That is the question Dr. Shirley Raines, President of the University of Memphis, asked as she opened her tribute to my great aunt, Elma Neal Roane, on Friday September 23, at her memorial service. It was a hard question, and candidly, up until the last few days I was unsure of how to answer it.
I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on all of the wonderful stories that people have shared, and continue to share, with me and my family over the last couple of weeks. Every story was personal and a blessing. There’s no doubt that my aunt, Elmo, as she has been known for the majority of her life was quite a woman. She accomplished so much but I think what I admired most about her was her vision, and determination to stay the course on that vision, regardless of the obstacles, or naysayers that crossed her path. I’m not sure she ever saw an obstacle – just opportunity. The road less traveled beckoned her and she forged a trail for all of us. She knew her calling and she embraced it with boundless energy and enthusiasm. I wrote about her last year as all of her papers and artifacts were donated to the U of M.
So how do you say goodbye to a legend….more importantly to my great aunt Elmo? I am not sure it is possible. But here is what I do know. Knowing Elmo was an incredible privilege and blessing – but it came with a calling. She expected, and well lets tell like it is, she demanded, all of us to just do and be our best. I believe the answer to the question comes in a simple sentence, I must have heard her say it a million times during my life. A phrase that many may find cliché or trite – however to her it became her mantra. We all need to “keep on keepin on!” The very best way for us to honor Elmo in my opinion is for us to keep on giving the best of ourselves to our family, our friends, our work. To strive to leave people and things better off for knowing us. The best way to honor Elmo is to be good to each other, to encourage each other and to pour out ourselves into each other.
A few years ago at the Social Media Business Forum, I had the privilege of meeting Geno Church and he challenged the audience to: “Be famous for the people who love you, for the way you love them.” When he said that I immediately thought of my aunt and today those words mean so much more as Elmo was famous because of how she loved all of us – family, students, friends, and of course the University of Memphis!
I’m reminded of our last quiet moment together – we were at a tea honoring her accomplishments at the U of M. I said to her: “I’m in awe of all the goodness you have created how did you do it?” She responded: “Everything I did, I did because I had a passion for it, not just the education but the students as well. I’ve dedicated my life to promoting fellowship, honor and integrity, and we need more teachers who are pushing that as well. That’s my passion, keep on keeping on!”
So I challenge you today, if Elma touched you or your family in any way what will you do to pay it forward? How will we keep the trail she blazed going? I am not sure I know the answer today – but it’s heavy on my heart and I am working on it. How about you?