered along with health care officials at the opening of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Pediatric Emergency Room at Lake Norman. The new facility located at exit 25 in Huntersville is a 24/7 emergency room specifically trained in caring for children.

The highlight of the morning was hearing from the parent of a young baby who was evidence of a death-defying miracle – Scarlett LaPierre. Mike LaPierre, the general manager of Skybrook Golf Club in Huntersville, shared how Scarlett was delivered by a C-section at 26 weeks, weighing less than a pound and a half. Two weeks after her premature birth, Scarlett developed a massive clot inside her heart.

Fortunately, the doctors at Levine Children’s Hospital had advanced knowledge of a treatment that few babies in the world had ever been exposed. A new drug had recently been developed called “TPA” which busted the clot but not without concerns of side effects which threatened her life.

The parents Mike and Tracey LaPierre had been prepared to say goodbye to their precious little girl named after Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone with the Wind”. Much like the character for whom she was named, little Scarlett was a fighter and survived the ordeal.

Mike LaPierre credited the team at Levine for both finding and treating the clot. There had only been 10 similar documented cases published worldwide, so the odds had been heavily stacked against her. Had it not been for the outstanding physicians and resources of Levine, little Scarlett would have been another statistic.  Instead, she is a miracle growing healthier each day.

Listening to Scarlett’s story, I thought about a visit I took to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Medical University at South Carolina in 1993.  I had recently been asked to take part in the Blue-Ribbon Commission Partnership with the March of Dimes.  The commission was an effort by the healthcare advocate to engage national civic organizations in their fight against birth defects.

I was 34 at the time and chairman of the board of the largest young people’s service organization in the country – the United States Junior Chamber. We toured several wings of the hospital before one of the physicians took me down a darkened corridor. There to the right and left were rows and rows of incubators with little premature babies who could have easily fit in the palm of your hand. I was told many of these babies were “crack babies” born to mothers addicted to cocaine. Others were the result of alcohol, heroin or other narcotics.

I stood at the glass and looked down at one of the babies. Bright pink, this little “preemie’s” eyes were closed tightly as they fought for each labored breath. I remember asking naively about the parents as the female physician looked at me, paused, and carefully chose her words which have haunted me since.

“In most cases these little babies are born to young mothers exposed to drugs such as barbiturates or heroin,” she replied. I asked what would become of them? The young physician looked away and then turned to me and replied, “Most will not likely survive the week. Those that do, may have cognitive or developmental issues.”

I didn’t dare ask another question. Instead, l looked back down, focusing on the little baby whose chest rose slowly up and down. His fingers were clenched tightly and every soften, seemed to take a wild swing through the air.

Today, we are so fortunate to have a facility like Levine Children’s hospital here at the lake. As a community, we are blessed to have outstanding providers like Atrium, Novant, and Lake Norman Regional Medical to take care of our employees, families, and children.

Listening to Mike Lapierre who held baby Scarlett tight in his arms, I couldn’t help but think of that young “preemie” almost three decades ago.

No child should be left alone in the darkness of that room, with no one to love and no one to love them back. It is important we educate young expectant mothers on lifestyle decisions and as importantly, we as a community need to invest in our healthcare, making sure each child has that fighting chance. It’s a fight we can win together and a fight we dare not lose.

Bill Russell

January 23, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Business of Politics

Russell thoughts 1

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM

This month marks my 25th year with the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce….a milestone from which to reflect on the past, but also look toward the future. Going through my files the other day, I found some letters we wrote to then N.C. Senator Fountain Odom in Raleigh years ago.
Most Chamber members join our association because of the many networking opportunities or for the chance to improve their marketing, management, or sales skills through our many seminars and programs. But a very important role the Lake Norman Chamber plays is being the voice of local businesses whether that’s at Town Hall, in Raleigh, or in the Halls of Congress.

In 1996, a group of our chamber members went to Raleigh to meet with Senator Odom regarding legislation he had sponsored. His bill would change the way our towns and cities annex. Our North Mecklenburg towns were opposed to the bill. While that may not sound like a business issue, the growth of our towns is very important to the overall vitality and health of our region. The chamber played, and still maintains, a key role in the economic well-being of the Lake Norman region.

It was my first trip to Raleigh and after a short wait we were escorted in to see the Senator. There was some small talk before we got down to the real reason we were there.  Senator Odom saw me looking at the beautiful ornate humidor sitting on his desk. He interrupted the Chamber Board Chair, Scott Lawrence, then opened the box and asked if we smoked. Indicating that we did smoke cigars on occasion, the Senator offered each of us a cigar, and took one for himself. He then leaned back in his chair, clipped the end of the cigar, and lit it up to my astonishment.

“Are you going to smoke that in here sir?” I asked, rather aghast. Senator Odom replied, “Son, this is Raleigh and North Carolina was built on tobacco.”

Senator Odom then asked if we were aware he had sponsored the Bill in question. “Yes sir,” I replied.  Odom took a few puffs on his cigar and with a glint in his eye said, “Boys, don’t worry.  That bill has been sent down to the rules committee where it will stay parked till we adjourn.” His language was clear – the bill would die in committee. Senator Odom sponsored legislation that pleased one group of supporters and had his own Bill sent to die in committee to take care of the other side.  In the end, nothing happened.

As we were walking back down the hallway, Charles Knox, our Chamber’s public policy chair at the time, looked at me and said, “Welcome to Raleigh.”

Over the course of the last 25 years, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has become very effective in advocating for our members. I could cite hundreds of cases where our chamber’s voice helped this region….whether it was assisting local businesses with zoning issues, overturning the county’s faulty property tax reval a few years ago, or bringing new health care facilities our classrooms our way. Statehouse Rediced

We successfully lobbied for new schools and expanded roads and stood up to Bond Packages which did not support our community. The Lake Norman Chamber led an effort to get a multi-jurisdictional transportation access management study when that type of study had never been commissioned before. We were able to get road improvements that had been denied to one of our towns by NC DOT.

But it’s the lesson I learned early from a freshman NC House Member I will always cherish the most.

On another visit to Raleigh, Representative Drew Saunders told us the greatest lesson he had ever learned was, “Never burn a bridge – whether that’s in business or politics! The person on the other side of the issue today could be one of your biggest allies’ tomorrow.”

In some respect Raleigh, much like Lake Norman has changed quite a bit in 25 years. Tobacco may have built North Carolina but it’s been replaced by finance and technology. But some of the games played decades ago are still going on, and not just in our state capital, but in Washington DC as well.

As we cross the bridge into our next decade, I am quite confident of one thing though – working hard, working smart and working together there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. Happy 2020!

Bill Russell

January 13, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Guiding Light – Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

ChristmasThe Christmas season has always been my favorite part of the year. I cherish time spent with close friends and family and love all of the festivities and holiday decor that it brings. For many of us, this is the time to pause our hectic schedules and remember the true meaning of Christmas, and also reflect upon the past as we look to the future.

The past 11 months have been very challenging for me. I lost my father very suddenly in January. Dad wasn’t just a parent. He was my guiding star, my mentor, my confidant and the person I have strived most to emulate in my professional and civic career. Certainly, my Mom played a critical role in my life raising my brother, sister and me. She purchased most of our clothes if she didn’t make them herself. Then she stitched them back together when we wore them out.

Mom nursed us when we were sick, comforted us when we were in distress, and loved on us even when we were bad. (Okay, mostly it was me who was bad!) And while I love my Mom to the moon and back, I was always a daddy’s boy. I admired how involved he was in our community. As a kid, I was so proud watching him play ball, stand up and give a talk in front of the church, and when called upon – serve as the president or chairman of so many different local civic groups.

Later in life, when I led some of the same organizations that my Father guided in prior years, he counseled me. Perhaps his greatest advice when I was faced with several controversial decisions was, “Do the right thing no matter how unpopular it may be. Don’t make a decision in the moment because you’re going to remember it for a lifetime.” He also shared, “We do not choose when we set an example!”

Dad was never an executive with a chamber of commerce, though he was involved with the Rock Hill Chamber. But he recognized how much I enjoyed civic service and encouraged me to pursue a career in association management. This year marks 27 years at the helm of a chamber of commerce helping businesses grow and prosper while making it a great community to live, work, and play.

The hardest thing this year has been going through the boxes and boxes of personal papers, mementos, pictures, and notes at our family farm. I thought I was a pack rat until I started going through Dad’s closets and storage areas and emptying the attic at his home. Among the many letters and papers I found was a copy of a note he wrote to my brother’s daughter who was joining the church. In the letter he cited two guiding principles he relied on. One was a scripture verse from the New Testament, Matthew 5 Chapter 16; “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”Tree 3

The other was a line from the Jaycee Creed: “Service to humanity is the best work of life.” As I continued to read the letter, tears welled up in my eyes as I could hear his voice. The cadence of his words spoke boldly of his thoughts. The thoughts speaking to intention, and the intentions which were louder than the words. As I set the box of letters aside, I thought about how Dad’s life was a candle which burned brightly against the darkness. Before his flame flickered out too soon at the age of 81, he completed a lifetime of work, and left his community much better than he found it.

It was late as I finished for the night. I walked outside on the back deck and looked up at the twinkling stars.  The moon was full, and I peered across the pasture to the old ragged barn silhouetted against the horizon.

I couldn’t help but think in this Christmas Season what those travelers from the East thought two thousand years ago as they followed their star. Those three wise men who left behind their life and followed the light. The journey they made and the legacy we remember.

As I stood in the crisp country air, I heard the sound of a young calf piercing the darkness and felt a warm rush against the nighttime chill. It was as if my Grandmother was throwing a shawl around my shoulder to keep me warm….as she had many times when I was a child. In that moment, I could feel the love that surrounded me and the lessons that Dad left. Among them,  “It’s not just about the destination we seek but the journey along the way … and the many lives we touch getting there.”

In this holiest of seasons, I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Bill Russell

December 23, 2019 Posted by | Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment