By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.
In September 1992, I received a phone call that would change my life forever. My father, who was living in Memphis at the time, had died. I had recently graduated from college and was starting to find my way in the world. My grandfather, M.J. Brown, stepped into the gap left by the loss of my father and played a fatherly role to me as a young adult. During my early 20s, I operated a family-owned, self-storage facility, and I spent many hours working with my grandfather at the property as we undertook construction projects, took care of customers, and managed the business. He recently passed on—at the age of 99—having lived a very full and fruitful life. As I reflect on this Father’s Day, I am reminded of several important life lessons I learned from my grandfather.
Love Your Spouse
From the time I was a young child, I remember my grandfather having nothing but complimentary things to say about my grandmother. He constantly praised her in front of us for her beauty and intellect, her cooking, and her musical ability. He was her biggest fan. They lived in a modest home in an area where many people moved away, but they created an oasis in their backyard. Every day they would walk together and end their day sitting out in their backyard enjoying the beautiful garden they had created together. When my grandmother, Peggy, came down with terminal cancer, he took personal care of her right until the very end despite his advanced age at the time. Their 50+ years of marriage serve as an inspiration to me of what a lasting commitment looks like.
I believe one of the reasons that my grandfather lived so long is that he never quit being engaged with life. After a long career with the Monroe Calculator Company, he retired at age 62. Even though he ended his employment, he never disengaged. He served for years on the City of Jackson Planning and Zoning Board and taught Sunday school every week. In his 80s, he was doing manual labor with me at our storage facility—and up until the time of his final illness, he was an active reader always seeking to grow in his knowledge and faith.
Life Is About Relationships
One of the most important things he taught me was the importance of relationships and family. Every Sunday for years, my family would lunch at my grandparents’ house. We spent many leisurely Sunday afternoons hanging out with my grandparents and extended family. My grandfather never met a stranger and was always quick to give someone a genuine compliment. He knew how to lift someone’s spirit who was down in the dumps. He was present with people and made them feel special. In today’s smartphone world, this is a lost art. My grandparents entertained often and kept up with many friends throughout their life. Even when my grandfather’s health was fading, he would spend his time checking in on other people who were having more trouble than he was.
While my grandfather was certainly human like the rest of us and full of faults, foibles, and fears, he did create a lasting and positive influence on many others and me. As I think about his life and legacy, I just hope in some small way I can live a life of purpose and meaning like he did.