"Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." --Mark Twain.
It's been a long, sad year in many ways for me. Before my good friend and co-worker Terry Nguyen drowned in June, I lost one of my best college friends, Jacob "Big Jake" Perkins, in February to a massive heart attack. Jake had been sick for years -- his kidneys failed in 2000 due to a massive infection and the years of dialysis and a difficult organ transplant last year left him very weak. But none of that ever slowed Jake down. If anything, it encouraged him to be even more outgoing -- he was such a huge fixture in the town where he grew up (Poolesville, MD) that they renamed a local charity golf tournament after him and established a high school scholarship fund in his name.
I think about Jake and Terry a lot these days and for good reason -- they both left lasting legacies behind, lives we can celebrate and cherish because they did so much in the time they were alloted on this earth with us. Those legacies are not just about their personal acomplishments (which are many) but about how those accomplishments served others in the long run.
In Jake's case, he worked tremendously hard on behalf of the Poolesville community and his other great love, our alma mater Virginia Tech, wherever and whenever a helping hand was needed. His unflagging support continued literally right up until the day he died, giving an interview to a local reporter about how the recent town elections might shape the future of Poolesville. He climbed into an ambulance not long after that phone call, where his big heart finally stopped beating.
The same sense of giving can found throughout trucking, as anyone can tell you. Take Gary King, who died in June this year. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he drove a truck for more than 30 years. In 1992, King, an owner-operator with Dart Transit at the time, began writing postcards to school classrooms as he traveled the country. With the help of corporate sponsors, his work evolved into Trucker Buddy International, today a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping mentor schoolchildren via pen-pal relationships with professional truck drivers. Since 1992, more than a million children have participated in the program (you can check it out at www.truckerbuddy.org) and it's safe to say his brainchild will impact the hearts and minds of school kids for decades to come.
Another industry veteran passed on this year as well -- Mike Russell, vp-communications for the American Trucking Association, from drowning during a rafting trip in Colorado. A former Marine and TV broadcaster, Mike worked tirelessly on behalf of the trucking community at large, but especially focused on drivers. He was instrumental in getting truck trailers emblazoned with U.S. Marine Corps images, a very succesful part of the USMC's overall image campaign.
I can't tell you how many drivers I've spoken to -- many of them former Marines -- who look with real pride on those trailers. The truckers who pull them also are very conscious of the honor they've been given, and all of that grew out of Mike's discussions with the Corps. That's but one of several legacies he's left behind (another being his unwavering support of Trucker Buddy, I might add).
There are, of course, thousands of people I could mention in this pace that left an indelible mark on trucking (and our American community as a whole) the way Mike Russell and Gary King have before passing on. These positive contributions -- for trucking directly, in your local community, wherever -- really do matter and live on for a long, long time, making trucking and our country only better and better. It's hard to say goodbye to them -- lord knows, what I wouldn't give for a chance to tell Big Jake and Terry how much I treasured our friendship -- but the legacies they've left behind will always shine. I take comfort in that.