A while ago I met a remarkable 88 year old man with an extraordinary life story. It happened by chance. I was doing some volunteer work and started chatting to this elderly guy next to me. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place him. After chatting for a while I asked him to tell me his story. He smiled at me and started to speak. What he told me kept me captivated for 2 hours.
He told me he was raised in a loving family but in poverty. His family barely scraped through the Great Depression and it was only their closeness and the strong will of his parents that kept them all together. He enlisted in the army and fought in World War 2 winning a medal for bravery. He was wounded in the hip which affected his mobility for the rest of his life.
He left the army and went into business for himself eventually earning a fortune and becoming a successful (and well-known) Australian businessman of the 1970s and 1980s. He has been long retired and spends most of his time working on charitable activities. Interestingly, he has never served on the board of a charity although he has spent thousands of hours volunteering his time – ladling food to the homeless at soup kitchens and collecting and distributing furniture to the needy. He keeps a low profile but is still actively involved.
I asked him what was the greatest day of his life and he became reflective. After pausing for while he told me that he had been extraordinarily lucky and has lived a great life. He couldn’t pin point a specific day that he would rate the best but he did describe the events of his surprise 85th birthday party where the organiser (his wife) asked every guest to write, shoot a video, make a speech or make something by hand that best expressed how they felt about him and how he had touched their lives. The outpouring of love and gratitude was remarkable and it touched him deeply. He told me that it made him feel that what he had done in his life had made a difference and that alone had made it all worthwhile. His best friend (who he met at primary school and had known for nearly 80 years) told him that he was a good man and said that was the greatest compliment that he could pay him. Sometimes the simplest explanations say the most.
Before I left I asked him what he had learnt in his 88 years. He laughed and said that he’s no life expert but if he had to give any advice here’s what it would be:
- Don’t be scared or intimidated by the challenges you will face – face them head on – they won’t be as bad as you think
- Lighten up – don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Things (money, cars, assets, prestige etc.) don’t matter – only people do
- Forgive quickly and don’t hold grudges
- Don’t be afraid to cry – it shows that you’re human
- And live every day as if it was your last because sooner or later it will be (and he added with a grin, “I should know”…)
Wonderful advice from a wise (and good) man…