What’s Your Legacy?

Posted by on Oct 9, 2019 in Challenge Yourself, Leadership | 9 comments

My father left me quite a legacy, but it didn’t come in the form of an endowment or a trust fund. His legacy came from how he lived his life, a life that left a mark in the lives of so many others after he left us.

Most legacies aren’t financial

With all the DNA tests available, I wonder if some “lucky” kid will soon learn that he can call Warren Buffett or Bill Gates “Daddy.” If that were the case (and I don’t think it is), you might inherit an endowment or a trust fund. But not necessarily a legacy.

Most legacies aren’t intentional

If wealthy people want to leave an intentional legacy, they can tap into their fortunes by donating funds to erect a building in their name. Less wealthy people can leave a modest amount of money to start programs, buy a park bench, or etch the name of a loved one on a brick of a building.

I spent much of my childhood at Castaldo Park in Woodridge, Ill. In 1973, a plot of land was purchased from the City of Woodridge by the Castaldo family to honor their teenage son who died in the Vietnam War. The young hero who died protecting our freedoms never intended to have a park named after him. Still, his parents left a wonderful tribute to him so others would know of him in the generations that followed.

Legacies are the puddles that remain after the rain

As I tell you about my dad’s legacy, think about what legacy you are leaving behind for others.    

My dad was a “Renaissance man.” He had insatiable curiosity about a wide range of topics. Growing up in the pre-Google era, he wrote letters to find answers from experts. After he died, I found stacks of correspondence he had with the EPA, the FDA, authors, geologists, and others.

He joined the Army National Guard where he learned about technology that would eventually evolve into mainframe computing. He worked at companies ranging from Brach’s Candy to Zenith to Blue Cross Blue Shield, teaching classes to others as a subject-matter expert in each job he held. One young “kid” at Blue Cross eventually became the Chief Information Officer.

Dad loved musicals, operas and classical records. I think my first words were “Vesti la Giubba” belted out by Enrico Caruso. And he cooked. He kept hundreds of cookbooks in the garage along with thousands of recipes he clipped from newspapers. Dad would often write in the margins of various recipes things like “Absolutely fantastic!” or “The person who submitted this recipe should be shot and burned!” He was also extremely funny.

I learned quite a few other things about my dad as I dug deeper into a large trunk he kept in the garage. In high school, dad was All-City (Chicago) and All-State (IL) in baseball as a catcher. Dad saved newspaper clippings from the Chicago Tribune, trophies, and other honors. He was good enough to be recruited to play in the Minor Leagues, which he did until suffering a career-ending injury. He was voted “Most Popular” in high school, and served as the president of his senior class. Then he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as the first chair flutist. Flutist? Yeah. While his peers were grabbing guitars and shaking their hips to emulate Elvis, my dad spent hours each day mastering the flute and piccolo.

A Modest Yet Rich Legacy

As I looked through that trunk, something odd struck me. My dad kept this “highlight reel” hidden from me. Most people trot out their honors and accolades within the first few minutes you meet them, spilling their Best Of accomplishments like an online resume.

Not my dad. His legacy was one of modesty and humility. I learned more about my dad after he passed then from his own mouth. I never heard him brag, nor did I hear him snigger at someone who didn’t know something that he knew. Instead, he would try to help others wherever he met them. My dad made it all about the person standing in front of him.

One of my dad’s former teachers saw my dad’s name on a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Recognizing the name, she wrote a personal note. In the trunk, I found her note and his response to her:

‘I will never understand how you could have remembered me after 46 years. You can understand how a student can remember a teacher, but how on Earth did you happen to remember this unremarkable clod?”

Unremarkable clod? Hardly. My dad was a humble, brilliant, multi-talented man. If you met him, you’d remember him. You wouldn’t likely know anything of his “highlight reel”, but you would know from the authentic interest he took in you that you had just met a one-of-a-kind.

What’s Your Legacy?

I will never live up to the legacy of my dad. But I want to try to leave one of humility, love, and kindness. And the best place to start is with the example I hope I am living for my children.

What legacy are you leaving behind? What are people going to say about you once you’re gone?

9 Comments

  1. flautist not flutist

    • HAHAHA! Well, my clever son, I can see that my legacy to you is an eye for detail! 🙂 And if I were British, that would be correct. However, the preferred American English spelling and pronunciation is flutist. But I’ll change it if you like. Do you remember when I made that video and spelled “starring” wrong, and ended up saying “staring” Alana Bianca? You wanted me to take your name off the production, because you didn’t want to be associated with bad spelling!

      • Touché

        • Love it!

        • I was thinking it was flautist too, thank you, Kate, I mean Jack, really Jack? Kate? I stand corrected. Awesome tribute to dad, and every word of it true. Legacies and living right before God day after difficult day are important.

  2. I remember your dad fondly. I used to think he was the Mr.Rogers of Woodridge! He always had a kind word as well as a soft spoken spirit. He definitely left you with an amazing legacy as I know you are leaving to your family as well. Thank you for sharing these wonderful anecdotes! He definitely was one of a kind as are you.

    • Hi Sarah. Thank you for your kind words. Dad was sort of like Mr. Rogers in that he never wore t-shirts or shorts. He used to cut the grass in a polo, khakis, black socks and dress shoes 🙂 He certainly had a way of making others feel loved.

  3. What a lovely story. Your dad is surely proud of the man you are. My dad was emotionally and physically abusive so my memories and legacy of him are fear. As for me, I’m hopeful that I will leave a living legacy for them but when I think of myself, I cannot see anything memorable. Scott you are a legacy to those of us who know you. Ì learned more about myself through your engagement with hospice and will carry it always. Ì doubt you realise the lives you touch. You have a special gift. May God watch over you always.

    • Hi Carol. I’m so sorry that your father’s legacy was once of abuse. If there’s a silver-lining, you have lived far away from following his footsteps. You leave a legacy every day, one of kindness, mentoring, and caring for a team of caregivers. Besides the enormous impact you leave at work on your employees and many patients, I know you to be a loving wife, mother, and dog lover! If our lives are measured by the impact we leave on others, you have a deeply etched legacy already. On top of that, you are the quiet, steady, intelligent source of reason in the middle of what can be a chaotic, emotionally-charged environment. You literally touch lives each day, easing the pain of others as their lives ebb. I can think of no greater calling or of a person who does that with more genuine love and humility that you, Carol. I’m proud to know you, and Jocelyn and I plan to return to say hello in the near future.

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