Oscar Franklin, my father-in-law, died the week before Thanksgiving. It is an honor to have known this gentle spirit as meaningful part of my life. He was and always will be daddy to my wife and granddaddy to my three sons.
As one of those people who live life without flare, Oscar made this world a better place, as he led from behind. He grew up in the coal mining communities of eastern Kentucky – one of eleven children. I like to think that those challenging circumstances inspired his gentle heart and caring spirit.
Professionally, he led from behind as a tax accountant, continuing to work into this his eighty forth year. Known for his meticulous attention to detail, business owners could focus on their work, knowing that their finances were in secure hands.
Personally, Oscar is remembered for his friendliness to everyone he met. Early in his career, he audited the books of businesses in then, small town Cleveland, Tennessee. In his visits, many people got to know and appreciate Oscar as a person. It was fun going to the grocery store with him and seeing how many stopped to greet him and share conversation.
As a volunteer, he also led from behind. Charter member of a now large church, Oscar served as financial secretary for 30 years, ensuring the fiscal health of the congregation. An Optimist, he quietly rose to the level of lieutenant governor for Tennessee – something even his family was not aware of at the time. He was more likely remembered for greeting and serving people at his club’s Christmas tree sales that raised funds for community youth programs. He embodied the Optimist spirit.
Oscar led from behind as a husband, father, and grandfather, loving, supporting, guiding, and caring for the needs of his family. He was devoted to his wife, daughters, and their families, modeling faithfulness, patience and grace. When I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage, his heart must have been filled with trepidation for his young small town daughter considering life with a stranger from South Africa. But he graciously gave his consent for which I am most grateful, in this our fortieth year of marriage.
At his funeral, I was privileged to share remembrances of him as a father and sing his favorite gospel song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” It was not Oscar’s work that was remembered as much as his warm heart, friendly spirit, and willingness to help someone in need. As one friend said, “He didn’t earn an Oscar, he was an Oscar!” He sets an example of the impact one can have when leading from behind.
They also lead, who lead from behind.
How do we want to be remembered? For our work and accomplishments? Or the way those made life better for others?
My sense of life calling is to be a carer of the human spirit. I try my best to live with that purpose. That’s how I want to be remembered. And that’s why I have a heart for supporting leaders who are overstretched, overstressed, and weary in spirit.
Ethan Raath, ThD. ©2013
Leadership Adviser and Strategist