Category: Family

Let’s get to work…

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life — It goes on” — Robert Frost

My family is the most important thing in my life. No business, association, school, incubator or other endeavor in which I’m involved comes close. We’ve now lost two cornerstones of our family at an all too young age, but life does go on. It especially goes on for two young girls whose futures remain bright despite the sadness in their past.

I took off most of the past two months from work and community projects to support my family.

But I’m returning next week, with a new agenda and a renewed commitment to pursuits that matter most. Life is — clearly — too short to be timid, too short to avoid risk, too short to lack boldness, and too damn short to care what critics may say.

Ready….

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Sadness

It took seven short weeks from diagnosis for cancer to capture my Mom’s life, nearly every day of which I was able to spend with her. The last faces she looked upon belonged to two young girls she adored, and the last thing she heard was all our love surrounding her. She joins my young sister, now, in the tight embraces of our family, right where our hearts meet.

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A shifting of my priorities…

I’ve been mostly silent for the past three weeks, and absent from community events. I’ve disconnected as much as possible from the routine, and shifted focus to my family. Here’s why…

Four years ago, my 30-year-old sister Hilliary died after a courageous battle with a rare and insidious cancer. It was the first time in my life that I completely checked out of work, business building and my various projects, and took a few months to be with my Mom and the two beautiful young girls my sister left behind. The past four years have been difficult for the family, but life goes on, and the memories of my sister light the way. During her illness, no one was stronger, more loving or supportive than my Mom, and she remains the steady rock tethering my young nieces as they grow.

Three weeks ago, my Mom suddenly fell ill, and has been diagnosed with an advanced stage lung cancer. That terrible disease that ripped through the heart of our family has returned. Once again, I’m curtailing many activities and centering with my Mom and my nieces.

We responded quickly, and headed to Houston to the MD Anderson Cancer Center to start treatment right away. The past two weeks are a blur of activity, doctors and treatments, though at the same time it seems an eternity since this began. There are many weeks and months ahead, with much more of the same.

I will remain engaged with work, much of which can still be done while I’m away. There is plenty of quiet time where I’m able to think, especially about the bigger and more important initiatives on my agenda, and I’m oddly more productive with some distance and perspective. Some exciting stuff has been underway for TechNexus and Chicago Tech Academy, and good work continues at ITA and various projects where I’m playing a role. I’m lucky to work with many great people on all my projects, and they have stepped up to fill the gaps quite well. I’m also now surrounded by family and close friends who provide incredible support.

My Mom is the most amazing person I’ve ever known… truly the materfamilias… she’s faced adversity and challenge at nearly every turn in her life: divorced, single mom, widowed, loss of a child, raising grandkids – yet she taught us all to take adversity in stride and grow from it. Somehow, my Mom always emerged as a more whole person after each little piece of her was taken by one of life’s challenges.

The care and compassion she showed though my sister’s illness rivaled the care of angels, and the courage she gave to the kids and our family during that time came straight from Heaven. Now it is our turn to help my Mom wage and win a battle that threatens to take her from us far too soon. We intend to win that battle, and I can think of no greater warrior to have on point than Mom.

I may occasionally blog or post about the progress and treatments (some experimental and cutting edge stuff from these doctors). Or, I might not. I may post about some of my various work initiatives, or even simple or mundane topics, often just for distraction. I may occasionally be silent and absent from the community altogether. It’s sad when things like this come along and remind you of the perspective you once gained, but slowly let slip away, the last time life through a curveball.

 

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Remembering Green Bar Bill

Today is William Hillcourt’s date of birth… he is featured on the home page of Wikipedia, and he is prominent in my mind. As 100,000 Scouts celebrate at the National Jamboree, I’m thinking back to the amazing time I had with my friend nearly two decades ago, and the first time we met at AP Hill.

In 1991, I was 19 years old and William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt was 91. He used to get a kick out of the symmetry of those numbers, and the fact that we spent nearly every day of that year together as unlikely friends.

I had come to know Bill Hillcourt not unlike thousands of others he met each year… I waited in line at the 1989 National Jamboree to have a couple of books signed for my Scoutmaster back home. I really didn’t know or think much about who Bill was, I just knew the recipients of those books would appreciate that I had gotten his signature on one of more than 30 books Bill had written on Scouting and the outdoors.

We had a brief conversation that hot summer day of the Jamboree, but it resonated. The following year in organizing for the 75th anniversary NOAC, I reached out to Bill and asked him to write a memoir of his friend Urner Goodman for the event publicity material. The friendship took hold, as we swapped drafts and edits over several months.

Soon Bill invited me along to travel with him as he toured the country visiting Scouting events each weekend, speaking to thousands who were enchanted by his passion and zeal for the Movement of Scouting. We spent the summer of 1991 in Seoul as honored guests of the World Jamboree. It was there, when we stepped off the plane and were greeted by Korean Scouts who clamored for Bill’s attention that I first began to appreciate the worldwide impact Hillcourt had on Scouting.

Later that year, I left my home and moved across the country to live with Bill in New York, helping him publish new editions of his Baden-Powell biography. As a young man Bill had a special relationship with Baden-Powell, who was in the twilight of his life. He admired and learned much from his friend.

Bill and I conducted interviews for hours each day, talking about the history of Scouting and the history of the world, all from a firsthand perspective. In retrospect, I missed so much of an opportunity to learn more from him, and I was so unprepared of the opportunity or responsibility, but it was an amazing gift nonetheless.

We spent most of 1992 traveling and writing and talking. Late that summer, Bill left for an around the world trip for Scouting (I stayed behind to coordinate a book release that was coming off the press, and was to meet up with him in his native Denmark in a few weeks). His trip began in Japan, where a new translation of one of his Scouting books was being released, and on to Moscow. This was just after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Bill had been asked to come to Russia and help draft Scoutmaster training materials for an emerging program that had been hidden for decades in the shadows.

He went on to Sweden, where he spent some time with his friends at the Silva Compass Company… Bill and his friend Bjorn Kjellstrom had collaborated many decades before to make orienteering and the liquid filled compass a sport. He was to leave Sweden, and meet up with me in Denmark, where we planned to spend a few weeks, away from the crowds and the busy travel schedule, focused on Bill’s own autobiography.

On November 9, 1992, Bill Hillcourt shockingly, surprisingly passed away. It’s a good thing, I think, to die at 92 years old and have it be a surprise to everyone you knew. He was as mentally awake and physically strong as could be, all the way to his final day. I was a kid, chasing him around the globe, and often I couldn’t keep up.

Bill Hillcourt was my friend. That’s a funny thing about him… when he died, I wrote to notify a few thousand people listed in his address book. Many of these people were just contacts that had coordinated some weekend Scouting event that he might have attended, probably only meeting Bill once or twice. But the boxes of reply cards and letters I received told a much different story… for years I encountered thousands of people who would tell of what a special relationship they had with Bill.

It didn’t matter if you were a young Scout waiting in line for a signature, or if you were some Scouter coordinating an event somewhere for Bill to visit. It didn’t matter if he had stayed in your home one night, or you had swapped letters to discuss Scouting. Bill had an amazing gift for making people he encountered feel special, for letting people know how important the relationship was to him.

Bill didn’t always agree with the direction BSA followed, and throughout a nearly 75 year career, he was brought in several times to “right the ship” of Scouting when others drove it off course. I’m sure he’d find plenty about today’s organization that could and should be better. But I also know that the Movement of Scouting, which Bill believed thrived in the spirit of the Patrol, the challenge of the outdoors, and the mentoring of leadership, would continue to make him proud.

I learned so much from Bill Hillcourt… there’s so much more I could have learned, and our time together was fleeting. He had incredible confidence in me, but even higher expectations. Bill showed me, through his trust, that expectations are what raise a child. I will spend my life, often falling short, but always reaching for the expectations and example he set.

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Wikipedia celebrates the birth of William Hillcourt

Today is the birthday of a great friend and hero, William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt… he’s the featured article on the Wikipedia home page at the moment.

hillcourt-wikipedia

Few men can hope to impact the world as William Hillcourt. An immigrant to the United States from Denmark in 1926, Bill became a major factor in the growth and development of the Boy Scouts of America. His handbooks and BOYS LIFE articles defined the Scout movement for millions of boys spanning decades. His Boy Scout Handbooks have been published in copies by the millions and translated into dozens of languages throughout the world; it has been estimated that those Scout Handbooks were only out numbered by Dr. Spock’s Baby Book and the Bible in total circulation. He worked with every Chief Scout Executive since James West, was the first Deputy Camp Chief for American Wood Badge, introduced the patrol method to the B.S.A., authored the definitive biography of his close friend Baden-Powell and more than thirty other books on Scouting and the outdoors. Bill Hillcourt loved and lived Scouting through the very end of his life; a life that, even at 92 years, ended surprisingly and too soon while on a worldwide tour in the name of Scouting.

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