Document Type

Autobiographical Writing

Publication Date

2000

Abstract

I must begin with a caveat we’ll call “truth in advertising.” My upbringing branded me on the tongue, and although I lack my father’s drawl, I seriously doubt that anyone mistakes me for a Yankee. In case I’m wrong, I’ve worn the correct color and the tartan I share with John C. Calhoun. I’ll also remind you of my bio and relate a story.

I’m a Southerner born, bred, and educated, never living farther north than Louisville, Kentucky, for any length of time. I’m also just four generations and less than a century removed from what folks still referred to in my childhood as either “The Late (some said “Recent”) Unpleasantness” or “The War Between the States.” They used both terms advisedly, but also in an unconscious eloquence born of human memory. Thus the story.

In 1982, James McPherson’s prize-winning Ordeal by Fire was newly published. My grandmother, whose paternal grandfather commanded Law’s brigade of Alabamians under Marse Robert’s direction, asked about possible Christmas presents; my cousin Craig requested that book. Mama Ray said if he wanted it, she’d get it for him, but she doubted its value. “Anybody who grew up in the South,” she insisted, “knows what that time was really like.”

I grew up hearing stories from the past. From them I learned history’s many faces—human faces distorted by perceptions that accrete fact with myth. If God is in the details of life, then the importance of the past lies in its humanity. I’ll talk tonight about servant leadership in an era from which Americans still seek artifacts they call relics. In so doing, I’ll offer a monument to some whose actions imprinted themselves on observers’ minds and hearts. Tonight we’ll resurrect the memory of the Angel of Marye’s Heights, Richard Rowland Kirkland, and the Cairo Angel, Mary Jane Safford.

In his sterling initiation of this year’s lecture series, Ben Elrod reminded us that the heart of servant leadership is choosing a life of service to others rather than self; leadership is a product of that life observed. To Dr. Elrod’s observation I would add that such service must be constructive for the served and the larger whole.

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