What is really important
Published 5:33 pm Friday, May 20, 2011
I got a good lesson in wealth management this week.
Not from a high-powered financial adviser, but from the retrospective of a 103-year-old life lived well.
A close relative of my wife—actually her father’s first cousin—was laid to rest in Fayette County last week. Like many of you, I suspect, funeral services are not my cup of tea, but this one was exceptional and a learning experience or perhaps better said, a reminder of what is important in life and what is not.
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Alma Hunter spent five score and three years on this earth and while not a wealthy woman by some financial indices, she left behind more riches than Donald Trump could acquire in two lifetimes. As I sat through what was a celebration of her long life, I couldn’t help but think how simple life really is. It is not about the toys we collect. The plaques on the walls. The size of our bank account. The length of our obituary. It is about the positive difference we can make in the lives of those around us. As the credit card commercial says, that is priceless.
I listened to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren talk about the things she taught them from their childhood that have stuck with them.
For example, she reminded them constantly how critical it is to protect your good name and good credit rating.
Maybe so, but how many people do we know that have squandered one or both never to get them back?
If anyone in Ms. Hunter’s family does lose either—and I don’t think they will—it won’t be because they didn’t know better. And just to make sure the point was not lost on those who knew her, she left this world with both her good name and her good credit in spotless condition.
In these hedonistic times in which we find ourselves, it was refreshing to see a daughter who has been happily married to the same man for 50 years, two grandkids married for more than 20 years to successful spouses and five well-adjusted, well-dressed and well-mannered great-grandchildren (The great-grandchildren actually say “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir”!) All good students and good athletes, including two currently playing baseball at Berry College in Rome. The next generation seems to be in good hands, thanks in no small part to the time and attention given to them by a loving grandmother.
I am sure there have been ups and downs in her family as there are in all families. There are no Ozzie and Harrietts in the real world. But this looks like a family that actually likes each other and seems to enjoy being in each other’s company. Money doesn’t buy that kind of stuff.
After the service, I came home to reappraise my own net worth. My bills are paid and I have a few dollars in the bank, but I know that is not what matters most. The real bottom line is have I been a good father? Grandfather? Great-grandfather? A good husband? A good friend? A good person?
Will my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren say the same kinds of things about me that I heard said last week? I hope so but I think I now understand that I have to re-order some of my priorities.
Perhaps what I learned most from the wealth management session I attended last week as this good woman’s life was honored is that true wealth is not about how much we can accumulate in material things. It is what we did with what we had while we were here. And that doesn’t take a lot of money.
A good friend and estate attorney tells horror stories about families who split apart over inheritance issues—usually money or family heirlooms—and ended up suing each other or never speaking again. No matter what the financial worth of that family, that is a life that was wasted.
A better legacy is to be remembered fondly and respected greatly. To have lived a life worth emulating. To know that the wisdom we shared with our offspring will be repeated for generations to come. That the world will be just a bit better because of how we spent our time while we were here. If that is how we define wealth, and I truly believe it to be so, then Alma Hunter left this earth a very rich woman. May we all be so successful.