• Family

    Gift of a Lifetime

    I have a relatively large family in Atlanta. We’re now working on our sixth generation of cousins since my great-grandfather moved here from Kentucky with his bride in 1882 to open a law practice. We get together often at parties, weddings and – lately it seems – a lot of funerals. A few weeks ago, we attended the funeral of my uncle, Hughes Spalding Schroder. It turned out to be a rather remarkable experience.

    We go to funerals to honor the person who has left us and to show support to the immediate family in their time of grief. But it helps us mark the milestones in life with a bit of ceremony and tradition. And sometimes, such as at Uncle Hughes’ funeral, we come away with an unexpected source of inspiration.

    Hughes was, above all, a gracious gentleman. He died a day or two short of his 76th birthday. We thought perhaps he was holding on for that. But that would have been too self-centered a goal for him. Instead, Hughes had been waiting to celebrate his 51st wedding anniversary with his wife, Frances. Their youngest daughter, Mary, marveled at how they continued to flirt with each other until the end. How Hughes would light up whenever Frances entered the room. When Hughes reached that celebrated anniversary, he honored his family and his bride by telling them how much he loved them and then he moved on.

    It wasn’t until he died that his friends, co-workers and relatives gathered around each other to swap stories and realized a fantastic fact about the man: there went a rare soul who never said a bad word about anyone. Thinking back about conversations with Hughes, we realized he had always kept the focus on the person with whom he was talking, asking questions about our work, our family or our interests. He would only talk about himself if asked, and then only briefly. Soon he would steer the conversation back towards others. When asked by the funeral home if they wanted a story in the Atlanta newspapers, his family said no, that it wasn’t his style to draw attention to himself.

    As one person after another tried to sum up Hughes’ life into a few words, they all came individually to the same observation. Frances confirmed it after thinking of all of their time together: “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone in 51 years!”. It takes a remarkable level of selflessness and self-confidence to remain true to such a graceful goal. And not to wonder if anyone would ever notice the effort you spent over a lifetime.

    But that, really, is the most sincere gift of all. To give to others without expecting recognition for it. To find joy in the giving itself. For many of us who will scurry about this month, buying and wrapping presents for others in hopes they will appreciate the effort we went through to get it, it would be akin to delivering the presents without a card saying whom they were from. It would be as if we never told our kids there wasn’t a Santa. In fact, when I was a child and began to piece together a theory that there might not be a Santa, my father asked if I wanted to talk with Santa on the phone to allay my concerns. Years later, I found out who he had called: Hughes.

    So, in the end, Hughes did not know if we ever noticed. May he rest assured we did. And took inspiration from not only the joy he gave each of us in hundreds of small conversations over the years, but in his remarkable challenge to us all to speak well of others – always. Why shouldn’t we do the same? And give to others what he gave to us: a gift of a lifetime.

  • Atlanta,  Life Stories

    Time Is on Our Side

    Everyone talks about how old the Rolling Stones are getting, but nobody does anything about it. Except, that is for a few friends of mine – we choose to relive a time when the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band and we were all gathering no moss.

    The year was 1975. The four of us were in colleges spread across the South, but our bonds had been forged in high school and in our love for rock ‘n’ roll music played at a decibel level high enough to un-nerve our parents and later to enrich our audiologists.

    The best tickets to the Stones concert at the Omni that summer were being distributed to people who had lots of money or who had been in town when the seats went on sale. Falling in neither category, we were shut out of the Atlanta event, so we employed a recently-learned tactic in college: the midnight road trip!

    Having learned Mick & Co. were playing the next night in Greensboro and, even more important, to a general admission audience, we knew we could rely on our youth to gain advantage.

    Charging up I-85 and arriving shortly before 5 a.m. the day of the concert, Mike Egan, Charles Driebe and George Long and I attached ourselves to the front gate of the Greensboro Coliseum and held on for dear life the rest of the day as 15,000 more gathered behind us and tried every tactic to move up in line.


    The four of us were already practicing our future careers: lawyers Mike and Charles spent the day deposing police, security and coliseum officials to map out the shortest route to the coliseum floor. I brought my reporter’s notebook and camera to record the event for posterity. George, already pre-med, was using his broken leg and hefty cast to deter others from entering our exclusive waiting area at the gate’s opening.

    When the gates opened at 6 p.m., three of us sprinted through doorways, between railings, down stairs and over a six foot drop to land on the arena floor, where we locked our arms on the wooden barricade at the foot of the elevated stage. Catching our breaths, we turned around and were stunned to see an empty arena.

    Suddenly we saw our Sympathy for the Devil strategy had worked: the next person to enter was Jumping Jack George, hobbling with his cast, with hundreds of impatient fans at his back. He jumped down the six foot drop as if he had a flexible cast and joined us at the front. We watched as within minutes the coliseum filled from bottom to top. Then I went to work with my camera, snapping close-up shots of the concert the four of us will never forget. Partly because we often get together, review the photos and relive the drama.

    A few months ago, Charles called me to propose another Carolina road trip. This time to catch the Stones in Charlotte at the new outdoor stadium. Realizing we have grown old with the Stones, we relied on newer skills: weaseling. We were among the last to arrive at the stadium and negotiated our way to the photographers’ check-in. Charles flashed his cameras and his music editor’s credentials and I showed my publisher’s card. Charles approached the “bench.” “If you have any extra tickets …” he said to a media-herder, who shouted back, “There are no extra tickets.”

    A few minutes later, a Stones official who heard us quietly and respectfully arguing our case walked up and offered us two tickets. They were on the second row. Just a slight step down from the seats in Greensboro 22 years earlier, but certainly a lot easier to attain.

    Photo: Photo of Mick Jagger and Ron Wood, from our front row seat in Greensboro, NC in 1975.