Death is real. And it looms larger every year as my life stage brings the end of life closer to my reality. Friends, families, strangers. I find myself thinking about death more and more, even though I have not had to deal much with it in my life.
But today is different. On the eve of Father’s Day, I am confronted with the death of a friend, a mentor, and a father-figure in my life.
I met him 25 years ago when I was a student, trying to figure out my next step in life. He was a professor who also generously gave his time as a faculty sponsor of the Christian Business Association. Though the exact memories are clouded by the years, I remember how I felt when I was around him and his family – cared for, loved, respected. He had that incredible combination of super-intelligence and humility that created opportunities for introverts like myself to explore grey areas of life without judgement, something that I valued more and more as the years went by.
I later found myself in the SF Bay area and his son ended up at Stanford for undergrad. That led to a continuance of friendship during his visits to Palo Alto, with casual dinners and lunches serving as a way to process changes, including my divorce, with someone that gently reminded me of the constancy of God’s love for us. Sure, we talked about head stuff most of the time, but the heart was always present.
His subsequent battle with cancer was fought far away from me, but it still impacted me. I watched his friends and family surround him with a love that was thoroughly authentic, real and sacrificial. This was not a coincidence. His relationships were based on authenticity, long before the concept became a marketing buzzword for the millennial generation.
When the time came for me to pull the Silicon Valley rip-cord and head back to the South, he provided a level of support and encouragement that I still can’t put into words. I was taking a proverbial leap of faith – leaving the place where my career had thrived to a place whose qualities were almost completely opposite, mostly to be closer to family. No job, no home, and no network, he single-handedly jump started my connections in Nashville and, with his wife, generously gave me a place to live while job-hunting in a foreign land. The Old Testament stories of hospitality are reflected in the way he and his wife opened their home, hearts, and hearth to my family. I can honestly say that I would not have survived with my mental or physical health intact without their support.
The next six years were filled with visits to his office and his home. Days with my daughter at his pool as we coped with the unfamiliar stifling heat and humidity of Nashville. Dinners and lunches when we found time in our schedules. Helping each other with household moves, remodeling, and parenting. Safekeeping my daughter’s stuffed animal until we could safely retrieve it. Office visits where he continued to show incredible openness to unscheduled interruptions, even to people like me that weren’t even students. I have never seen another professor keep his door so open as he did.
The last year has probably been the most transforming. Suddenly I was back in the startup world, working weekends and evenings with very little time for relationships outside of work and family. He was struggling with politics at his job and repercussions of his battle with cancer. Surgery, recovery, advance, decline, ups, downs. I can honestly say that I made time only when he reached out to me. And like most people who have survived, I have regrets that I didn’t reach out more. Those times that I did have were precious. No matter how battered his body was, his spirit shone through. He never cowered from his bodily weakness, instead showing his same relentless love of people, conversation, and community.
I have regrets about the scarcity of time I had with him because he left a legacy that I can only aspire to. He passed last night surrounded by his friends and family. From his wife: “We had a time of worship together with friends and family last night, we spent the night together and then sung and prayed and hugged this morning and loved on Gary.”
I can’t think of a better way to go, surrounded in love and worship. And that defines his legacy. My last time with him was about a month ago, filled with his usual fatherly pride talking about his son, daughter, in-laws, and grandkids. I remember him telling me a year ago that his surviving cancer was so he could know his grandkids and they could know him. What that led to was grandkids that not only knew him, but loved him. A multi-generational legacy of faithfulness, love, and kindness that has multiplied an incredible faithfulness to Jesus and the life He commands us to live – humbly, gently, lovingly, respectfully.
His impact will live on in his descendants, both familial and relational. I am one of them. His legacy challenges me to be a better father, husband, son, and friend.
Gary Scudder, June 13, 2018. The world is better because of you. May we all rejoice that your battle is done and that you have pointed us all to a better place.
Happy Father’s day
Postscript: Life is beautiful. After I published this post, I Facetimed with my daughter and wife, openly (and proudly?) crying in front of them wanting them to know how much I love them and hoping to be at least half the father and husband Gary was. I am humbled by the challenge.