Some folks asked for a copy of the eulogy, so I thought I'd share it here:
I think the very first thing I learned from Spec was how to shake a hand. No frills. Arm bent at the elbow, hand perpendicular to the floor, move directly with confidence, connect with the webbing of the thumb, and grasp the hand firmly, eye contact, two (maybe three) pumps straight up and down, and release swiftly.
By the age of five, so many adults had commented on the quality of my handshake, I was pretty sure I was a prodigy.
That was also around the same age he began searching the dictionary for the longest words he could find and teaching me to spell them out from the steps of the kitchen… sadly, to both our chagrin, I never proved quite as prodigious with the spelling.
But the handshaking… world champion. You can tell a lot about a person from a simple handshake. This is not something to be trifled with. Even now, it’s reflexive, the moment I see someone approaching me… the hand goes up… it’s Spec... 100%.
He switched it up as he got older. The process slowed, he made it more intimate, two hands now, almost parallel to the floor, one on bottom and one on top, and less shaking, more of an embrace, like a talk show host bringing on a guest, he’d use it to pull you in close and whisper in your ear, share a private thought and chuckle, and then a slow release and the questions would begin.
Talking to Spec was like being on an eternal job interview. I admit, I was embarrassed as a child when we met people… the way he would interrogate a new acquaintance…
“where did you go to school?”
“do you work?”
“what part of town are you in?”
“Who’s your daddy? What does he do? Where did you grow up? Did you grow up here? What did your momma do? Do you have brothers or sisters? Where did they go to school? Are they working? Do you know so and so… “
But now, as an adult… I can see the process… the search for connections, points of commonality, areas of interest, shared allies…
6 degrees of Kevin Bacon?? Humph. Spec only needs 4.
The man could work a room. He made it into an art.
He was the Facebook algorithm before Facebook.
I don’t know if it was the results of the depression, serving in World War II, the culture of the American south, or being the first born to a traveling salesman… but Spec valued, nurtured and thrived on his relationships. He collected them. If they were stamps, we’d be the post office.
And he documented them… I think the last time I saw him was the first time in my life I had ever seen him without a camera in his hand.
He was the first person I ever saw turn a camera around and aim it at his own face.
He was selfies before selfies.
This is long before digital, mind you… no screens… no ability to know what was being captured in the frame.
Of all the photos he ever took…We have hundreds and hundreds of pictures of random noses, chins, eyebrows…
Regardless, He would never let the fact that there was no one else present to take the picture stop him from capturing the moment. Above all he wanted to memorialize his encounter with you.
His photos were historical documents. Proof that something happened, and he was there, and he was a party to it.
And he would refer to it later… I can remember him going through photographs, pointing at faces, talking through the connections from memory… reinforcing bonds… One of his favorite activities was the sifting through of the Campen family history… finding new branches to add to the tree, documenting the stories of where we came from.
Of all the ways one can spend one’s time, Spec stories are one of my absolute favorite…
And while it’s clear that I’ve inherited his love of a tall tale (along with his dashing good looks, suave sense of sartorial style and magnetic social charm)… personally, I would have rather inherited more of his memory and his confidence in the face of the unknown.
He approached the world head on. Absolutely secure in his ability to talk to anyone and navigate any encounter. His genius was in discovering common ground.
Spec never met a stranger.
I’ve heard the sentiment more than a few times since he passed.
And frankly… It’s a bit of an understatement.
I mean, more than just never having met a stranger, Spec is basically the platonic ideal… the original mold of what someone who never met a stranger looks like and from which all other people who will never meet a stranger are modeled. Not only has he never met a stranger… but when he does meet you, it will it feel like he already knows you and he’s also probably already sold your uncle’s sister-in-law a TPA membership …
And maybe that’s because his father was the same way, and maybe it’s because he was a salesman at heart and maybe it’s because he moved frequently throughout his childhood and needed to make friends quickly… But mostly, I think it’s because he was actually, genuinely very interested. He logged all of those experiences, all those conversations and connections got filed away for future use, and he was authentically and sincerely engaged with the world at large. Seeking out new experiences, new connections, new stories and to forge his own place within our collective history.
He had come to understand early in life that we were all dependent on each other… and the more we knew, understood, empathized, connected… the stronger we would be. Together. Each and every one of us had to do our part if we were going to survive, succeed, thrive. And he was determined lead us all by example…
He once wrote to me, “Away from home, my personality prevails as I am relaxed and accepted for the reputation of years. Since my loved youth, I was born to be out front, leading for good and I have truly tried to be that kin you cannot be embarrassed by.”
I remember seeing him at his house in the spring of 2016… just shy of his 96th birthday and I had naturally asked him about his thoughts on the coming elections and he spent a few minutes discussing Hillary and Donald before devoting the next thirty minutes to a rundown of every active congressional contest, giving his informed and nuanced thoughts as to how each would turn out. Dozens of races. From memory. No notes.
At one moment, to contextualize a point, he referenced a personal relationship to a Supreme Court justice… a connection I had never heard about before… but we were interrupted by a beckoning from the kitchen before I could get the full story…
I’m sure we both decided pie was more important.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed one should always make time for pie.
And while I can’t recall Spec teaching me that exact lesson – I’m confident that, at the very least, my belief is the direct result of the combined influence of both my grandparents throughout my childhood. Spec and Rere understood the importance of the little moments as much as the big ones.
One hundred and one years. Oh… he would want me to be specific. One hundred and one years, three months, eleven days.
That’s a lot of little moments.
And he counted them and was grateful for every single one of them. Spec taught me what it means to be grateful for my blessings and what a privilege it is to be fully present to the events and with the people of my own life. He taught me to be actively engaged in the enjoyment of my experience. As he relished his.
But he always understood that blessings come at a cost. He knew sacrifice and loss and hardship… but however deep, the valleys of his life only made the mountain tops of his optimism appear even higher… his belief in the overall goodness of the world and the people in it never wavered.
He always attributed his longevity to a morning bowl of Wheaties and 8 glasses of water a day.
It’s a diet regimen that clearly served him well and one that exactly NO ONE in my family follows.
If I start now, that’s like 20,000 bowls of Wheaties before I’m a hundred.
160,000 glasses of water.
It sounds awful.
But Spec believed in being prepared. Doing what you needed to do today in order to have a good tomorrow.
Maybe 20,000 bowls of Wheaties is a small price to pay for longevity.
Rubber bands. I remember hundreds and hundreds of rubber bands… like the only thing he was ever truly frightened about was needing a rubber band and not having one.
I actually share his love of the plastic ephemera of the 20th century. The ball point pens and branded tote bags, bottle openers, sewing kits, water bottles, key rings, letter openers…
For Spec, no branded item was too useless to be discarded. He’d find a use. He’d even save items for specific people. Like of all the people he knew, YOU were the one who needed the football shaped change purse from Frost Bank.
I would get care packages at college and when I was first living in New York City… filled with sweets from my grandmother… and a random collection of promotional items from Spec’s travels, generally accompanied by a couple dozen travel sized packs of tissue, swiped from a hotel, and some ketchup packets and a stack of napkins nicked from Hardees. Because, hey… you never knew.
To the average person born before the widespread use of the automobile, the rapid social and technological progress of the twentieth century had to be overwhelming. A tsunami of change making ever more pressing demands on our time, our communications, our intelligence, our faith…
But not for Spec. I never saw him once shy away from the future barreling, full speed, straight toward him… he welcomed it with open arms. Embraced it. Invited it in for a drink.
Even today, his facebook account remains active. I hope you’ll all go post to it.
And of course, to know Spec is to receive email from him.
So many emails.
Prior to AOL he wrote letters. Long hand.
Stationed in Germany during Vietnam, I’m told my parents used to have parties and would pass around Spec’s latest post as a game… decoding that handwriting required a group effort.
But e-mail… where typing was easier, and punctuation was optional… email offered Spec unrestricted access to all of us. And while the content could sometimes be questionable… he’s easily responsible for a good 80% of all forwarded joke email chains sent across the internet between 1994 and 2007… and regardless of if you even opened his latest, you knew he was thinking of you, saw something he believed you would be interested in or amused by and thought to reach out and share…
In every way, the purpose of his life was to connect and be connected.
As I began to put thoughts to paper in preparation for today and glanced around my desk, filled with my own collection of branded conference treasure along with the pinned business cards on the bulletin board, the yellowing post-its, the stacks of old paper, files, photos, flyers, mail, bills I might pay one day… it reminds me of his desk. A giant dumping ground for the collected bits from his adventures with just enough free desk space to write on. And just like him, I ask that you please don’t touch anything, I know exactly where EVERYTHING is.
I keep a framed image on the wall behind my desk, right in my line of sight… it’s a single page filled with quotes from artists giving advice to their younger selves and as I prepared for today, one notion consistently drew my focus as I struggled to give my memories shape.
“you are responsible for your own experience.”
It’s attributed to anonymous. But it could easily have been Spec.
YOU are responsible for your own experience.
I remember, late last year I had begun exploring the possibility of making a documentary focused on Spec’s life and had come to Richmond to start sorting through some of his old files in preparation… and I don’t know if it was his propensity to save everything or if this had any real meaning to him, but I came across a handwritten note he had made to himself.
Just looking at it, it appears to be written on a paper placemat that one would find in a conference hall or meeting room… I imagine a boxed lunch of cold sandwiches and team building. There’s note on the back indicating the event was May 7, 1980 – Which would be just shy of my 8th birthday, my sister was almost 5 and Kristopher wasn’t even 6 month old – outside of the date, nothing else of the scribble on the back is discernable.
It’s clear to me that the written comments on the front are the result of some sort of guided, personal mission, vision, values statement… likely shared with the group… I’ve worked through enough non-profits and service organizations to know the exercise pretty well…
I honestly don’t know if he enjoyed this kind of self-examination, but it’s clear he took the assignment seriously and gave it earnest consideration.
1. Be involved with my fellow citizens in a service to others
2. Being a good example for my grandchildren to emulate
3. Creating a loving atmosphere in all my endeavors
Then, with an asterisk:
* Polish up on those above to better my life and to influence the lives of others.
I remain in awe of the statement’s simple clarity.
I asked him about it. Thinking that even given his difficulty communicating at the time, something filed away with such care had to carry importance.
But he didn’t recall anything about it. He just shrugged it off.
And why would he need to recall it? He actually lived this way. Simple words. He loved and cherished his family and his community, and he was propelled forward with the responsibility he felt towards them… his lifelong faith reflected in every action.
Spec loved to celebrate, and while he certainly enjoyed and appreciated the ample recognition for his efforts and accomplishments over the years… but by any assessment he gave far more than he ever took and asked far less than he was owed.
Far from embarrassing… In all my life, I’ve simply never encountered a better example of how to live.
And if he was here now, almost as if he’d intended it from the beginning, I’d look him in the eye, shake his hand and tell him how proud I am to have him as a grandfather.