An Important Life

Jack Brooks died last week, at the age of 90. He was the grandfather to my wife and the great-grandfather to my children. I attended his funeral in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where he lived off one of his favorite golf-courses. He was one of my favorite people, a person I was lucky to meet and learn from him.

Since his funeral and meeting his family and friends, one question has been on my mind: what makes a life important?

Well, in Jack’s case, many things did not go well when he was a boy. He was offered a basketball scholarship and his family, looking at the dire economic times, advised against it. I still vividly remember how Jack talked about sports. My favorite story is the one that involves Babe Ruth. Jack was playing baseball with his buddies when a fancy car pulled up. It was in the middle of the game and Jack was catching when Babe Ruth came over, put the mask on and started to umpire the game, putting his hand on Jack’s shoulder. However, baseball was not Jack’s future.

He also desperately wanted to go to college in Annapolis. However he could not make it in, even though that was his dream. Things really did not work well.

He eventually joined the Merchant Marine academy and as he was sitting in Pearl Harbor, planes started flying over his head. The Japanese attacked and he was a witness to one of the most important events of the twentieth century. That experience, and its immediate aftermath, made Jack one of the most important people for the US and all of us who benefitted from the allied victory in World War II; he was a sailor in the US Navy!

Jack moved up the ranks and became the chief engineer for a Navy ship. Jack told me how he used to sleep listening to her engine. He would lay wide awake all night trying to figure out why the engine was only at 95% of it’s expected performance. His eyes would sparkle when he talked about this, over fifty years later. He knew that his work was important. He did this because of a sense of duty and for the love for his country.

Then came the day when Jack stood on the Missouri, on anchor in Tokyo harbor, witnessing the Japanese surrender. He did so representing his ship and the US Navy. I imagined him standing there again witnessing history! The best present I ever gave him was a book describing the US Navy in World War II. I found it on the table in front of his TV when I entered his house. He knew his Navy time made his life significant.

After the War, Jack was a very successful person, living all over the world: Japan, Switzerland, New York City. He was responsible for the fleets shipping oil and other goods within Europe and Asia. His Navy training was perfect. He knew how to lead, knew how to organize, and he knew how to talk to people. I loved talking to Jack on the porch of his house in South Carolina because I learned so much. Jack was wise!

Jack’s personal life had some tough challenges. He was disappointed by life, and some of his work was an escape. Golf helped a lot during this time. He told me, “sometimes, you gotta go hit something!” But, he bounced back and married a wonderful woman that he met in Switzerland. She was part of a broken family just like Jack, but together, they built a new family. Some of this time was challenging for all involved, but they persevered.

All of his daughters and step-daughters were in his life because he was their father, an important person. I have to say that I have never met three members of any family that are more different among themselves! But, they know they are family.

His funeral touched me for many reasons: I immediately missed the person when I walked into his house; I missed his sense of humor which I loved and that will forever be silent; I miss the lessons he taught me without even trying. Most of all, his funeral touched me because I was wondering about the importance of my own life.

It’s tough to have a big picture view of our lives. We get bogged down kicking in doors, trying to become successful. There is nothing wrong with all of this. But, it is important every once in a while to think about the big picture, and the lasting importance we will have on the people in our lives.

Jack teaches us that lives are not important because of the absence of challenges, major disappointments or even the details of a given career choice. It’s about things that we don’t often talk about: love, service, commitment, honesty. In fact, lives are important because of these hidden qualities that define us in the long run. And, when our lives are going to end, these are the things that decide whether or not our lives touched other people, long after the crowds leave and the flashlights have dimmed.

Thanks to Jack Brooks, who led an important life.

Comments (4)
  • Judy Y

    March 3, 2009

    I’m sorry for your loss but appreciate your sharing his amazing story. That man has seen so much history – I hope he wrote down his memories somewhere. It would rival that of the fictitious Forrest Gump.

  • Cathy

    March 4, 2009

    Thanks Thmas
    I am glad you knew him like me
    Love Cathy

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    August 16, 2012

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