One month ago, I lost my father to cancer. Daddy was much more than a dad. He was my mentor, my confidante, my supporter, my best friend and the inspiration for much of what I have done in my life. My mom has also been a guiding influence and I love her dearly. But as Lewis Grizzard put it best, “My daddy was a pistol and I’m a son of a gun.”
If you’ve been a Chamber Member for a while, you may have read the countless articles and columns I have written about my father and grandfather and the lessons I learned growing up on our family farm. The house and the halls where my father and his father roamed, along with the pastures they trod, and the rich soil we turned in the garden together, hold special memories for me.
My dad, a lifelong member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, was an Ordained Elder of the church, and served as Clerk of Session. It surprised me when I learned that he did not want a church funeral. Instead, he requested a small graveside service and a visitation of just family and close friends upon his passing.
While my Dad spent much of his lifetime committed to civic service, with years of dedication to the Red Cross, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Little League and other community activities, deep down he was simply a quiet man and was not one for show. That’s one quality I’ve yet to learn from daddy. I have always struggled with the “humility thing” and since I was young, I kind of thought the world may indeed revolve around me.
Daddy would have been taken aback by the hundreds of people who crammed into Greene’s Funeral Home in Rock Hill on that mournful Saturday afternoon. Jaycee friends from across the state drove hours to visit with our family, and to share in our moment of reflection on the life that had impacted so many in 81 years.
In addition to the family and friends, more than 50 Lake Norman Chamber members also drove down to South Carolina for my father’s funeral. Some were former or current chamber board leadership, others were long time chamber members, and many were Lake Norman neighbors I’ve been lucky enough to meet and call friends. A few never met him, yet they all gave up their Saturday and drove for several hours through the challenges of I-77 for one reason – to show they cared. And to each you who were there on the saddest day of my life, your presence was a comfort that I will never forget.
I’ve often been asked what makes the Lake Norman Chamber different from any other Chamber. The answer for me has always been simple – We are a family. We encourage each other when we need inspiration and we’re there for each other when times are tough. And we celebrate together. This month we added to our family at the Chamber with the addition of Sylvia Spury who many may know from her 18 years of service with the Mooresville South Iredell Chamber. She has 20 years of Chamber experience and we are so lucky to have her on our team.
The past month has been one of tremendous difficulty for me personally due to the loss of my father. The announcement that Sylvia had been selected as the new Executive Vice President caused some to wonder if I had left the chamber or was retiring to our family farm. But the reality is we hired Sylvia to complement our chamber leadership team and we are very excited to have her on our staff. She brings new ideas, vision, and synergy to our organization. We’ve also just unveiled a new chamber website which will allow us to unleash unbridled opportunities when it comes to marketing and promoting our chamber membership.
At the end of the graveside service, after most had driven the long road home, a close friend shared a conversation that she’d had with a previous chamber board chairman. When she thanked Bob McIntosh and his wife Ann for coming to support us that day, Bob simply said, “It’s all about family. We show up because it matters. It’s what we do.”
I am grateful that the Lord gave me a great father to learn from and love. While his saddle may now be empty, his presence in my life still fills my heart and lifts my soul, as so many of you have also done this past month.
The words Bob McIntosh conveyed that afternoon embody why I have spent 23 years at this Chamber of Commerce. We’re family here at Lake Norman. That is and will always be the difference. We do the things we do because it matters. It’s what we do.
Bill Russell, Jr.