“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
Had a long talk with Charlene Testerman the other day, who lost her husband and life long team driving partner Leonard back in May this year in a freak construction accident at their home. She called me to say "thank you" for the condolence card I'd sent -- whereas it should've really been ME thanking HER for being fortunate enough to get to know them both.
I asked her how she was doing and wasn't surprised a bit by her answer -- while it's been tough not having Leonard by her side, she's back out knocking on doors looking to haul some freight. "It's been five months -- time to get going again," she told me. Good people are STRONG people, I've found, and Charlene's living proof of that maxim.
One of the things that struck me most in our conversation concerned the reaction to Leonard's passing -- from how the funeral home where Charlene had the viewing almost couldn't handle the hundreds of people who came to pay their respcts to the overwhelming amount of mail she'd received from all over the country. She's making a scrapbook from all of it -- along with photos -- about Leonard to give to her grandson, so that one day "he'll know something about his grandfather." I can tell you that "scrapbook" will be several volumes long before she's done with it, knowing how many lives she and Leonard touched over their driving career.
Charlene also had this note of surprise in her voice as we talked, as if she couldn't quite grasp how the two of them had become so well known -- for she and Leonard didn't consider themselves to be "super drivers" or anything like that. How could I explain to her that their goodwill, easy friendship, humility, and out-and-out kindness is something people remember, especially in trucking? That their simple yet profound belief in doing a good job every single time with smiles on their faces and in their hearts earned them coast-to-coast respect?
Charlene seemed worried that she wouldn't be as good a driver without Leonard -- something that couldn't be further from the truth. Any fleet would be foolish not to bring her on board and I said as much -- her decades of professionalism behind the wheel speaks for itself. But in some respects, Charlene's worries about going back on the road by herself are spot on -- I mean, what a comfort it is to know someone is right there, watching your back, when your parked at a dark truckstop overnight in the middle of winter, or stopped along a long empty stretch of highway for a break.
But she's going back out there nonetheless -- facing those fears head on. That tells you, I think, a lot about the kind of person (and driver) Charlene is. My only wish is that we had a lot more like her -- and like Leonard -- out on the road today.