A Man is Measured by the Lives He Touches

This is Part Two of the eulogy I delivered for my good friend, Jerry Don Lambert.

My favorite story as we talked was the footrace. Jerry and I compared notes on this story, so if there is anyone here who ran in the footrace or remembers it differently, forever hold your peace. Jerry and I agreed that this is the way it was.

This story also begins at Sand Hills—also at sunset. A close round of golf had left some young men’s competitive challenges unsettled. Horseplay and boasting soon led to more challenges, more boasts about who was better, stronger and faster. It was too dark to settle their scores playing more golf, so the young men settled on a foot race.

As we recalled, Jerry and I were only spectators up to that point. When we went outside to watch the race, Jerry started to roll up the legs to his jeans. I asked him what he was doing. He said “I’m gonna run in this race.” He sat down on the # 1 tee box and started removing his shoes.

Even I was surprised. “Barefoot? Have you thought about goat heads?” Jerry ignored me as he took off his socks. The race was from the tee box to the green and back as we recalled—a distance of about 700 yards. “Have you looked at these guys? They’re all taller and have longer legs than you. Plus they’re a lot younger.”

He started to limber up. “Yeah, well, I probably won’t win. But I used to be pretty fast barefoot.” I remembered the ping pong remark, but hand-eye coordination is one thing, stamina and running barefoot for long distances is another.

Well, the excitement was surprising and contagious as the runners left the tee box. All of us spectators were caught up in this unplanned event. It was too dark to see the runners touch the flag on the #1 green, but I soon heard the sound of their shoes clomping on the grass on their return from the green to the tee box.

But I could not hear bare feet, so I worried that Jerry might have cut a foot or given up and was walking back. No shame in that, I thought. It was too dark to make them out at first. But, eventually, the dim lights of the parking lot and clubhouse revealed a set of arms pumping, knees going high and strong. I will never forget my surprise (make that shock), when I saw that the guy without shoes was out in front.

Without ever mentioning it, Jerry was a natural at visualization. It helped him in his golf game to verbalize what he saw in his head. He saw himself winning that footrace, too. He used the same technique in hunting and fishing. He saw in his mind, where, when and how he was going to hunt or fish, what type of equipment he was going to use and how he was going to use it. That often resulted in his harvesting the most fish or quail, the buck with the biggest rack.

The final story has to do with a flat bed trailer. I lived in town in those days, and had no place to park a flat bed trailer, so I didn’t own one. But almost everyone has an occasional need for one. I, along with people from at least four counties, borrowed Jerry’s. I have seen that trailer all over Delta, Hunt, Fannin, and Hopkins counties, often overloaded, always pulled by someone other than Jerry. Sometimes, it came back much the worse for wear. But I never heard Jerry complain about it.

Those other stories exemplify Jerry Lambert’s gregariousness and adventurous spirit, his affectionate nature, his love of people. The trailer exemplifies the man’s kindness and generosity. There are many more examples of all those things. There are dozens of hunting and fishing stories, for example. All of us here today could tell Jerry stories for hours.

One other thing, I don’t recall ever seeing Jerry get angry. I have seen him a little upset, but never just plain mad. He seemed to like people too much to harbor any time of grudge. I am sure there were times and events that I am not aware of, but they must have been rare.

When we finished with the stories that day, Jerry leveled with me about the heartache and struggle facing him, reiterating his long held conviction that material things don’t really matter much when it comes down to it. It’s love that counts, particularly love of family.  He was not ready to say goodbye to Joan, to Derek and Rhonda, to Kim and Joe and their families. And he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up. There were other things he was not ready to give up, but he was determined to make his peace with it.

I know that he had already started checking things off his bucket list. I know that his loving family made it possible for him to check off a few more before departing this life.

It’s obvious to everyone who knew him that Jerry also had a lot of good friends. He and Joan entertained regularly, opening their home to a pretty steady stream of guests. Jerry wasn’t ready to give that up, either.

One of the measurements of a man’s life is the people whose lives he touched in a positive way. By that measure, Jerry Lambert stands tall.

The stories over, our chuckles subsiding, I took his hand to say goodbye. The handshake quickly turned into a hug, our laughter to tears. And as I headed home, I realized that, though my intentions were good, Jerry had done much more for me than I had done for him. I expect that this room is full of folks who can say exactly the same thing about Jerry Lambert. Now that’s a legacy any person would be proud to leave behind.

Immediately after the visit and for all the days since, I use his visualization technique and imagine Jerry talking to me each time I found myself complaining about some task I have to do or some minor misfortune or inconvenience that comes my way.

I vowed to put each of those tasks and misfortunes to what I call the “Jerry Don test”.  Given his situation, would Jerry Don be doing this? Would he worry about this misfortune or laugh at it, recognize it for how little it really matters? He always has a good answer. It’s a test I hope to continue for the rest of my days.

Another part of the legacy of a good, kind, and generous husband, father, grandfather and friend.

Jerry Don Lambert left us with our memories and a warm feeling in our hearts November 8, 2012.

Jim Ainsworth is author of Rivers Flow. Click here to purchase a copy of the novel direct from Amazon.

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