We expect some people to live forever, but that’s not reality. I want to pause to reflect on the life of Reverend Thomas Kennedy who we affectionately know as PawPaw. Although he was not biologically related to me, he has always been a mentor, guide, leader, wealth of knowledge, and a shining example of someone whose moral compass pointed true north. PawPaw may be gone, but he left behind some great lessons. I’ll share a few that have impacted the way I live, love, and lead.
Stand for what you believe in.
PawPaw was first and foremost a Christian man who stood firm in his beliefs. He believed in being kind, generous, and forgiving to others regardless of how they treat you. One of his funniest quotes was, “don’t look like a bulldog sucking on lemons. It costs nothing to smile.” In other words, he was teaching us to be approachable leaders instead of being standoffish and off-putting. This is a lesson I try to apply daily. Greeting people with a smile can lift their moods, portray trust and positivity, and can be the first step in a lifelong friendship. It’s a simple but powerful friendly gesture that can make someone’s day.
I’m 100% for “right” and 100% against “wrong.”PawPaw
The above was usually the beginning of PawPaw’s quote that he’d finish with, “if I were a police officer and my wife was speeding, I would give her a ticket even if I had to pay for it.” I admittedly used to think this was an extreme or draconian outlook when I was a child; however, I quickly realized how important this was as a leader. The law is the law, and a standard is a standard. If we aren’t committed to enforcing existing standards, we are intentionally or unintentionally creating new standards. For example, for every substantiated investigation that I’ve conducted or read in the Marine Corps, there is usually a deviation from the existing standards. As a result, this deviation inevitably caused the acceptable standard to lower. Then, the lowered standard produced unethical and/or immoral actions.
PawPaw’s advice was to nip that in the bud by hating what is wrong and holding tightly to what is good. (Paraphrase of Romans 12:9 NLT)
Love for family.
Pawpaw left behind his widow after being married for almost 70 years! Although I knew they had been married for a while, actually hearing how long was astounding. PawPaw stressed the importance of being chivalrous and serving your wife. He taught us the countercultural lesson that selfless sacrifices and kindness are key ingredients to long, healthy relationships. He loved his wife, and I always saw her by his side. I never heard him acknowledge an accolade or achievement without giving credit to his wife. He also believed in taking great care of his family and exemplifying an admirable commitment we could all learn from. I believe PawPaw had the utmost respect for his family, and he expected us to do the same.
Hard work, patience, and community service.
I remember working outside in what seemed to be 150°F weather!! Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was definitely hot and humid Louisiana summers. Either way, we would head outside with PawPaw to do some yard work. Whether we were landscaping, replacing flooring, doing carpentry, working on cars, or anything in between, PawPaw patiently taught us how to do these odd jobs. At the end of the day, he paid us for every hour of work. He hired countless young men of all ages–including returning citizens–with the goal of giving us an honest way to earn money. PawPaw was a dreamer with a passion for community service.
Jack of all trades.
I had a hard time coming up with one topic for this section, because I learned so many lessons from my time working with PawPaw. For starters, my wife and I laugh all the time at the random knowledge and experiences I’ve had over the years. Although I choose to pay professionals nowadays, I was perfectly content with doing my own odd jobs earlier on in our marriage. I am the textbook definition of a “jack of all trades, and a master of none.” Ok, I say this jokingly, but I do not wink at the experiences, knowledge, and work ethic I gained. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
PawPaw couldn’t teach us these skills without patience. I remember one particular instance when I was supposed to use the weed eater to simply “edge” his lawn along the sidewalk. He did everything right–he told me, showed me, and allowed me to practice. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for me. I somehow managed to dig a little two-inch trench along his sidewalk… A big “no-no” when caring for the lawn! I could see the disappointment and displeasure on his face as he walked towards me. “He’s about to chew my butt out!” I thought. What he did next shocked me.
PawPaw walked up and said, “uh oh. I didn’t teach you right.” He then calmly took the weed eater and taught me (again) how to properly edge the sidewalk without yelling or even seeming agitated. It was such a countercultural moment that it has persisted in my mind and influenced my parenting and leadership style. When given the perfect opportunity to gripe, he patiently extended grace.
Resiliency and consistency.
PawPaw lived for almost 90 years, but it was amazing to see how his messages, lifestyle, humor, and generosity remained consistent for at least the three decades I had the pleasure of knowing him. (Several others will attest to the fact that he’s been consistent much longer). No matter what fads came and went, PawPaw took pride in his personal appearance and was sure of his identity and purpose.
He constantly demonstrated his strength, resiliency, and wherewithal. Even when physically down, he would claim he felt “like a 15 year old!” During my last visit, he said he wanted to ride the 4 wheeler and even had me wheel him outside to take a look at it. I couldn’t help but encourage him to hop on! Luckily, his wife (Ma’dear) was the wise voice of reason to prevent what was sure to be a catastrophe…the flat tires help dissuade our antics as well. 😂
This is just one of the many [humourous] examples of how PawPaw never allowed life to get him down. He taught us to be confident in who we are and to never give up. Most importantly, he taught us the value of trusting God and pursuing a higher calling in life.
We will miss him!
I’ll miss PawPaw, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that we were blessed to witness him live for almost 90 impactful years. During one of my last conversations with him, I told PawPaw how he had to stay healthy so he could witness me bring one of his community service dreams to life. He responded, “well when you do, come pick me up so I can see!” Though he’s no longer here to witness it, I plan to fulfill that promise to bring his dream to life. His direct influence has transcended several generations, and we will ensure his legacy continues!